Five minutes with… Apollonia Poilâne

The CEO of famed French bakery Poilâne and third-generation baker talks her love of bread, the community she has discovered through cycling, and releasing her first cookbook in English

Food and Drink 19 Dec 2019

Apollonia Poilâne
Sourdough from Poilâne
Black Peper Pain de Mie

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given in your career? 

Be curious and open-minded. More than just advice, it is the education I received from my parents, and that I also found during my university studies in the United States. Anything can be a source of teaching and inspiration if you keep your eyes open. It is a state of mind that I implement in my profession: bread opens up so many other fields.

Who is your role model and how have they influenced you in your work?

My grandfather, Pierre Poilâne, my father, Lionel Poilâne, both bakers, and my mother, Ibu Poilâne, an architect and designer. All three of them taught me that if you do something with passion and sincerity without giving up what you believe in, and remain enthusiastic about discovering new things, then you have taken a big step towards happiness at work, and in your life.

Apollonia Poilâne's very first cookbook - Poilâne: The Secrets of the World-Famous Bread Bakery
Apollonia Poilâne’s very first cookbook – Poilâne: The Secrets of the World-Famous Bread Bakery

What ingredient can you not live without and why?

My bread! My family has been passing on Poilâne sourdough from batch to batch since 1932, from generation to generation. I can’t stay long without eating a piece of our bread. During my four years at Harvard, I asked my teams to send me a loaf every week, which I shared with my roommates.

What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?

When I travel, I like to have my eri silk (ethical silk) eye mask with croissants embroidered on it, created by designer Patricia Schmidt for us. These eye masks are a wink to our humour but also to taking the simple matters of life seriously – sleep well and eat well.

Where is your favourite place to eat in London?

For ice cream, I’m a fan of La Grotta Ices. Not only because its founder, Kitty Travers, was part of the Poilâne team at the beginning (our bakery at 46 Elizabeth Street will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2020), but because Kitty creates flavours that are based on seasonal ingredients, with less sugar than you’d find in other ice creams. As a restaurant, I really like Quo Vadis.

What do you like the most about your favourite London restaurant?

I think Quo Vadis is a great place to discover the best of modern English cuisine in a really elegant and refined setting. Chef Jeremy Lee has also created a fantastic smoked eel sandwich using my sourdough loaf.

What do you like to do on a day off?

Visit farms to discover new crafts and suppliers, to understand and explore.

Apart from food, what are your biggest passions?

I have been cycling since I was a child, but I recently took up road cycling thanks to friends. It has been a game-changer. The communities and incredible people I have met have made me realise that road cycling is just like baking: you may be alone shaping your loaf, but you are part of a bigger ecosystem.

If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner party guest and why?

I would invite Alice Waters, Dorie Greenspan and Ina Garten. They have guided and encouraged me to write my latest and first book in English (the book includes a foreword by Alice).

Poilâne: The Secrets of the World-Famous Bread Bakery, £32, is available in Poilâne stores and online at