American team captures a medal for the first time in ten years.
Though clinching the Bronze on a playing field of 21 talented teams and gracing the podium for the first time in ten years is a major accomplishment, the ambitious chefs of Pastry Team USA weren’t content with third place in the famed Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie in Lyon, France.
In an 8,000-square-foot stadium, bleachers packed with 2,500 horn-blowing, screaming supporters from 21 nations, team U.S.A. President Gilles Renusson sat on the international jury as pastry chefs John Kraus, Scott Green, and Joshua Johnson were in the kitchen laboring under the guidance of coaches Donald Wressel, two-time Bronze medalist, and Gold medal winner Ewald Notter. The intensity of the moment, the pressure of completing the tasks at hand, could be read on the faces of not just Team U.S.A., but all the teams. Competition at this level is not for the weak and weary, and medaling is not a cakewalk.
“It’s been a long time since the U.S. was on the podium,” said a proud President Gilles Renusson following the awards ceremony. “I’m very happy. They did a great job. They worked very hard. They did what they planned to do, but as you can see there were maybe some problems in the plan.”
[I felt] good and bad. We wanted to win, we trained to win, so that always hurts."
—Chef Scott Green, Pastry Team USA
The Coupe du Monde, arguably the most challenging and prestigious competition in the industry, is held over two days, with each team having 10 hours to complete a battery of technically challenging creations: three chocolate cakes, three frozen fruit desserts, 12 plated desserts, and three showpieces – chocolate, sugar, and ice. New to this year’s Pastry World Cup were the requirements that the sugar showpiece be composed of at least 50% drawn and blown sugar, and the completion of a carving crafted from a solid block of Valrhona chocolate.
Tackling the chocolate cake was Chef John Kraus. Renusson, who did not sit on the jury that judged the gateaux au chocolat, and rather judged the entremet glacée and plated dessert, told me that “while all of the flavors I tasted were excellent, the chocolate cake was said to be the best.” The showpieces were also praised at the show, by spectators, industry and jury alike. The work was nearly flawless, with barely anything left in the kitchen.
Following the award ceremony, I spoke with the team on the floor of the stage. Chef Scott Green’s immediate reaction was that he felt “good and bad.” Green, who crafted the sugar showpiece, went on to say, “We wanted to win, we trained to win, so that always hurts.” Joshua Johnson, who worked on the chocolate showpiece, also explained their mix of emotions, “When we finished, we felt great. But we came hoping to win, everyone hopes to win.”
Despite the disappointment, Chefs Kraus, Johnson and Green knew they’d done incredibly well. They’d spent months planning and training, and they’d traveled thousands of miles to hit the ground running. “We did everything we could,” said Scott, “We worked as hard as we could and we did our best. And when you do that — and didn’t leave anything behind in the kitchen—you have to be happy with the results.”
Joshua Johnson spoke of the incredible experience of competing at the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie, of the effort all the teams put in, how it feels like everyone is in a way on the same team. “Now we’re a part of this community, all the people who have ever competed here. We had a great experience. We were taught what it is to be a part of this,” he said as he extended his arms towards the competition kitchens, the bleachers, the crowds now flooding the floor of the arena.
Including this year, Team U.S.A. has made the podium six times out of a total 14 Pastry World Cups, with Bronze in ’95, ’99, ’05 and now ’15. U.S.A. took Silver in 1997, and our only Gold in 2001, with Chefs Ewald Notter, En-Ming Hsu and Michael Willaume. Team U.S.A. has a far better track record than many other teams, but Gilles Renusson, though “super happy” felt that “if the team doesn’t take big strides forward, we’ll always be chasing second or third. So hopefully this is going to stimulate the industry and bring more people to what we do!”
Renusson, Kraus, Green and Johnson all felt “incredibly grateful” for the help of so many people, people without whom they wouldn’t have made it to Lyon, let alone the podium. Johnson said, “We had so much support, our sponsors, and just a lot of people who helped us out with everything.” Yet, Renusson recognized the need for more backing, more awareness, better organization (which comes from better backing to a large extent), and a “repositioning so we can really have a chance to win the Gold.”
It’s incredibly time-consuming to train for the Coupe du Monde, and part of the success of Gold-winning teams is the luxury of time. Not just the time it takes the individual pastry chefs to train, but the time they need to train together as a team. With none of Team U.S.A.’s chefs living in the same city, let alone the same state, learning to work together in the same kitchen poses a huge challenge. But with no mishaps in the competition kitchen, the guys were very pleased with their teamwork. As Scott Green put it, “The worst thing is wondering oh maybe we should have done this or we shouldn’t have done that, but we don’t have any of those feelings at all.”
At the end of two long, hard days that were the culmination of many months of hard training, getting to glimpse the audience from the level of the podium felt great to the team. And though they were exhausted and told me that “bed sounds really good,” they left the arena and headed to the victory party together, heads held high.
“We’re happy, of course we’re happy!” exclaimed all three with huge smiles. “And we’re going to celebrate tonight!”
With the next Pastry World Cup two years away, Pastry Team U.S.A. has some room to recoup and regroup, but not as much as you might think. For a competition of this magnitude, by the time this story goes to press, the wheels of planning and organization will already be turning towards 2017, and the road to Gold.