Paris, renowned for its delectable delicacies such as macarons, crepes, and the ubiquitous baguette, proudly embraces its culinary heritage. 'Baguette,' an iconic French bread renowned for its crispy crust and soft interior, holds an integral place within the local culture. The bread serves as a versatile staple for everything from sandwiches to savouring with oil.
Baguette is so significant to the French people that an annual competition is organised to determine the finest traditional baguette in Paris. This year, Tharshan Selvarajah, a native of Sri Lanka, achieved a remarkable feat by winning the prestigious title of 'best baguette' in Paris.
Selvarajah won a prize of €4,000 and a one-year contract to supply baguettes to the Élysée Palace, the residence of the French President.
Selvarajah’s Au Levain des Pyrénées bakery was among 175 candidates who submitted their baguettes for the 30th annual 'Grand Prix de la Baguette de Traditional Francaise de la Ville De Paris', a prestigious yearly competition in Paris for the makers of the iconic bread.
Every year, judges convene in Paris to declare the city’s best bread, and this year was the 30th year of judging. The event took place on May 10, and on May 13, the judges announced the winner.
Judging the 'Baguette'
Of the 175 baguettes in the 2023 contest, the judges — consisting of previous winners, baking union members, food bloggers, and six random Parisians — eliminated 49 immediately for being the wrong size or weight or for using the wrong flour. All baguettes are judged anonymously.
Judges also consider the smell, baking technique, and, of course, flavour.
One judge said they could figure out the winner at first taste: baguette number 142 from Tharshan Selvarajah's bakery, Au Levain des Pyrénées. The bakery is in Paris’s 20th arrondissement, far from the city center.
Selvarajah, 37, immigrated to France about a decade ago and started his bakery in 2017. He had been working toward the win for about half a decade. “Already in 2018, we came third. After that, we always thought next time we’ll be sure to win, come second, or first,” he told CNN.
Au Levain des Pyrénées churns out around 500 baguettes daily. Selvarajah shared that one of his secrets is to take out a batch every 20 minutes so that each loaf, which he sells for €1.35 each, is hot and fresh.
“I cried when we won because we are foreigners and we came here to learn how to make traditional French bread,” Selvarajah told AFP. “My bread is always made with love.”
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