One cannot think of Paris without also thinking of French bread or more correctly beautiful baguettes. Long and tapered, elegantly crisp on the outside yet cloud light on the inside, they reflect the wonderful duality that is the City of Lights itself.
So as you might expect, the quality of the city’s famed baguettes is a matter of no small importance to the citizen (and the government) of Paris.
This year Lyne Cohen-Solal, the Deputy Mayor in charge of Paris’ trade and crafts, headed a skilled jury that was composed of personalities from the Industry and catering sector, including past winners as well as every day citizens of the city.
Once assembled, the judges initially accepted 202 rods or”wands” of bread as the Paris bakers refer to them. Each was banded with a number to insure equally fair evaluation. Fifty-two were then quickly rejected as not meeting the entry requirements of size and weight.
To win the final grand prize, registered baguettes had to be between 55 and 65 cm (21.6-25.5 inches), weigh between 250 and 300 grams (8.8-10.5 ounces) and have a salt content level of 18 grams per kilo of flour. Now those are precise standards but, after all, this Paris and this is about bread!
In the end 151 sticks (another trade phrase that the city’s bakers use) were accepted for consideration. Now the fun began. For the next few afternoon hours, every one of those 151 rods was smelled, visually evaluated and finally tasted. And the Grand Prize winner was…
Ridha Khadher, the artisan baker of Au Paradis du Gourmand in the City’s 14th arrondissement, a district that had never won the prestigious award before. Indeed, the award had previously been claimed for six years in a roll by esteemed bakers in the Montmartre section of the City.
But, as the unanimous final vote demonstrated, things (especially those of a culinary nature) are always subject to change. Just consider this year’s winner, Ridha Khadher.
Unlike many previous winners, he was not born within the culinary heritage of France. Instead, he was born in Tunisia and came to Paris when 15 to seek a better life. But he would be the first to tell any other insightful baking chef, success did not come overnight.
It took many jobs and many long hours over 24 years of work to prefect his winning recipe. His secret he says is not a change of ingredients because then what would be produced would not be a true baguette. Instead, the secret is hard work and insightful skill. What chef wouldn’t agree with that?
His award winning (more on that in a moment) bread require 24 hours of labor and attention to create, compared to the traditional five hours used by many other bakers. Many of those additional hours are involved in hand kneading and patiently waiting as the dough matures and ripens.
As a result, his bakery can only produce between 800 to 1,000 wands of bread a day but they are more than worth the wait. Some of these much sought after loafs are now going to be delivered daily to the Élysée Palace as that is part of the winning prize along with € 4,000 (USD $5,230). Very Nice!
When asked if the money (and the fame) would encourage him to expand or modernize, the 42 year old master baker just smiled and said no. Life (and his bread) are fine just as they are - thank you.
Now that’s truly winning.
Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2013