Nov 15, 2019 Last Updated 6:31 AM, Nov 9, 2017

Competitive Challenges Put Novice Bakers on the Podium

The next generation of baking hopefuls.


To build a vision of the future of baking, two prestigious culinary competitions have created exciting new challenges for talented young bakers this year, encouraging students and apprentices to test their skills like the pros. At Europain in Paris in February, the coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie initiated Young Bakery Hopefuls, and in March, the U.S. Pastry Competition premiered the Junior Pastry Chef Challenge at the International Restaurant show in New York’s Javits Center.

According to Paris Gourmet, host for the Javits event, “This is a great stepping stone into the world of competition and [an opportunity] to network with the best professionals in our wonderful industry.” Six finalists from local culinary schools presented chocolate showpieces reflecting this year’s theme, Magic & Illusion, a plated dessert, and a petit four, the latter a substitute for the chocolate bonbons obligatory for the pros.

Rabbits and top hats were favorite subjects for the showpieces, which had to be 24 inches high and a foot at the base, but top honors went to Zinzi Mponde’s Lady Brooklyn, a chocolate sculpture of a woman perched atop a mushroom in front of a book of fairy “beliefs.” Mponde’s dessert, peanut butter mousse, banana crème brûlèe, coconut sorbet, caramelized banana, salty peanut crumble, and chocolate sauce, won praise from judge Florian Bellanger, who noted “super talented pastry girl, not only her showpiece was neat for a junior competitor, but she also served the best dessert of the day ...” Mponde, who came from Jamaica where she had worked at Rosewood Resorts, is studying for a hospitality degree at the Culinary Institute of New York at Monroe College in New Rochelle. Second place went to Pooja Jhunjihunwala of the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), and Monroe College was back on the podium with third place for Kiann Cruz. The finalists, who qualified by participating at trials at their schools, spent about two months designing and creating their showpieces. Coaches and professors were close at hand at the Javits Center to cheer them on. Professor Naxielly Dominguez of Kingsborough Community College commented, “I was excited to be sending competing students who will be judged right along with the pros, by the same esteemed panel of judges.”

Coaches were also very much in evidence at the Young Bakery Hopefuls competition, where five finalists from Australia, Canada, Mauritius, the Netherlands, and Spain, were chosen from 35 countries participating in regional trials under the auspices of the Louis LeSaffre Cup, official partner of the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. Their challenge: “It is a garden party, a luncheon on the grass, at which the guests are children aged 6 to 10. For this brunch our Young Bakery Hopefuls must present two savory and two sweet bread products and Viennese pastries.”  A complete meal, adapted in appearance and taste for the target audience.

The entries were judged by an eminent panel of jurors headed by fourth generation baker Pierre Zimmerman, proprietor of Chicago’s La Fournette. But the contestants also endured the critique of a second panel: a group of ten adorable youngsters. Dressed for a picnic and wearing straw hats, they sat at a long table, diligently tasting and recording their votes by holding up a smiley or frowning face as they were served tomato sandwiches, hamburgers on buns, and custard tarts. The winner, Rianne Kuintjes from the Netherlands, who started as an intern at the Bakkerij Verba in Brackel, and has worked there for three years, says “I’m still not finished learning.”

This year’s patron for the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx, observing the Coupe competition, recalled, “I fell into the world of baking when I was little...I used to spend hours staring at the wonderful shop windows of Bernard Ganachaud, where I could see the baking oven, breads, cakes...One day he invited me to come into the bakery to see him at work instead of just salivating in front of his shop...” Marx became an apprentice, graduated from pastry school, opened a successful bakery in Bordeaux, and during a distinguished career as a chef in top dining rooms, has always made his own bread. Currently he oversees two restaurants and a cake shop at the prestigious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Paris.

A strong advocate for culinary education, Marx has established a training program for “people whose path has been difficult,” a 12-week course for learning bread basics – kneading, pushing, dividing, shaping – in the working class district in Paris where he grew up. Asked at Europain about the keys to success, he cited RER: rigor, engagement, regularity. Good suggestions for future Young Bakery Hopefuls.

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