What is it about the 18th arrondissement that claims, for the third consecutive year and the fifth time in six years, bragging rights as home to the best baguette in Paris? Many think of the 18th as being home to Montmartre, a lot steps to climb, and perhaps a little side show at the Moulin Rouge, to get into the tourist mode. But no such thing, mes amis. Looking beyond one's tourist goggles, it's home to a few outstanding bakers who can nonchalantly mention the Élysée Palace among their "customers." Understated excellence in the heady world of championship baguette making where the competition to be the best of the best is ferocious!
Throughout Paris, in every arrondissement, a special breed of talent rises well before the sun even thinks of getting out of bed. These are the citizen bakers of Paris answering the clarion call for fresh, crunchy, tasty, aromatic, warm and all quite delicious baguettes. It it a demanding public to be sure, yet these artisans are not one to loaf around, they willingly slave away, mixing, pounding, pulling, and rolling out their secret; a secret more jealously guarded than the Crown Jewels themselves. Why this slavish devotion you ask? What could possibly drive each and every self respecting boulanger/baker in Paris to such demanding standards of excellence? Bakers know full-well their demanding public expects that baguettes will meet, if not exceed their own personal standards of perfection. But beyond that, there is something far more powerful that drives Parisian merchants of crusty and delicious heaven; they all share the dream of winning the much coveted title "Meilleure Baguette de Paris" or the Best Baguette in Paris. Not only will they have the Baguette d'Or or Golden Baguette to place in their vitrine for all Parisians, and of course for their neighbors to see; but more importantly the winning baker becomes the sole supplier of baguettes to the Elysée, the very home of the (new) Président de la République. If it was the White House, undoubtedly somebody in Washington would whine and complain for one reason or another and look for a legal reason to halt such foolishness or most likely it would end up in the black h*** of democracy - the U.S. Congress- where the issue would be beaten up, never ever rise to see the light of day. In Paris, France, we're talking about les World Series as nothing is more important to to the French (and with good reason) than their bread. Not an election, not even a revolution. That can wait, more bread please? Mes amis, it's about bread and culture and style and respect and pride and bragging rights. Madame, the baker's wife, has undoubtedly already forgiven her husband for his little follies, whatever they were, they surely pale in comparison to the golden icon in the front window and bragging rights with her friends 'till the cows come.
And the cash? If you're doing the math, figure on thirty baguettes a day to the Elysée for three hundred and sixty five days. It's more than a few Euros, it's a lot of dough!
So what do we know about this year's winner? Tucked away in the 18ème arrondissement, 159 rue Oredener to be exact, one can find the Boulangerie Mauvieux, that would be Monsieur Sebastien Mauguieux, baker to the President of the French Republic. After many attempts I was finally able to reach Monsieur Mauguieux by telephone, and asked him how he felt, now that he was the personal baker to the President. Here is what he said.
" Et bien oui, on est très content et pour moi, un honneur prestigieux et une reconnaissance exceptionnelle. I resisted asking him if he would be going to Disney World - figuring he wouldn't really have that far to go. He added that he would manage to take a vacation in August. I was going to follow that up by asking if the Elysée closed in August but switched gears with my line of questioning.
"Has your wife told you, Monsieur, what you will be doing with the 4,000€ prize award?" At that very moment the line went dead. Funny how some things happen like that.
I know where my first stop will be on my return to the City of Lights.
Looking for more dough? The 2010 Winner: Breakfast With the Best