Life and Times
Raymond Calvel (1913 to 2005) was one of the 20th century French leading authorities on bread.
Julia Child referred to Calvel as her first breadmaking teacher. Her husband Paul had been trying to make French bread to help Julia, but then gave up and pointed Julia at Calvel, whom he’d run across references to. Julia tracked him down and asked him to help her figure out how to make French breads with American ingredients. He agreed. She packed up American ingredients and flew over to France with them, for her and Calvel to experiment with. She said Calvel taught her to pay attention to the noises that bread loaves make as soon as they start to cool out of the oven, as an indication of the quality of the bread. (One of the tips that he taught her, she said, was that within a few minutes of starting to cool, a soft crackling noise should come from the bread.) 
Calvel was a chemist by training. He took a modern approach to preserve and improve an ancient art. He advised that for the best yeast performance, the amount of salt used in a bread recipe should be 1.8 percent of the weight of the flour. He pointed out that for slow-fermenting breads (such as sourdoughs), what was important was not the quantity of gluten in a flour, but rather the quality, so that it could stand up to the long, slow rising times.
Calvel was born in 1913 in the Tarn region in south-west France. In the 1930s, he apprenticed as a baker; worked in Toulouse for a while, then studied at the École des Grands Moulins de Paris. In the spring of 1935, he was offered a position at the Ecole Française de Meunerie in Paris, renamed in 1971 to ENSMIC (École Nationale Supérieure de Meunerie et des Industries Céréalières.) He accepted, and started working there in 1936.
A prisoner during World War II, he was sent to a small village to cook bread, but at the start of 1943, he managed to escape.
Chronology of his Career
- 1947 — Calvel co-edited a book (La boulangerie moderne, éditions Eyrolles) with a Professor Nuret on ingredients used in bread, keeping bread fresh, how to sell bread, and using substitutes in breadmaking.
- 1948 — Calvel travelled to England.
- 1950 — Calvel travelled to America.
- 1954 — Calvel travelled to Japan, and stayed there for three months to promote French bread through a series of conferences and demonstrations.
- 1964 / 65 — Calvel returned to Japan, and helped to set up the first French bakery in Japan.
- 1964 — He wrote the section called “Le Pain” in a collection called “Que sais-je ?” (#1140) published by Presses Universitaires de France.
- 1972 — Calvel publishes the sixth edition of “La boulangerie moderne.”
- 1978 — Calvel retired from ENSMIC, but was made Professor Emeritus.
- 1990 — Calvel published his book “Le Gout du Pain”, with many photos and illustrations in it. It’s not a bread recipe book, but rather a reference and an underlying philosophy book, in which he digs deeply into the scientific and technical aspects of breadmaking. It was published in English as “The Taste of Bread” (translated by Ronald Wirtz.) He also made, as a spin-off, a three-volume, 1 1/2 hour video series on French bread methods.
- 2005 — Calvel died on 30 August 2005.
Calvel also published a great deal of articles in many journals and magazines
 Note though that biographies of Calvel rarely if at all even mention the Julia Child association.
Raymond Calvel’s last name is often misspelled as “Clavel.”
Chiron, Hubert. Biographie du professeur Calvel. December 2005. Retrieved June 2012 from http://prof.calvel.free.fr/contenu/biographie_prof.php
Chiron, Hubert. Témoignage de l’Association des amis du pain français de Tokyo – Raymond Calvel – Une vie au service du pain. Janvier 2007. Retrieved June 2012 from http://prof.calvel.free.fr/contenu/temoignage_jap_assoc.php