4th Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition Wrap-up
Davina Soondrum plating her Round 1 pre-dessert
Mellisa Root garnishing her Round 1 pre-dessert
Peter Schmutte beside his Unified Brands FX Series freezer drawer system
The Judges Panel converses during Round 1 of IPC
Put Up Your Pastry Dukes!
Twenty chefs from around the world competed in the first of three exciting challenges during Day 1 of the 4th Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition. With only an hour to put the finishing touches on their pre-desserts, contestants immediately got into the groove at the newly assembled competition kitchens—complete with Waring induction burners, stand mixers, and Vitamix blenders—on the Main Stage of the SuperPier. They impressed floor and tasting judges (as well as the audience) with a wide range of technique, organization, and presentation skills. Seated at the illustrious tasting judges panel were: Johnny Iuzzini, Elizabeth Falkner, David Burke, Michael Laiskonis, and famed critic and writer Jeffrey Steingarten; Keegan Garehard emceed.
In the end, the chefs were given a mere 10 minutes to prepare 10 plates of their pre-desserts. While some created beautifully plated works, presented on elegant dishes provided by Steelite, which complemented rich, earthy flavors, others fell just short. Even then, all competitors walked away with a 7-inch immersion blender, courtesy Waring Commercial. Pastry Cook Sean Pera of The Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina, started the competition off with a sweet thwack—tasters had to crush and crack a meringue egg shell to get to the elderflower custard in side. Laszlo Bollok’s Avocado Lemon Panna Cotta was also a stand out, marrying heavenly textures with a light and buttery panna cotta. A crunchy tomato skin garnish packed a wallop of flavor, as did a crispy tempura crumble.
Other eye catching pre-desserts included Bobby Schaffer’s Compressed Crab Apple dish, Ryan Buttler’s play on Peanut Butter and Jelly with Lemonade, and Jared Bacheller’s sweet and fruity Yogurt Cake. Taria Camerino, however, blurred the boundaries of pre-dessert the furthest with her silk-screened pear miso ink and oak charcoal. Unlike all of the other pastries, her dish was an invitation ready to be opened. Camerino calls the pre-dessert “Take Me Away” and said “it engages the diner and brings everyone together. It becomes a whole sensory experience as everyone joins together to lick the flavor.” Thiago Silva introduced refreshing flavors to the competition with his Green Apple-Cucumber Consommé: puckery and bright—the ultimate palate cleanser.
Day 2 of the 4th Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition challenged competitors to an intense round of plated desserts. With only 10 chefs remaining, the stakes were higher, the judges stricter, and the grand prizes, presented by PreGel America,Waring Commercial, and Montague, that much closer. By the end of the morning's mayhem, only three chefs remained.
Thomas Raquel, who used autumn as an inspiration for his Day 1 pre-dessert, kept the theme going with a Caramelized Maple Custard, Squash-Torrone Crémeux, Torrone-Candy Cap Mushroom Gelato, Seared Figs, and Pecan Powder. His elegant plating was a perfect match for the rich, savory flavors with sweet undertones. “Color is flavor,” said Raquel as he described his inspiration. “When creating a dish I start with color, then I look and figure out what natural ingredients I can use to get the colors I want.”
Meg Galus made a smooth and impressive transition to the plated dessert round with her Pound Cake, Graham-Torrone Streusel, Meyer Lemon Curd, Torrone Mousse, Rooibos-Orange Cream, Honeyed Apricots, and Saint Germain Sorbet. The dish featured several floral elements that were perfectly balanced by the textures and the salty elements that accompanied them.
Sean Pera rounded out the top three with a Micro Coconut Cake, which he garnished with Coconut Rocks, Pickled Cucumber-White Tea Gelée, Anhui Wild Lime Ice Cream, Coconut-Ginger Tapioca, Crispy Ash, Black Sesame Crumble, Avocado Pudding, Seared Figs, and Pecan Powder. The abundant components were artfully plated in a shallow Steelite bowl.
The stylish Giane Cavaliere road a dark horse to a spectacular Day 2 finish. Her Pistachio Sponge, Chocolate Soil, Milk Chocolate Crunch Rocks, Blood Orange Curd, Chocolate Sorbet that was inspired by garden elements was plated with a natural flourish and packed an intense burst of chocolate that finished clean and bright.
