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. http://www.dominique-saibron.com.