Bonjour! If you've been brought to your knees by the smell, texture and taste of a freshly baked baguette, you are definitely not alone. And on Sunday, June 11, bread fanatics and Francophiles are uniting around this vaunted, Parisian staple at the first annual Le Grand Prix Elmendorf du Pain.
You might be asking, “Qu'est-ce que c'est?” Well, Elmendorf Baking Supplies & Cafe co-owner Teddy Applebaum — along his wife Alyssa — are behind their shop's inaugural, French-inspired competition and street fair. Teddy was happy to explain.
Andrea Shea: Merci, Teddy! You've organized this event that celebrates that iconic “sword of crusty bread” as they do in France at the Grand Prix de la Baguette. That famed fête was created by French president Jacques Chirac in 1997 to fight the degradation of traditional French bread culture. How did it inspire you?
Teddy Applebaum: I actually learned about this contest from a profile written by the great food writer Jeffrey Steingarten, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. It's one of those things I always tote out at parties: “Have you heard about the French Baguette Competition?" I think my friends and family were getting kind of sick of hearing me talk about it. It's just the beauty of celebrating something so seemingly simple, but also so complex and integral to everyday life that I find inspiring. I think we Americans could spend a little more time breaking bread together, literally and figuratively.
Shea: In your announcement for this fest you posed the question, “What's more French than the storied baguette?” Please elaborate.
Applebaum: While I don't pretend to be an expert on French culture, it seems like the French really appreciate food and the beauty of eating in a way I deeply respect, and on a personal level emulate (diet, what diet?). I mean, nearly 200 bakeries participated in the French version of this contest last year! Food is a way of life over there, and celebrating the deceptively simple baguette captures the beauty of the small things in everyday life.
Shea: And how will your competition in Cambridge on the street outside your shop play out? Who's competing, and who'll judge their baguettes?
Applebaum: We feel really lucky and proud to have fielded such an amazing group of judges. We've got Jeffrey Hamelman, author of the seminal book Bread. Hana Quon, owner of the recently closed Cafe Madeleine. The founders of the award-winning Clear Flour Bakery. And the Boston French General Consul Mr. Mustafa Soykurt bringing some serious French chops to the whole thing.
Basically, they're going to taste their way through 12 to 15 professional baguettes, and 50 amateur sourdough loaves and decide who's got the best stuff based on a variety of attributes like flavor, texture, and bake quality. I have a feeling they'll be pretty sick of bread by the time this is over. Luckily we've got some wine and cheese at the event as well to clear their palates.
Shea: The professional winner earns a pretty impressive prize!
Applebaum: I know, right? In the French competition the winning bakery gets to supply the French presidential residence for the year. In our case, the winning bakery gets to be the official supplier of the Boston French Consulate's events for 2023. So much prestige! Not to mention some serious bragging rights and a sweet trophy.
Shea: Then there's the Parisian street fair. What can visitors expect? And should they wear berets?
Applebaum: Probably. You don't want to look like a fool right? It's all about the headgear. We've got about 20 vendors selling art and French-inspired grub at the festival. Everything from crepes to macarons. And of course bread! We have about four bread bakeries showing up. Also live French-inspired music and games in the streets. And it wouldn't be a European festival without a glass of wine. The East Cambridge Business Association is co-hosting this with us and navigated the local bureaucracy so you can walk around with a drink in your hand! Very French.
Shea: What do you hope revelers take away from the first annual Le Grand Prix Elmendorf Du Pain?
Applebaum: We just hope everybody has a great time. And perhaps gets inspired to throw their hat (beret?) in the ring for next year's competition.
The Elmendorf du Pain Parisian Street Fair is Sunday, June 11, 2023 from 12pm-4pm at Cambridge Street & 8th Street, East Cambridge. There is no rain date for this event.
Food vendors include: Formaggio Kitchen, Breadboard Bakery, Wild Pops, New Deal Fish Market, Emma's Macarons, Waffle Cabin, Michette Bakery, Batifol. Also several local artists, wine by the glass and live music!