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France

The best baguette in town, fit for the president

©

Text by Marie Sophie JOUBERT

Latest update : 2010-04-02

In his bakery stacked with warm bread, Djibril Bodian keeps a cool head after receiving the Grand Prize for the best baguette in Paris. His baguettes will now grace the presidential table for a year.

The news spread quickly, like the aroma of freshly-baked bread. Just three days after Djibril Bodian won the prestigious Grand Prize for the Best Artisanal Baguette in Paris — or, in French, the “Grand Prix de la meilleure baguette de Paris” — Italian tourists were flocking to the celebrated bakery, a tiny establishment located in the charming Montmartre district of Paris.

For the next 12 months, Bodian’s creations will grace the presidential table in the grand Elysee Palace in the heart of the French capital.

"I can’t really believe it," said the newly decorated baker. His creations, according to experts, are "fragrant" and "crispy"; they "look good", are "perfectly cooked" and, of course, "delicious".

Few symbols are as quintessentially French as the golden-brown baguette, freshly baked by the local boulanger, or baker, that accompanies any serious French meal. The baguette hangs in there with the beret and the Eiffel Tower as one of the world’s most endearing symbols of a country that proudly maintains its rich and unique culture.

In a nation that has spent the past few months engaged in a controversial government-sponsored "national identity debate" that has raised more questions than it answered, the Senegalese origins of the capital’s best baker were welcomed by the many critics who have been uncomfortable with the anti-immigrant rhetoric generated by the debate.

Born in Senegal, but '100 percent French'

The 33-year-old Senegalese-born baker moved to France with his family when he was six. Twenty-five years later, he proudly and emphatically declares himself "100 percent French".

The art of baking runs in Bodian's family. His father is a baker and probably one of the reasons the young man is coping so effortlessly with his new-found fame. Bodian recounts that his father had only recently congratulated his son for the award, joking: "Because he’s jealous. He wanted the title himself."

When the family moved to France, they settled in Saint Denis, a predominantly immigrant suburb of Paris, where his father set up a bakery. After school, the young Bodian used to go to the bakery, where, he admits, he "made a mess and interrupted everything".

What’s true in the kitchen may not be so at the cash register

If flour is the basic ingredient of Bodian's professional life, humour seasons his personal interactions.

When asked about his pre-baking career, Bodian quips "I was dealing drugs" in an obvious jibe at stereotypes of French immigrants from Africa before answering, "I wanted to do a diploma in mechanics, but my father didn't want me to and so, like my brother, I got a baking diploma instead."

His first — and so far only — bakery job has been at the Montmartre bakery where he now works. Currently in charge of the bread section, Bodian will take over as manager in April.

These days, he’s a celebrated baker with requests for media interviews. But he still diligently plies his trade, rolling dough and keenly watching the ovens with an eagle’s eye.

"The award hasn’t changed much," he says. That may be true in the kitchen, but at the cash register, it’s a different story. Last year’s Grand Prix winner saw sales jump by 20 percent — and now, Bodian must supply deliveries to a new and prestigious customer at the presidential palace.

Date created : 2010-03-26

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