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Meilleurs Ouvriers de France

Meilleurs Ouvriers de France medal

Meilleur Ouvrier de France, commonly called MOF, means “best craftsman of France” and it is a title that is awarded to the best of the best. The concept was created in 1924, a way to preserve and promote traditional crafts and encourage those engaged in them. There are now more than 200 categories of awards for more than 180 professions including pastry making and cheese making, stained glass and violin making, book binding and boot making, hairdressing and denture making, even spectacles and boiler making. It’s sort of like the Olympics for manual trades, with medals awarded to winners.

Winners are allowed to wear the coveted red, white, and blue collar, an honour so revered that it is illegal, an imprisonable offence, to wear it if you aren’t entitled to.

What is a MOF?

The history of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France – MOF – began in 1924 as a response to a crisis in the manual  professions. A national competition invited workers to compete to become the best in their field. Today this award of excellence has been institutionalized and is recognized as a third level degree by the French Ministry of Labor. Medals are awarded at the Sorbonne, followed by a ceremony at the Élysée Palace in the presence of the President of the French Republic.

How to become a Meilleur ouvrier de France

A contest is held every three or four years and each competitor must produce “one or more masterpieces” or participate in live tests. They train for months, sometimes years, spending hundreds and hundreds of hours perfecting their skills in order to be able to “submit excellence.” Each candidate is given a certain amount of time and basic materials in order to create a few masterpieces. In the field of the culinary arts, for example, the documentary, The Kings of Pastry, follows one pastry chef, in particular, through the gruelling process to become the top in his field. Technical skills and innovation combined with  an aesthetic sense and respect to tradition – and the ever watchful clock – make this film a heartbreakingly nail biting experience.

Keepers of their crafts

Juries consisting of 3000 volunteers are involved in judging the demanding and sometimes fiendishly complex tasks that competitors must fulfil to prove their mastery of their profession. They are judged not just on the end result, but on their techniques, speed and savoir faire. Thousands of applicants are whittled down to a handful of winners who are presented with a medal at a ceremony held at the Sorbonne and then attend a party hosted by the French President at the Elysée Palace.

The MOF title is granted for life and those who hold it are considered caretakers, keepers of their craft. They must uphold standards of excellence, and pass their knowledge on. To this end there is a similar contest aimed at those younger than 21: Meilleur Apprentis de France competition (Best Apprentice of France).

MOF currently has around 4,000 members, spread right across France. Members often wear their blue, white and red collars and shops often sport an awning proudly declaring their MOF status.

By Janine Marsh, Editor of www.thegoodlifefrance, author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream,  My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online.

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