You’re idling through a bakery, trying to pick the perfect bread to go on your breakfast table. An assortment of croissants, pastries, brioche, and macarons gleam through the glass display box, just waiting for you to take them home, but that is exactly when you see it- a long, thin stick, precisely 60 cm in length, a perfect specimen of crisp crust baked goodness. This is none other than the legendary baguette, a timeless symbol of France’s cultural identity. A simple combination of flour, water, salt, and yeast, the baguette, is not just another piece of bread on your plate, it’s a story of families, tradition, and meticulous fingers kneading a tale of love and perseverance. This too is an account of a simple man who followed his culinary passion halfway across the world and won the hearts of Parisians as the baker with the best baguette.
His name is Tharshan Selvarajah, works at Au Levain des Pyrénées bakery in eastern Paris and is the baker of baguette number 142; the winning baguette at the 2023 “Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Francaise de la Ville De Paris” contest. The most prestigious competition for Parisian bakers, the contest was first held in 1994 and has annually anointed Paris’s best bread, filtering through hundreds of bakers and their pieces of bread. The contest is also known for its grand prize; a cash award of 4000 euros and the honor of supplying a year’s worth of baguettes to none other than the French President residing in the Élysée Palace.
An 18-person jury comprising of previous winners, food bloggers, baking union officials, and 6 Parisians picked at random, shortlists each piece of anonymously placed bread until the few that are worthy of entering the final round are further scrutinized down to the last detail. Out of 176 baguettes that entered, Tharshan’s baguette stood out since the beginning and Olivia Polski, the mayoral deputy for commerce and artisanship said that she had known almost immediately that this would be the winner.
Selvarajah moved to Paris in 2006 at age 21 and honed his craft by working in an Italian restaurant. Gaining hands-on experience in the culinary world he thereafter began working at a humble bakery named Au Levain des Pyrénées in Paris’s outermost suburb. The Sri Lankan- born baker had his eyes on the prize since 2018 when he entered the contest and came in 3rd place. His determination, self-confidence, and positivity enabled him to be the best in Paris and ultimately win the 30th edition of the celebrated competition.
The “Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Francaise de la Ville De Paris’’ specifically judges bakers on their “baguette de tradition,” giving special focus to appearance, fragrance, baking technique, and overall flavor. The jury selects the baguette that challenges industrially made baked goods with its home-grown flavor, precise technique, and artisanship. This is everything that Tharshan’s baguette embodied, and his secret trick? – to bake a batch every 20 minutes or so to ensure the baked item is fresh at the time of purchase and consumption.
Now the official baguette supplier to the Élysée Palace, Tharshan Selvarajah has an abundance of customers rolling into the small bakery he works at, to get their hands on the best baguette stick in Paris. When asked about his praiseworthy achievement Selvarajah said, “I am so happy that the president will taste my bread. Just taking it to the palace is exciting.”