Mario Fortin is a man with a mission – to bring Canada to the next Bakery World Cup
On October 15, 2003, Mario Fortin received a phone call that would spark a passion to occupy him for years to come. The Quebec-based bakery consultant (owner of Forma-Lab) had attended Europain in Paris in 1999. After watching some of the Bakery World Cup competitions, Fortin approached the organizers to find out why Canada wasn’t participating in the event.
“They said no one from Canada had expressed any interest in putting a team together,” said Fortin.
He left his business card with the organizers, and forgot about the conversation until that fateful October phone call. It was organizers for the Coupe Louis Lesaffre, the qualifying event for the Bakery World Cup. They wanted to know if Fortin could put a team together to enter the next qualifying round. The location? The Lesaffre Centre in Lille, France. The date? January 2004 – approximately three months time. Fortin quickly got to work.
The partnership between Lesaffre and the Bakery World Cup was initiated in 2003 as a means for Lesaffre to mark its 150th anniversary by showcasing its commitment to the industry and to boost the reputation of and interest in the Bakery World Cup. Thirty-three countries are expected to participate in the 2006-2007 selection rounds, which are split into seven zones: South America, North and Central American, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Eastern Mediterranean-Africa, and Asia. Canada, of course, falls into the North and Central America category. That qualifying round takes place April 15 to April 18, 2007 in Mexico. Canada’s competitors include Mexico, Panama, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. As the reigning world cup champions, the United States earned a buy into the next World Cup competition, set, as always, for Europain in Paris in 2008.
With only three months to prepare for the 2004 qualifying round, Fortin made use of his many bakery contacts and was able to recruit his niece, Caroline Fortin, a pastry chef working in British Columbia who was planning to return to Quebec for work, and Quebec baker Patrick LeJallé. The three met together for the first time on November 21 to practice. Caroline Fortin’s focus would be the artistic piece required of each team, LeJallé’s strength would be bread and Fortin’s contribution would be Viennoiserie. The three needed to study the regulations and restrictions set by organizers of Bakery World Cup (such things as product size and weight, as well as permitted ingredients) – and then practice, practice, practice. Fortin says the first time the team met, it took them nine hours to complete all of the tasks required during the eventual trials. After meeting a total of 21 times, the team was able to trim that down to just over seven hours. During the actual competition, teams have a maximum of eight hours to finish their tasks: teams are penalized two points for every five minutes they go over the time limit, to a maximum of 10 minutes. While competitors are working, judges hover close by, keeping an eye on such things as skill and technique, along with attention to detail, working habits, and efficiency. Fortin asked Jean Gadoua to step in as a “judge,” for the team, hovering and supervising as the team practiced and refined their technique and working habits. Gadoua travelled with the group to the qualifying round. Fortin and his team left Canada on January 17 for Lille and ended up placing second, only 80 points (out of a total score of 1200) behind first place Denmark, whose team had been to the competition four times prior.
“We didn’t have the experience they had,” says Fortin.
It’s the experience he earned the first time around that Fortin is hoping will help Team Canada during the selection round next year. While Fortin is not able to compete (the competition has an age limit of 50), he’d like to lend his expertise to the team as a coach – a team that has yet to be formed.
This fall, Fortin hopes to organize a series of competitions at baking colleges across the country to form a team that can be representative of the entire country. The people he’s looking for are those with plenty of baking expertise, and those who can make the necessary commitment.
“It’s a lot of time and if you’re not able to commit the time then the team won’t be successful,” says Fortin.
He says the team would likely practice separately for much of the lead-up to the competition in April, getting together two or three times to perfect working as teammates. Besides a commitment of time, there may be a small financial commitment required (airfare for example), although Fortin is certain his network of bakery contacts should help in terms of finding sponsors and covering most of the team’s budget. During that short period of practicing and preparing for the 2004 qualifying round, Fortin was able to raise most of the $13,000 the team needed to practice for and get to the competition. The American team works with a budget that’s more in the $100,000 range, and while Fortin admits that kind of money would make practicing and preparing easier (“we could practice more, we could buy more ingredients), he doesn’t think it’s necessary: the key ingredients are passion, skill and dedication.
Why get involved in the competition? There’s a certain prestige that comes along with it, a chance to network and make contacts, a chance to compare the baking skills of Canadians with those of others in the world, says Fortin, all of which can only be of benefit not just to participants, but also to the industry.
“I compare it to the Olympics. Any athlete is proud to compete for his or her country. It’s like that for me.”
For more information on joining or sponsoring Team Canada, contact Mario Fortin at 450-446-7246 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Martin Barnett at, 250-740-6114, e-mail BarnettM@mala.bc.ca.
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