Monday, September 13, 2010

Best Baguette Awards

Two weeks ago in Paris we happened upon Dominique Saibron's boulangerie-café in the 14e arrondissement.  We had a very late lunch there, after having driven into the city from Normandy, returned the rental car, found a hotel and visited the Paris catacombs.  We were very hungry and the baguette sandwiches were great!  While lunching, I noticed that Dominique Saibron's baguette de tradition had taken third place in the 2010 Grand Prix de la meilleure baguette artisanale de Paris, or the "best artisanal baguette in Paris" competition.  
Over several years the per capita consumption of bread had been falling in France, and with it - the quality.  Thankfully, a handful of artisan bakers, millers and experts fought to preserve the integrity of French bread and insure that truly good bread remained a part of French heritage.   The State had a hand as well and in 1993 enacted a “French bread law” which stated that “baguettes de tradition” must be mixed, kneaded, leavened and baked on premises, without ever being frozen. They must also be additive-free and can contain only four precious ingredients–wheat flour, water, salt and yeast.  That same year, the Mairie de Paris began its competition to find the best baguette in the city.  Not only does the winner receive 4000 € and the prestigious title, but the boulangerie also becomes the official supplier to the Elysées Palace, the French Presidential Palace where Nicolas Sorkozy and Carla Bruni presently reside.
The 2010 competition took place in March and had a 15 person jury: a mix of food experts including last year's winner, Frank Tombarel of boulangerie du Grenier de Félix in the 15th, food journalists and for the first time ever, five very fortunate members of the general public whose names were selected from a contest run by the Mairie.     
One hundred and sixty-three baguettes were entered, and each one was scrutinized and graded on its appearance, baking, aroma, its crumb and taste.  After many hours and much bread tasting the winner was determined to be Djibril Bodian of Le Grenier à Pain Abbesses in the 18th arrondissement, who incidentally placed 5th last year.

Should you find yourself in Paris within the next six months, here is a list of the top ten baguette de tradition suppliers:  1) Djibril Bodian, Le Grenier à Pain Abbesses, 2) Daniel Pouphary, La Parisienne, 3) Dominique Saibron, 4) Yves Desgranges, 5) Philippe Gosselin, 6) Xavier Doué, 7) Boulangerie Lohézic, 8) Boulangerie d'Isa, 9) Mohamed Zerzour, Retrodore, and 10) Michel Chorin.

And if you can't get to Paris anytime soon, Dominique Saibron's website lists a recipe for a duck breast and cheddar baguette sandwich - just be sure to use really great bread.

Bon appétit

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Bonjour, et joyeux septembre!
Back to school is around the corner, the family cottage is closed until next summer and I snuck in a week-long getaway to France with our twelve year old son!  Two years ago I took our daughter to Paris for a week and we visited many museums, cultural monuments and rented a postage stamp size apartment on Ile-St-Louis.  For my son's trip, the focus was much more "masculine": Vimy, Juno Beach, Dieppe and numerous German bunkers on the Normandy coast and in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.  We did manage to visit a few non-military places including Bayeux, Honfleur and Mont-St-Michel.  Maybe it was the maturaty factor kicking in, or the ambience of being in France but my son was a more adventuresome eater: sole in brown butter, skate, soupe de poisson, magret de canard, bulots - sea snails, confit de canard and his new favorite food - fois gras!  
We managed to pack in a two-night stay in Paris and did more "masculine" visits: the Catacombs, Musée de l'Armée with Napoléon 1er's tomb, and the Concièrgerie - the prison where Marie-Antoinette was incarcerated prior to being guillotined in Place de la Concorde. 
While walking up the Champs-Elysée towards l'Arc de Triomphe, we popped into La Durée - aka Mecca for macarons.  The shop is truly beautiful. I once read that they produce and sell more than ten thousand per week, and the flavours are very diverse - including..... foie gras!  The line up was enormous and we already had dinner plans with Parisian friends, so we moved on and crossed the street. We happened upon a McDonald's restaurant - which years ago when it opened caused a huge uproar amongst the French population.  It seems as though even Rotten Ronnie's is adapting to being on the prestigious boulevard, they now have a McCafé section of their restaurant and serve veritable baked goods including McMacarons!  

Really, is nothing sacred?