The 3rd Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition

The 3rd Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition

Round 1

The 3rd  Annual International Pastry Competition at the 7th Annual  International Chefs Congress: Day 1
The 3rd Annual International Pastry Competition at the 7th Annual International Chefs Congress: Day 1

In a stampede of sweet genius, 20 of the country’s top pastry chefs gathered in New York, decked in customized StarChefs.com ChefWorks jackets and at the ready to put out their best work for The 3rd Annual International Pastry Competition, presented by PreGel America. They came for many reasons—some wanted inspiration, some looked to the networking potential and hoped for new friendships, and others wanted a challenge outside of the restaurant kitchen. But each one—a collection of restaurant pastry chefs, consultants, and bakery-shop savants—brought one thing to the plate: sheer talent.

As the pastry competition continues to grow in it’s third year, the level of competitors has steadily increased as well. This year the group spanned both coasts and included many of the nation’s top restaurants. “It’s really well covered regionally from East to West Coast,” said last year’s reigning champion, Ramon Perez, who also serves as a judge this year. “That will help showcase individual styles.”

But showing off that style in the competition setting isn’t always easy. Within the confines of a busy restaurant kitchen schedule, finding the time to prepare for competition can be difficult. “It’s a serious commitment just to do that job,” said competition Emcee Keegan Gerhard. “To also take the time to do competition is pretty incredible.” And an even harder challenge is adjusting to the fast-paced competition environment inside a new kitchen—complete with unfamiliar equipment and sponsored products.

Faced with these challenges, the chefs hit the ground running, wrapping up an hour of prep time under the careful eye of the floor judges, including PreGel Corporate Pastry Chef Fredric Monti, Institute of Culinary Education Instructor Nicole Kaplan, Paris Gourmet Corporate Pastry Chef Sylvain Leroy, and Sugar & Plum Pastry Chef Pichet Ong. The group then left the Main Stage kitchen, returning one at a time to plate their dishes.

A key concern for every pastry chef during plating was the frozen element, and achieving just the right texture and temperature in sorbet, mousse, or ice cream. Looking back after their performances, Luis Villavelazquez said his extra virgin olive oil ice cream was firmer then he would have preferred, while Kasra Adjari commented that his Tom Kai Gai Semifreddo was too soft. Another concern was time; even the most practiced chefs felt the 10-minute plating time rush by.

But technical problems aside, the finished pre-desserts certainly put the group’s individual styles on display. Salvatore Martone wowed the judges with his sugar skills, using a pulled sugar globe as his serving vessel, while Christina Kaelberer brought some California flavors to her dish with avocado-lime sorbet and yamamomo berries. And even among such a varied group of talent, there were a number of common elements. Both Jennifer Yee and Jim Hutchison highlighted the refreshing flavor of cucumber, and a number of the chefs included yogurt or cheese in their menus.

While the pre-dessert is the smallest portion in the pastry competition, Round 1 can be viewed as the most challenging. And navigating an unknown kitchen equipment is just the beginning; spot on flavor is truly key. “The first round is the hardest one,” said Perez. “You have to distinguish yourself between 19 other competitors in 2 bites.”

In the end, the pastry chefs were aiming for a pre-dessert that balances sweet, salty, and acidic components. They try to create “flavor in the moment,” according to Gerhard. And although each chef worked hard to pout forth their best presentation, only 10 finalists made the cut to continue onto Round 2 of the competition. The Round 1 winning chefs will receive a prize of a Waring Commercial Spice Grinder and Immersion Blender.

Round 1 Finalists:

Pastry Chef Jim Hutchison of Foxwoods Resort & Casino– Mashantucket, CT
Pastry Chef Ashley Brauze of DB Bistro Moderne – New York, NY
Pastry Chef Aya Fukai of Waldorf Astoria Chicago– Chicago, IL
Pastry Chef Michal Shelkowitz of Dovetail – New York, NY
Pastry Chef Salvatore Martone of L’atelier de Joel Robuchon – New York, NY
Pastry Chef Luis Villavelazquez of Les Elements Consulting– San Francisco, CA
Pastry Chef Stephen Collucci of Colicchio & Sons – New York, NY
Pastry Chef Jennifer Yee – New York, NY
Pastry Chef Francis Ang of Fifth Floor – San Francisco, CA
Pastry Chef Steven Cak of Parkside – Austin TX

Round 2

The 3rd  Annual International Pastry Competition at the 7th Annual  International Chefs Congress: Day 2
The 3rd Annual International Pastry Competition at the 7th Annual International Chefs Congress: Day 2

Ten pastry chefs hit the Main Stage kitchen running this morning, with one thought on their minds: PreGel America’s 5-Star Select Hazelnut Superior Paste. Their end result may have been beautifully plated desserts, but everyone kept an eye towards the required ingredient as Round 2 of the StarChefs.com 3rd Annual StarChefs.com Pastry Competition kicked off.

“When you can present any flavors the judges are comparing apples to oranges,” said Emcee Keegan Gerhard. Instead of the blank canvas of the Round 1 pre-dessert challenge, in Round 2 each competitor was challenged to create a plated dessert featuring 25 percent of its elements crafted with PreGel’s paste. But while a required ingredient helps steer the direction of a dessert, there is no easy part of a competition, and concocting a dessert that both highlighted hazelnut, and presented balanced flavor, proved to a be a test. “Hazelnut is a very difficult flavor to blend and then still get the flavor,” said Head Floor Judge, and PreGel America Corporate Pastry Chef, Fredric Monti.

