Friday, August 25, 2017

No, August Zang did not bring the pain au chocolat, the chocolatine or the schokoladencroissant to Paris

Why so categorical a title? Let me explain.

I was pleased last Sunday to receive an email from an old friend from Paris, and more pleased still to learn he had just seen my book August Zang and the French Croissant cited in Le Figaro. Once I found the item  Êtes-vous plutôt «chocolatine» ou «pain au chocolat» ? , written by Joanne Girardo and published August 20, 2017 – I was also pleased to see both my name and the title of my work spelled correctly.

I was less pleased however to see the following statement about August Zang: “In his shop, the ‘schokoladencroissant’ indicated a croissant filled with chocolate. Originally then, the term ‘chocolatine’ would have come from this place.” (“Dans son échoppe, le «schokoladencroissant» désignait un croissant fourré au chocolat. À l'origine, le terme «chocolatine» proviendrait donc de ce lieu.")

And who is credited for this claim? Why… me.

The problem? My book says NOTHING about the chocolate croissant either in French nor in German (schokoladencroissant). It is easy enough to see as much; go to Google Books and search for “chocolate” in that book. What is more, Zang, an Austrian, would never have called this crescent-shaped pastry - which Austrians knew as a kipfel - a "croissant"; the French only used that word (French for "crescent") AFTER Zang made the kipfel popular in Paris.

But it gets better.

Searching the Figaro’s own site, I discovered an article making similar claims had appeared last year in Madame Figaro, this one, published October 4, 2016, written by Anne-Laure Mignon: Doit-on dire pain au chocolat ou chocolatine ?

This one further credits my book with mentioning the arrival of chocolate in France in 1492: "l’historien culinaire Jim Chevalier rappelle que l’arrivée en France du chocolat daterait de 1492." It would be quite embarrassing had I indeed dated the arrival of chocolate in France to 1492 – chocolate was only discovered by the Spaniards after Cortes’ encounter with the Aztecs in 1519; it did not come to France until sometime after that.
At this point, the reader may be wondering, “Why not contact the Figaro?” Well, I tried.

Not finding an editor’s contact, I messaged their Facebook page and got a polite note suggesting I write… the journalists. Each of them. But given the overlaps between the articles and the fact that neither journalist seems to have actually consulted my book, I thought this was something to bring to the attention of an editor. Luckily the astute and helpful Irene Torres located the editor’s email address for me. On Tuesday, I wrote the editor, raising all these issues; I have heard not a word since.

So, how influential has this (entirely inaccurate) version of the "facts" been?

Well, right off, I was reminded that I had already seen
one post (from January 19) by Isabel Miller-Bottome on the Local France site which states: “According to culinary historian Jim Chevalier, author of "August Zang and the French Croissant: How the Viennoiserie Came to France", it was the schokoladencroissant, a crescent-shaped, chocolate-filled brioche [!] that slowly evolved into the rectangular chocolatine.

At the time, I posted a correction in their comments section but never saw any response to it. Now, checking, I see that that response has been... deleted and comments disabled.

UPDATE 9/2/2017
Last Sunday (August 27) I wrote the editor for the Local Paris and the managing editor for the Local, informing them of this error, the fact that my comment had disappeared and the resemblance of their article to one from the Figaro. To this date, I have received no response.

While I’m not going to list every one, a look at Google shows numerous other blog posts - at least twenty, including one in Spanish and one in Japanese - which appear to follow the first Figaro article, repeating the same error and crediting it to (groan) me.

I did however find one from well before that first article, a post on a POKEMON blog from March 2016. Could this then be the UR-post, the original source of all this eagerly shared erroneous information – information which writer after writer has passed on without a single one, apparently, consulting my actual book?

In the past I have tried to fight a number of myths about August Zang: that he was a count or a baron; that he brought the baguette to France; that he introduced the poolish pre-fermentation method. Not one of these is true. Now I find myself fighting yet another rapidly spreading myth – only this one is credited to… me.

I’d say, “You can’t make this stuff up.” Only, apparently, you can.

FOLLOW-UP 9/2/2017

I have learned (or perhaps confirmed) three things in tracking the spread of this idea across the Net:

1. Many bloggers and journalists find it perfectly natural to "quote" a work without ever actually consulting it. And yes, this includes articles in traditional, established media. (The error I've found here is not the only one I've found in a major publication.)

What you can do: Never forward an item which supposedly cites a work without making some effort to find the quote in the actual work (this goes for a LOT of quotes spread around the Net).

2. The business model for a dismaying number of sites is simply to take content from other sites, unacknowledged. Often, neither the original site nor the reader is aware of the 'borrowing" and the site using the content cares only that it attracts eyeballs (that is, advertising revenue).

What you can do: Before forwarding an article you find interesting on a site, copy a sentence or two and put it between quotes in a search engine, then look for it. No, you won't always find it on another site, but if you do, check first which article came earlier. If the one you found seems to be the source for the second, forward THAT one - and hopefully inform the contact person for the second site that their content has been swiped.

3. Once an idea is out there, it's really hard to change. (See my efforts above.)

What you can do: If you see the erroneous citation I'm discussing here mentioned anywhere, try to post a correction in the comments section or contact that writer or site owner. Ideally, link to this entry, which I wrote in part so search engines would bring up my correction.

The Truth thanks you.

FOLLOW-UP 10/24/2019

Oh good Heavens.

Searching around today, I found ANOTHER item from the Figaro misquoting me on this subject (from March 7 of this year):

Celle-ci était tenue par l'Autrichien Auguste Zang, comme l'écrit l'historien culinaire Jim Chevallier dans son ouvrage August Zang and the French Croissant: How Viennoiserie Came to France.
À cette adresse, le «schokoladencroissant» était un croissant fourré au chocolat. Les Français, entendant «schokoladen», auraient alors traduit le mot en «chocolatine». 

«Chocolatine» ou «pain au chocolat»? Le choix des Français dévoilé


The Figaro did post my comment on this, but curiously names me as "anonymous", even though I signed up under my own name in order to post:

anonymele 24/10/2019 à 10:45
"comme l'écrit l'historien culinaire Jim Chevallier dans son ouvrage August Zang and the French Croissant: How Viennoiserie Came to France. À cette adresse, le «schokoladencroissant» était un croissant fourré au chocolat." Oui, j'ai ecris ce livre; non, je n'ai rien dit de tout du pretendu «schokoladencroissant».