Editor’s Letter: November 2009
By Brian Hartz
Pulling off a live match-up involving all stages of food creation will be significantly more complex, but there’s no reason it can’t be done with proper planning and support.
Does Canada’s baking industry need more competitive events? I mused on this topic in my blog at BakersJournal.com and got an enthusiastic “yes!” from readers.
The question originated at a meeting of the Canadian Pastry Chefs Guild in mid-September. Guild members were discussing ways to boost attendance at meetings and the topic of competitive cooking shows came up.
The weekend before the meeting, I attended a Food Network-sanctioned, “Iron Chef”-style contest at the Hot & Spicy Food Festival in Toronto and was impressed with not only the superb production values, but also the attendance. It was a standing-room-only crowd as chefs battled each other and the clock to plate the best dishes for a panel of culinary experts. The cameraman was constantly darting around, providing excellent shots of the action that were then projected onto a screen behind the stage. The single-camera setup made it a little disorienting at times and points of view shifted back and forth, but latecomers standing near the sides and back of the auditorium were surely appreciative.
Meanwhile, the emcee did a great job mixing commentary and updates on what the chefs were doing with explanations of the rules and brief chats with the judges. And in true “Iron Chef” fashion there was even a mystery ingredient – fresh Ontario beets – revealed dramatically right before the contest began.
Mentioning this at the guild meeting stirred some talk about how Canada’s baking industry could capitalize on the competitive cooking craze. I don’t have enough space to recap the discussion, but here are three responses to my blog post on the subject:
Being a young pastry cook, I find it difficult to find solid information on how to get involved in the pastry world. There isn’t a lot of information about even such popular events as Coupe de monde de la Boulangerie or even how to enter the World Skills competition. I have asked teachers about both events and no [one] knew of them. Showcasing pastry chefs and bakers in a new light will really help new and young people to become more interested in the field. – Stephanie Blackmore
I am a recent graduate of the professional baking program at Vancouver Island University and completely agree with the need for more baking competitions. I competed in Skills Canada this past year and had a blast and can’t wait to do it again. I would also be interested in doing other competitions as well but I can’t seem to find any. What can we do to get the word out? I want to gain more experience and I think [taking part] in competitions would be terrific. – Tara Devine
I would suggest groups like the Canadian Pastry Chefs Guild get their feet wet at the college level with an “Iron Chef”-style competition, and offer some real meat as the reward (pay a chunk of tuition or something like that). Get local media involved, and sponsors will line up, although some might need to be coaxed to the altar a little bit. It takes legwork, time, dedication, commitment and most of all passion, and it certainly can be a very rewarding success. – Mark Floerke, project leader, Food Oil Applications Bake Lab, Archer Daniels Midland Co.
Canada, it’s time to step up and get those competitive juices flowing. The Bread Bakers Guild of America has assembled its nine-member team that will train for the Louis Lesaffre Cup at the International Baking Industry Exposition in Las Vegas next September. Meanwhile, Team Canada, at the time of this writing, was still looking for a third member to compete at the Cup – the qualifier for the prestigious Bakery World Cup in 2012.
To be fair, Bakery Showcase in May 2010 will have two competitions – cake decorating and decorative bread – each with professional and student divisions. These fall under the type of contest in which the work is done in advance and the finished product is brought to the show for judging; pulling off a live match-up involving all stages of food creation will be significantly more complex, but there’s no reason it can’t be done with proper planning and support.