The Délifrance International Sandwich World Cup, held in Paris, always provides an interesting demonstration of just how the sandwich is growing in popularity around the globe. To underline the point, an entry from Singapore bowled the judges over this year, among them our very own Nellie Nichols.

IT’S been a long time since I’ve hidden behind a curtain, let alone actually been asked to, with six other people in near pitch darkness.

I’m not as you may think on a Murder Mystery weekend (so not my thing) but in Paris (far more likely) at the International Sandwich Show and this is the start of the sixth International Sandwich Challenge Competition in which I’m the UK judge, organised by Délifrance to increase the international public’s awareness and image of the sandwich.

Our Master of Ceremonies who’s encouraging us all behind the velvet is the absolute carbon copy of our very own Nicholas Parsons, (the only noticeable difference being he is French, otherwise trust me, there would be nothing in it).

Délifrance opens this contest to all of its customers and professionals working in the catering sector who enthuse about food and want to demonstrate their creativity and expertise, or just simply create a sandwich they feel others would enjoy.

This platform provides participants from all over the world with an organisational framework and the reputation of a very high calibre competition supported by Délifrance’s long standing expertise in bread-making. Very much a specialist in their field, Délifrance have become an ambassador of French bread across the globe with over 33 million of their baguettes sold in 2004.

This comes as no surprise to me as I have yet to come across a more delicious baguette with such superb eating quality. This year there are seven countries participating: Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy, The Netherlands, Singapore and the UK.

My fellow judges are from the same climes with the exception of Singapore and include Master Chefs, a Dietician and Nutritionalist and the Head Chef from The European Parliament. The President of the Jury is Jean- Luc Poujauran, one of Paris’ most famous and high regarded bakers.

The criteria set for the competition are clear and straightforward. A sandwich must be made on one of a large choice of Délifrance breads, showing originality in the recipe, an appetising appearance, and a good balance of flavours.

It must be made with minimum labour and be easy to eat. Nutritional rules include using at least one piece of fruit or a vegetable, along with one dairy product and at least one ingredient that is meat, fish or egg. We are called out from our curtain and introduced. Each entrant is in their own preparation booth from which they come forward to make up their sandwich in front of the judges.

Each product is then tasted, and any questions asked. Nicholas is in charge and keeps up the pace of the competition which he laces with his indomitable Parsons like humour. The auditorium is absolutely jam packed with show visitors and countless international press. Even our own BBC have arrived to film the competition.

This is the slickest of sandwich competitions in its set up and execution which has created a genuine air of global excitement and there isn’t a spare square inch to sit in. Belgium kicks off with Le Millefeuille; Feta, Olives, Red Pepper and Lamb Fillet with Balsamic and Cream on a Provencette Pain Bagnat, a round shaped light panini bread made with extra virgin olive oil.

This is a great start and a delicious product, though possibly a little pricey for the UK market. France follows with their entry, Le Sardine, quite a different combination of marinated sardines, avocado, feta, pepper tapenade and seaweed tartare on a Delivital Omega 3 sandwich baguette. I’m afraid this quite unusual roll call of ingredients didn’t quite work for me and lacked any visual appeal.

Switzerland entered with Pallenque, a Rustic Half baguette filled with a very fresh and healthy combination of prawns, lime, apple, tomatoes, onion, yellow pepper, ementhal, fresh coriander and parsley with salad leaves. This was impressive for me, though if the ementhal went missing it would have been a better eat and it would have benefited the overall cost.

Italy’s entry was called Amadeus and I still haven’t worked out why. Perhaps Mozart had a thing about swordfish on Miche bread, a rustic square shaped sough dough bread, with lime, mango, tomatoes, aloe vera juice and Philadelphia Cheese (though perhaps not all ingredients may have been readily available at the time).

The Netherlands entry was one of the best. Sandwich Swolle, a rustic baguette with a fresh herb tapenade, smoked mozzarella, Prosciutto, butter lettuce, and a mustard and honey dressing. Very good indeed.

The UK finalist was Adrian Brown with his Sunday Best. Sirloin Steak on Fougasette, a bread inspired by the French regional bread ‘Fougasse’, with Horseradish Crème Fraiche, Lime, Onion and Ginger Marmalade and Rocket.

Cooked perfectly, a great combination of flavours, this one was surely a winner? But none of us could have anticipated the calibre of the Singapore entry which impressed everyone of us on tasting.

Philip Koh’s Rasia Quay Asian Spiced Chicken was on a Herb and Olive Provencette bread, made with extra virgin olive oil again, chicken breast with tomatoes, fresh coriander leaves, red grapes, lettuce, mayo, parmesan and the best Thai chilli dressing I think I’ve ever tasted in a sandwich.

A recipe I’ve kept very safe. Here was a sandwich which could sell the world over with huge success. In the judges’ room deliberation was rife, and particularly hot as none of the windows opened, and it was one of those random very hot sunny Spring days. A Eurovision Song Contest marking system was robustly efficient in a room of several languages.

No surprises, Singapore was the unanimous winner hands down but second and third was a discussion that would still be going on now if not for stringent timing and obscene heat. Switzerland got second, which was well deserved in my book, with France’s sardines getting enough support to put it into third place, a little scary as I couldn’t see sardines and seaweed being a best seller this side of the pond. But this is a clear indication that tastes still do vary hugely between nations.

No matter really as fun, learnings and invaluable coverage was had by all. Let’s remember it’s not so long ago that a sandwich in Europe meant a slice of pretty tasteless cheese on its own or at best with a slice of plastic ham. A competition such as this continues to change all that, and I don’t believe there is another close to it.

It provides the life blood to the continuing growth of the international sandwich market by creating such huge global interest. By driving this interest and innovation Délifrance is supporting the industry and ensuring the future of the sandwich internationally. Well done them and long may it continue. The international sandwich market is on track to become as large as ours and just as dynamic. And it’s catching up at quite a pace.


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