Of course, this group of pastry chefs included some of the nation’s top talent, and the final dishes showed varied techniques and flavors. 2010 New York Rising Star Pastry Chef Jennifer Yee looked to Asian inspiration, presenting rich hazelnut flavor with hazelnut mochi and ice cream and bright, floral pickled plums. Stephen Collucci went for a traditional flavor composition, layering hazelnut, raspberry, and chocolate in a number of textures and applications.

The second round began with an hour of prep, as the competitors finished these elements under the watchful eye of floor judges Monti, Institute of Culinary Education Instructor Nicole Kaplan, and Paris Gourmet Corporate Pastry Chef Sylvain Leroy. Salvatore Martone wowed the crowned again with his sugar skills, pulling thin sugar strands into a garnish for his Mango Noisette, while Ashley Brauze finished her hazelnut foam.

And as important as using the featured ingredient was, the complimentary flavors were also key in creating balance in flavor and texture.

Sunday’s emphasis on savory flavors, the second round featured a number of vegetal elements, as well as a focus on cheese. Michal Shelkowitz chose to offset her hazelnut cake with a light carrot purée and olive oil ice cream, while Francis Ang presented a salty-sweet combination of Parmesan ice cream, corn-hazelnut cremeux, and blueberry compote.

And while the judges, including Head Judge Johnny Iuzzini, Elizabeth Falkner, Michael Laiskonis, Ramon Perez, Stephane Treand, and Jeffrey Steingarten, were impressed with the overwhelmingly high level of talent across the board, Round 2 demanded an elimination. Only three could advance to the final day and compete for the chance to win the grand prize. Along with a shot at the final round, the semi-finalists each received a $500 voucher for Montague equipment and a Waring Commericial Liquilock Food Processor.

Round 2 Finalists:

Pastry Chef Aya Fukai of Waldorf Astoria Chicago – Chicago, IL
Pastry Chef Jennifer Yee – New York, NY
Pastry Chef Salvatore Martone of L'atelier de Joël Robuchon – New York, NY

Round 3

The 3rd  Annual International Pastry Competition at the 7th Annual  International Chefs Congress: Day 3
The 3rd Annual International Pastry Competition at the 7th Annual International Chefs Congress: Day 3

The clock was ticking as the three remaining competitors jumped to the start of Round 3 of the 3rd Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition. Their task? To create a polished dessert buffet, complete with bon bons, an entremet, and a chocolate or sugar sculpture (24 to 36 inches in height). To top it off, in this final hour, an additional element was added into the mix, testing each competitor to craft a dessert cocktail using Tamaya Gourmet juices.

Working under the careful eye of Floor Judges Fredric Monti and Iacopo Falai, Aya Fukai focused on chocolate, first working to complete her Chambord-Early Grey bonbons and Chestnut, Cherry, Almond, and Vanilla entremet before spending time on her “Spice and Rib Cage” chocolate sculpture, a re-imagining of a skeletal backbone. Lastly, she wrapped up her dessert cocktail. Served on a spoon, the spherified Muscat Zester was a liquid burst of bright fresh flavor.

Continuing to show off his sugar skills, Salvatore Martone chose sugar as his medium for the sculpture portion, and spent much of the three hour prep time working on an elaborate red and green display. Starting with a pâte de fruits and marbled orb base, Martone built upward, adding a large half-heart green piece, pulled flowers, and additional sugar garnishes. He also finished his entremet, a round presentation robed in chocolate glaze and filled with peanut butter mousse and raspberry jam.

Jennifer Yee used her first hour wisely, quickly wrapping up work on her Strawberry Bubble entremet and Black Sesame-Caramel Rocks. After enrobing the pink entremet, a traditional French-style half-dome, and rolling and dipping her caramel truffles, Yee focused on her sculpture. Looking to a nature-inspired design, she created an organic sugar and chocolate presentation with pulled sugar branches and leaves and white chocolate flowers. In her last moments of competition time, Yee dipped champagne glasses in lime zest, filling them with blueberry juice and Prosecco for her refreshing drink.

And while the added cocktail component made the mise en place for these competitors more difficult, it also showed off their ability to think on the fly. “There’s nothing better in a competition then throwing in a curve,” said Emcee Keegan Gerhard. “Because that’s what happens in a kitchen.” After three hours of prep (just enough time for these busy competitors), the tasting judging began with Head Judge Johnny Iuzzini, Elizabeth Falkner, Michael Laiskonis, Ken Oringer, Ramon Perez, Stephane Treand, and Jeffrey Steingarten. After sipping on the dessert cocktail, digging into the bon bons, and eating the entremets, the judges walked around each competitor's dessert buffet, evaluating the presentation of sculpture, bon bon, and entremet as a whole.

And at the end of the day, there could be only one winner. PreGel´s Jillian Hillard was on hand to award their $5,000 check, an invitation to their 5-Star Pastry Series Seminars, and a warm round of applause to the winner of the 3rd Annual International Pastry Competition, Salvatore Martone. Martone also walks away with a Montague Vectaire Double Deck Oven; a $5,000 voucher for Bravo culinary equipment; and a profile on StarChefs.com, along with a spot at the judge's table for next year's StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition.

The 3rd  Annual International Pastry Competition Winner: Pastry Chef Salvatore Martone
Pastry Chef Salvatore Martone
2012 StarChefs.com 3rd Annual International Pastry Competition Winner
Pastry Chef Salvatore Martone of L'atelier de Joël Robuchon – New York, NY

Raspberry-Cheesecake Cocktail
Caramel-Orange Bon Bons
Peanut Butter-Raspberry Jam Entremet
“Half Heart” Sugar Sculpture

by Katherine Sacks with Lauren Boscoe

Photos by: Chaz Cruz, Max Flatow, Ken Goodman, John Mazlish, Ben Rosser, Nick Stango, Shannon Sturgis, and Clay Wlliams

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