Champion’s baguettes to be made in Sri Lanka?



Tharshan Selvarajah (Pic courtesy Instagram)

Tharshan Selvarajah, 37, the acclaimed Sri Lankan baguette maker whose baguettes were recently pronounced the best in France is thinking about franchising his business to Dubai and Sri Lanka where he sees “big possibilities,” the New York Times recently reported.

The Times Paris bureau chief Roger Cohen, a Pulitzer prize winning veteran of that paper, recently interviewed Selvarajah after he made news as the maker of the best French baguettes in a competition earlier this year. French President Emannuel Macron breakfasts on Selvarajah’s baguettes every morning as part of the prize is delivering his product to the Elysee Palace for a year. That plus a modest USD 4,250.

These 25-inch loaves of about 10 ounces each, crusty on the outside and soft and slightly salty inside, within with myriads of air pockets are virtually a French staple that Selvarajah knew nothing of when he migrated in 2006 to Paris where a brother and a cousin lived because he could not find suitable work here.

He began work at a restaurant in Paris making salads and desserts. A regular patron of this restaurant, owner of several boulangeries (as bakeries are known in France) saw him offered a job making bread.

“I knew nothing about baguettes,” he told the NYT. But by 2012 he had become the chief baker at his workplace and in 2018 participated for the first time in the ‘Best Baguette’ competition finishing third. In 2021 he bought one of the stores belonging to his patron who introduced him to the trade and set up on his own.

Today long lines of customers form outside his boulangerie on the fringes of eastern Paris. And the President of France is breakfasting on the baguettes of a Sri Lankan baker!

“God gave us different hands,” he has told the NYT in the interview which had wide traction among Lankans scattered all over the U.S. ” My mother’s chicken curry and my wife’s may use the same chicken but they do not taste the same. God gave me the hands to make the best baguette in France. I’m never angry with the dough as I knead the flour.”

Immigrants do many jobs that the French shun. Selvarajah has said he encountered occasional racialism and prejudice. He remains a Sri Lankan citizen with a 10-year residence permit in France while his wife (of Lankan descent) he married in France is a French citizen and his two children are French.

“Would he follow suit?”, the NYT had asked. “Maybe one day,” he had said, “right now I don’t have the time.”

Selvarajah does two or three pilgrimages a year to Chennai where he meets Sri Amman Bhagavan whose religious movement called Oneness inspires him. “Everyone is so tense today and thinking about money in a selfish way. He helps me to be happy inside my heart,” he’s been quoted saying.

Selvarajah has not met Macron and had no opportunity to meet and be photographed with the president although previous winners did. He had also not been invited to a party organized by the French confederation of bakers. He believes that this is because he’s the first winner of the contest who’s not French or from a French overseas territory.

“It’s not pleasant,” he had said. “Bit I don’t give a damn.”

Has he been paid for the baguettes delivered to the Elysee so far? “Not yet. Maybe at the end of the month.”