The man from Senegal who bakes the finest baguettes in Paris

There is nothing more French than a warm baguette. Other symbols of national identity – berets, yellow headlights, yellow cigarettes – may have disappeared, but the baguette survives as a universal emblem of France.

The 2010 prize for the best "traditional baguette" in Paris has been won by a young man who was born in Senegal, Djibril Bodian, 33, who moved to France when he was six years old.

President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a "great debate on national identity" last year which generated so much anti-immigrant rhetoric that it embarrassed the Elysée Palace and had to be quietly shelved. Immigration, it was claimed by many participants in the debate, threatens to destroy French identity and the French way of life. Not according to Djibril Bodian. And not according to the jury of gastronomes, minor celebrities and ordinary people who voted that his baguettes were the best in the French capital.

"This prize is the best response there could be to some of the remarks that were made [in the national identity debate]," Mr Bodian told The Independent. "All of that was just politics and blah blah. Personally, I consider myself to be completely French, as French as my own bread."

As part of his prize, Mr Bodian will supply all the bread for 12 months to President Sarkozy's official residence.

The bakery where he officiates – sometimes starting his shift at 1 am – could not be in a more traditional part of Paris. Mr Bodian bakes for a branch of the Grenier à Pain chain in the Rue des Abbesses, one of the higgledy-piggledy streets in Montmartre celebrated by the 2001 comic French movie, Amélie. At his third attempt, he beat 162 other bakeries to the €4,000 (£3,600) prize offered annually by Paris town hall for the tastiest and best-smelling "traditional" baguette in the French capital. A baguette de tradition is a slightly shorter, chewier version of the classic, long, white baguette. By law, it must be made from double-fermented dough, with no artificial yeast and no chemical additives.

"The only secret is not to take short cuts," Mr Bodian said. "You have to follow the recipe scrupulously. You have to allow enough cooking time. Most of all you have let the dough rest for a while before you bake it."

Mr Bodian's father was also a baker, and he trained at a patisserie and baking school at Pantin, in the Paris suburbs 12 years ago.

"You couldn't imagine anyone more French than Djibril," said Michel Galloyer, the founder of the Grenier chain, and a celebrated French pastry chef and baker. "He deserves his success. He is modest, he works hard, he is respectful of the people he works with. He teaches us something every day."

The baguette de tradition, despite its name, is of relatively recent invention – or reinvention. By the 1980s, the chewy, pre-war baguette had almost disappeared in France and had been produced in the familiar, light, white version, which becomes as hard as teak by the end of the day. It took a campaign by "real bread" enthusiasts to prod the government into promoting a retro-baguette revival. In almost all Paris bakeries, the light, white "standard baguette" is now sold alongside the succulent, longer-lasting, creamy-coloured, crunchy baguette de tradition, defined by law since 1993.

Mr Galloyer said, "The recipe does not change much from bakery to bakery but the care in the choice of ingredients, and the way that they are put together, varies a great deal." From next week, President Sarkozy will be able to sink his teeth into the most traditional of all traditional baguettes – baked by a Frenchman born in Senegal.

Recipe: Baguette de tradition française

Ingredients 500g wheat flour, 350g water, 12g common salt, 7g natural yeast

* Mix yeast with water. Mix flour and salt in large bowl, and then add to water mixture gradually. Cover with damp cloth and leave to rise for one hour.

* Divide into three pieces and place on a lightly-floured surface. Fold each into baguette shape and place on a baking paper-lined tray. Cut five slices in the top, cover and leave to rise for another hour.

* Pre-heat oven to 230C. Bake for 15-20mins until rich golden brown.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?