Just the other day, there was a big contest in France, and a relative newcomer beat out the incumbent. No, I’m not talking about the presidential race. I’m talking about the annual Best Baguette in Paris contest! The prize is presidential, in a way, as the winning baker is “awarded” the chance to be the official provider of the Elysée Palace (France’s version of the White House). He or she also wins €4000 and the awesomeness that comes with making the BEST BAGUETTE IN PARIS! I mean, there are something like 1200 boulangeries in the city. That’s a lot of bread and a lot of competition!
The Best Baguette in Paris contest has been going on for 19 years. The judges are usually a combination of local celebrities and chefs and a couple of really lucky contest winners. Can you imagine being a judge in the Best Baguette in Paris contest? How amazing! Or do you think that’s like working at an ice cream shop? At first it’s awesome, but after a few hundred scoops, you never want to look at ice cream again, right?
How do they possibly even judge the contest? Nobody ever wins twice. What’s up with that? Is this year’s best baguette really not even top-ten good next year? Where do these new standouts come from? There are usually about 150 baguettes entered. Do all of the judges just take a small bite? A slice? Half a loaf? How much do you need to eat to determine quality? Is it like a wine tasting? Lots of sniffing, maybe some chewing, but no actual swallowing? Clearly somebody needs to let me be a judge next year so I can report back with the answers to these important questions.
The winner of this year’s contest is a 37-year-old baker named Sébastien Maugieux whose bakery is located at 159 rue Ordener in the 18th arrondisement. What is it about the 18th? This is the fifth time in the past six years that the Best Baguette in Paris award has gone to a baker in the 18th arrondisement. The previous two years in a row went to bakeries on rue des Abbesses. Maybe they ought to rename it rue des Baguettes. Last year I went searching for 2010’s best baguette. I never found it. I went to the bakery twice, on two different days of the week, several weeks apart, and found it closed both times. If only I had known that 2011’s best baguette could be found just a couple of blocks away on the same street!
It’s unlikely many tourists will have one of 2012’s best baguettes (unless you and Francois Hollande are BFFs). The 18th arrondisement is a popular destination, but this bakery isn’t in the quaint, hilly, cafe-lined, tiny-streeted, Amélie-living Montmartre that you’re probably thinking about. Rue Ordener is way beyond Sacré Coeur. In fact, if you moved the bakery just a tiny bit further north, it would actually be making the “Best Baguette in a suburb of Paris you really don’t want to visit, especially at night.” I once accidentally ended up in this part of Paris. It’s what happens when you decide to try walking around Montmartre instead of a.) climbing the stairs or b.) paying for the funiculaire. Guess what? Pay for the funiculaire. You really can’t walk around Montmartre. Alright, you can, but you shouldn’t. There’s nothing worth seeing on the other side anyway. Except, apparently, the best baguette in Paris. Until next year.