Bakers Journal

Bakery mastery

April 22, 2010
By Brian Hartz

PARIS – One of the first things you need to know about Europain 2010 is
the one thing no one was supposed to know . . . until now.

PARIS – One of the first things you need to know about Europain 2010 is the one thing no one was supposed to know . . . until now.

Barry Callebaut Canada staff and customers took part in a pre-Europain tour of Belgium and France. 

We all knew it was going to be the scene of a brand-new competition, the Bakery Masters, made up of the six best bakers, judged individually, in the 2006-07 Louis Lesaffre Cup and the 12 best, again judged individually, from the 2008 Bakery World Cup. And we knew there would be no Canadians among the field of competitors for the prestigious contest.


But what we didn’t know was that a Canadian would be selected as chairman of the jury that would decide the overall winner in each category: bread, Viennese pastry and artistic showpiece.

That person was Mario Fortin. The former Team Canada coach played a key role on the ultra-secret jury, which was also overseen by an honorary president – Peter Becker, head of the International Bakery Union – and French baker Christian Vabret, holder of the prestigious “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” title, who created the Bakery World Cup in 1992.

“The Bakery Masters is a brand-new competition that brings together the greatest bakers who took part in the Louis Lesaffre Cup and the Bakery World Cup,” Vabret said. “The aim is to reveal, out of the 6,000 bakers encountered all over the world during the past few years, the ‘nuggets’ who could represent their profession on the international stage. By giving bakers the opportunity to make their mark as individuals and to move forward as professionals, the Bakery Masters participants will be keen to promote our profession and to raise its status.”

To ensure impartiality, jury members were chosen from countries not represented in the competition. They did not know each other prior to the event and had no personal or professional connection with the competitors. And, of course, the composition of the jury remained shrouded in mystery until Europain 2010.

“I had to keep it so secret,” Fortin told Bakers Journal. “I couldn’t even tell my family. But it was a gift and a great honour to be invited to be chairman of the jury.”

Fortin said he viewed his selection as a validation of the work he and many others in the industry have been doing to enhance the image and reputation of Canadian baking on the world stage – and a call-to-action for aspiring artisan bakers in Canada.

The trophy awarded to winners of the Bakery Masters at Europain 2010.

“Canada doesn’t believe in artisans,” he said. “We don’t get any respect. But in France, artisan baker is one of the best jobs you can have. In Canada, it is nothing because of the dominance of companies like Weston and Canada Bread. The Bakery Masters organizers saw what we did with Team Canada in the last two Bakery World Cups. They see how we go up against Team USA and its $500,000 budget, [whereas] we have maybe $15,000 but we are still capable of great things. We have the talent here, and I would like to see more people getting involved.”

Those are strong words, to be sure, but Fortin is a competitor, after all, and wants nothing more than to see Canada’s artisan bakers atop the podium at the next Bakery World Cup in 2012. That journey will begin this September at the Louis Lesaffre Cup in Las Vegas. For a first-person account of how Fortin came to be named chairman of the Bakery Masters jury – as well as the results of the competition

A place for business
The Bakery Masters got top billing at Europain 2010, but at its core the event is about business, and the companies there pulled out all the stops to inform and entertain visitors. From culinary students crafting sugar sculptures right before your eyes to demonstrations of amazingly high-tech commercial bakery machinery, Europain had it all under one roof.

Winners of the Bakery Masters competition, from left: Pao Chun Wu of Taiwan (bread), Thomas Planchot of France (Viennese pastry), and François Brandt of the Netherlands (artistic showpiece).

And if by chance you wanted to see bakery, pastry, chocolate or ice cream innovations outside of the 80,000 square metres of exhibition space at Europain, companies such as Barry Callebaut were taking customers on excursions as far afield as Belgium to get a taste of Europe’s finest artisanal breads and sweets.

Mark Pennington, Callebaut’s gourmet regional sales manager for western Canada, and his colleague Jean-Jacques Bajot arrived – along with a group of about 20 Callebaut Canada customers – in Europe March 1, well before the start of Europain on the 6th.

Mark Pennington, Barry Callebaut’s gourmet regional sales manager for western Canada, at Europain 2010.

“We brought a group of customers from Vancouver to Europain. It was a diverse group of small and large clients,” Pennington told Bakers Journal when we caught up with him at the show. “We took them on a tremendous pre-Europain tour – to Belgium for two nights where we toured the Callebaut factory, the world’s largest. We also visited most of the major chocolatiers – big and small – in Belgium.”

The ambitious itinerary also took the group to many legendary Parisian chocolate and pastry shops, including Lenôtre, which Pennington views as the “Mount Everest” of the industry, and whose famed culinary and pastry school Callebaut supplies.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. Even the deli,” he says. “If you could replicate that shop anywhere in the world, you couldn’t do any better. Everyone says it’s simply perfection.”

Pennington’s not ashamed to admit, “The level of pastry and chocolate excellence in Europe is superior to anything we have in Canada.”

But, he adds, that’s why it’s so important for global companies like Callebaut to expose their customers in other markets to what’s happening in Europe, even if it means picking up a very large tab for travel and accommodations.

“Oh, it’s essential,” he says. “Callebaut Belgium understands that Vancouver’s a long, long way from Europain. It’s a lot of money, a lot of expense to attend it. We were happy to help the folks coming from Vancouver this year. The next Europain, we’ll do the same thing for customers in Eastern Canada.”

A French culinary school student puts the finishing touches on a sugar-work showpiece at Europain 2010 in Paris.

Surprisingly, Callebaut wanted to bring more Canadian customers to Europain, says Pennington, but struggled to receive commitments due to concerns over the economy and participants being away from their business affairs for what amounted to nearly two weeks.

“I’m slightly disappointed that there aren’t more people from North America here,” Pennington told us at the show. “There are very few from the United States. It used to be that the whole world would flock to Europain because it’s so cutting edge. There’s stuff here that’s like, whoa, it’s so new and exciting and you can’t see it anywhere else.

“But a lot of companies, there’s been a recession, right, and they’re relying on salespeople like me to tell them what’s going on and bring back info on the really new and innovative stuff, which is what I’m doing.”

It might be a down year for Europain from a North American perspective, but other markets are opening up and expanding all the time, says Pennington.

“Our European guys are very excited. They’ve had tremendous local interest, of course, plus from places like Russia, Cyprus, Poland, Czech Republic, Egypt . . . there are major entrepreneurs coming to Europain looking to do business. It’s been a great show in general for us.”

The next Europain is in 2012 and Pennington wasn’t sure if he’d be attending, as it’ll be Callebaut’s customers in eastern Canada that will be getting the royal European treatment. But that just makes him appreciate the event even more.

“It’s been the trip of a lifetime for me,” he says. “We only get to do this every few years, you know. The next time we do this for western Canada it’ll be four years, at least. It’s like an Olympics.”

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