Also standing out was Thiago Silva of the EMM Group in New York City. His Sticky Coconut Cake, Coconut Water Sorbet, Shiso Lime Syrup, Braised Pineapple, and Candied Pistachios was an explosion of textures, temperature, and flavors that instantly transported you to Brazil. Although he didn’t make the cut to Round 3, his dish easily earned a StarChefs honorable mention.
3 Pastry Competitors Moving on to Round 3:
1. Meg Galus of NoMI at Park Hyatt – Chicago, IL
2. Thomas Raquel of Acadia – Chicago, IL
3. Sean Pera of The Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa – Cary, NC
Winner Sean Pera accepts his award of $5,000 from PreGel America
Winner Sean Pera and his Round 3 showpiece
Meg Galus' chocolate showpiece
Johnny Iuzzini inspecting the Round 3 showpieces
Jeffrey Steingarten, Sherry Yard, and Dominique Ansel
Triumph and (Chocolate) Tragedy at IPC Finals
On the final day of the 4th Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition, the last three competitors standing, Meg Galus, Sean Pera and Thomas Raquel, went head to head in a chocolate battle. Each of them created bonbons, an entremet, and a chocolate showpiece to determine who among them would be the victor of the grueling three-day test.
Pera impressed the judges with his bold flavors and daring white chocolate “egg” showpiece. His Lychee, Hazelnut, and Ginger Bonbons; along with Vanilla-Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Pickled Raspberry-Rose Gelée and Vanilla Bavarian, were nuanced and elegant. "The Rose rock that was supposed to accompany the entremet, didn't make it onto plate. But I think the rose flavor came through on the gelée,” said Pera who was racing against the clock in the final hour.
Galus, who eventually took third place, prepared a Ginger Cheesecake, Tonka Bavarian, Gingerbread, Chocolate Crémeux, and Maple Chantilly for her entremet. All the elements came together beautifully and simply on her plate, while her Salted Caramel Dulcey Ganache Bonbons packed quite a punch. Tragically, while transfering her showpiece to the final presentation table, the chocolate structure collapsed.
Thomas Raquel impressed the judges early on with his techniques. Raquel carried on his autumn theme from the first two days of the competition effortlessly to produce a chocolate masterpiece—a tree stump with an earthy crater stacked on top, finished with elegant Cocoa Butter Branches and Apple Cider Bonbons. For his entremet, he presented a Cocoa Biscuit with Red Fruit Confit, Milk Chocolate Crust, and Dark Chocolate Crémeux.
Across the three days, a few trends emerged. It became clear, round after round, that deconstruction is now the norm in pastry—memories and concepts scattered on the plate from cake to quenelle. From Ryan Butler’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Lemonade to Melissa Root’s Caribbean Gateau with Coconut Whip, the presentations were delicate, imaginative, and avant-garde. Even the flavor profiles this year came fresh from vacationing in the tropics. Coconut, lime, passion fruit, and pineapple repeatedly surfaced on plates, reinforced by the variety of products provided by PreGel. Giane Cavaliere’s pre-dessert—Coconut Panna Cotta, Passionfruit Emulsion, Yuzu Meringue, with Black Sesame and Sharon Gofreed’s Chocolate-Coconut Sphere, Almond Cake, Coconut Sorbet, Chocolate and Coconut Ribbons, and Almond Tuile on Day 2 were just two such examples.
Through it all, the judges had their hands (and stomachs) full. They tasted more than 35 desserts across three days to pick one winner. In the end, even though all 3 finalists walked away with an Induction Range, presented by Waring Commercial, it was Sean Pera, of The Herons who took home the $5,000 cash prize, presented by PreGel America, a brand new Waring Commercial food processor, a Montague Vectaire Double Deck Convection Oven, and a sweet spot at the judging table for next year’s 5th Annual StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition. “I think everything worked out in the end. I had a clear picture of what I wanted to do and I stuck very closely to it,” summed up Pera.
By Dan Catinella, Meha Desai, Sean Kenniff, Sunny Liu, and Ashley Lopes
Photos by: Anna Beeke, Clay Williams, Ellen Wolff, Ester Soligue, John Keon, Ken Goodman, Laura Thompson, Mark Kohlman, and Shannon Sturgis