Nothing like the sound of a chainsaw to get you bright eyed and bushy tailed first thing in the morning.
During the World Pastry Cup the first half of the morning is chaos. Ice chips are flying everywhere, giant sheets of plastic are sprawled across the floor, the ice candidates are often drenched in water or melted ice, the chainsaws are menacing and fierce compared to the delicate work that needs to be done for the sugar and chocolate showpieces and the roar of the wet vacs keep everyone on their toes.
For my 8am brief with the sound stage organizers I usually camp out in Valrhona drinking tiny cups of Nespresso and munching on Bridor croissants to get organized before the big show starts. This year Valrhona set up a booth stage right with a viewing window right next to kitchen number one. From this spot I get the perfect vantage point of seeing the early morning chaos without yet being part of it. I can see the team supporters who have arrived early demarcate their territory with flags, t-shirts and obligatory noise makers. I can view which teams have already gotten in a fair amount of progress with their work. Looking out across the floor I love seeing a sea of tall white toques and jackets most with the identifying blue, white and red stripes of France’s most respected craftsmen group MOF making sure the morning starts off smooth, and from this little nook I can safely see the ice candidates working their magic with chainsaws, ice picks, chipping tools and any other paraphernalia without getting hit in the face with ice shavings. This part of the morning is like gold to me, my only moment to breathe in the competition and fill my lungs with the air that hopes and dreams are made of.
The team in kitchen one starts at 6:30 am and the rest are subsequently released to begin work at 6 minute intervals. This is done for for judging reasons and pushes the day along much smoother. This means that by the time the doors opens at 9am the teams have already put in a couple hours of good work. The most visible work at this time are the ice sculptures. It’s not often in this funny world of ours that we get to some of the most refined beautiful chocolate and sugar work preceded by guys carrying around chainsaws hacking away at 6 feet high blocks of ice. Most notable during the competition on day one was Lucca Cantarin of team Italy’s outfit, the Italian’s are known for their fine taste and craftsmanship in their everyday outfits and they did not disappoint with the ice uniform. Belgium working on day 2 rocked the ice craving part of the show, Arnaud Szalies was serious and doing some intense masterful work, he robustly craved out a Mad Hatters face to the point I knew what it was even before he was half done. I later learned he had never even tried his hand at ice craving prior to joining the Belgian team, his hard work payed off as he later won the special Ice Sculpture prize.
The teams work on their sugar and chocolate showpieces throughout the day all the while watching the time for presentations. First up on the clock each day is the chocolate dessert or chocolate entremet which is usually a gorgeous luscious looking chocolate cake with an intensely shiny glaze with a small sugar adornment hinting at the theme of the showpiece it will be displayed upon. The chocolate stand outs for me as an observer over the two days were Japan, South Korea, Australia, Italy, Singapore and France. I watch them just like the rest of the audience as the cakes are walked in front of the judges and media before getting sliced in half and shown to everyone again once again. I check out the glazes first as it’s easy to see if the teams ran into any trouble in the kitchen with these impossibly shiny glazes any imperfection is sure to show up.
Frozen dessert judging takes place just after lunch. This is really a fascinating part of the day, as the entremet glacé is often beautiful on the outside yet it’s really the interior that deserves the most attention. When sliced in half for viewing there are often gasps and awws from the audience as layers smooth as butter are cut into to reveal hidden designs.Texture and temperature are key here and the first slice reveals a multitude of information. This year’s frozen dessert from Joffrey Lafontaine of Team France was a glossy white spiraled dome on the outside with layers of mango, lime, coconut and raspberry on the inside perfectly mirroring the gears for of the automotive theme. Another stand out was Koh Moiryama of team Japan’s Kiyomi entremet glacé with the vibrant orange sugar pieces bookending the cake and once sliced open showed each segment of the citrus fruit using a melange of passionfruit, kiyomi orange, lemon and verbena ice creams and sorbets.
Last up for the tasting round is the plated dessert round. Plated desserts need to include one element from the team’s home country. Some countries really showed us what they are famous for, using ingredients, techniques and flavors that aren’t commonly seen outside their country. The plated desserts came in all forms this year, Denmark had a bomb for the pirate theme, Australia’s was minimalist and architectural which fit in superbly with the sydney opera house and bridge chocolate showpiece, Brazil always brings a smile and upbeat mood did a playful plated dessert “their heart is green yellow and tropical” and the most seamless plated dessert was France’s depicting the car’s tachometer set at 7500 RPM.
Once the entremets are all judged the showpieces start making their way to the floor one by one. Some get lifted over the front of the kitchen while others go through the back and walk the long way around to the tables. Each team carries their own showpiece so it’s their responsibility if anything happens, and every year something happens. Malaysia’s sugar piece broke while they were still in the kitchen but like champions they turned right around and put up the best piece the could with what they had remaining. Belgium broke something with a huge crumbling sound, I have to guess was part of their sugar piece while they were at the table, but with so many little odds and ends in their showpiece you couldn’t tell where they broke anything or if that they had in fact broken anything.
Team Italy stole my heart with their circus theme from the get go. My dreams are filled with circus acts and bright red noses (of which I own three and do wear on occasion.) Their sugar clown springs from a jack in the box like coil that is so beautifully translucent it evokes the feeling of movement. Italy being no stranger to the podium; placing second in 2011 brought home the Bronze this year.
Team South Korea was phenomenal. Medusa’s head (pictured above) has so much emotion in it, Young Hoon Kim paid so much attention to detail that I was blown away, the pained look in the eyes combined with the furrowed brow, eye shadow and blood red eyes spoke to me in a way that humanized Medusa in this torrid love affair she was having with Poseidon. South Korea has never stood on the podium, maybe this year could have been their chance, they came in fifth but I doubt this is going to be the last we see of them. Young Hoon Kim working on Sugar this year competed in 2011 working with chocolate; my question is if he competed using the same medium would he have taken his team to the podium?
Japan is always a stand out in the World Pastry Cup, the country is known for attention to detail and finesse which translates very clearly to high scores here at the Coupe du Monde. This year their sugar and chocolate showpiece were so flawlessly designed to be together. The jackets on the figurines on both the showpieces were so well matched that looking at them both side to side it’s difficult to tell that one was chocolate and one was sugar. The conductor on the chocolate piece is placed in such a way that his tails are flying behind him, with his hands in the air that I feel I can get lost in the music of the piece, there’s movement as if the sugar piece relied on his cues in order to preform. It was a beautiful way to win second place.
The competition was strong this year but the gold was taken home by a young bunch who really did an incredible job. It’s easy to see as a team works throughout the day how much time they put into their training. Their ideas were strong and well thought out. The attention to detail comes from a passion, a subject that they feel strongly about. Team France brought home the Gold by doing what they love, you can see it in the showpieces, they’re magnificent.
The official slideshow of the photos from the World Pastry Cup / Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie are here