“This is where these chefs have been competing for the last 3 days–right here on the armory floor–not in their restaurant kitchens…competing and cooking here, I can tell you, is a completeley different animal–it’s much more challenging”
Executive Pastry Chef of the competition, Johnny Iuzzini
The StarChefs 2012 International Chefs Congress came to a close yesterday but not before a thrilling pastry competition finale culminating with the announcement of the overall winner.
Day three of the competition featured three finalists from an initial group of 20 pastry chefs. The finalists were Jennifer Yee (formerly of SHO Shaun Hergott) Aya Fukai (Waldorf Astoria Chicago ) and Salvatore Martone (L’atelier de Joel Robuchon). After four more hours of competition, including tastings and showpieces, a crew of seriously credible pastry chefs including Elizabeth Falkner, Michael Laskonis and Stephane Treand, MOF set about to score each contestant on a variety of skills.
At one point during the judging of the showpieces, a ruler was brought out and both contestants one and three (we would later learn these were Fukai and Yee), had sugar showpieces that did not meet the minimum height requirement. Luckily, the showpiece only counted for a small percentage of the final score.
Even though this was a competition with over $10,000 in cash and prizes at stake–the camaraderie among the contestants and judges was remarkable. All the competing pastry chefs I spoke to, whether they exited in round one or made it to the final, said that it was an amazing experience and that they were glad they participated.
During the judging of the banquet showpieces I was impressed with the seriousness of the judges. The mood was tense throughout as they studied each component and then carefully and privately marked down their scores. However at one point Executive Chef of the competition, Johnny Iuzzini told James Beard Award winning critic Jeffrey Steingarten to “please keep his fingers and hands away from the sugar sculptures and tables during the judging!” Nearly all the judges laughed at this comment.
I tried this cake, actually Stephane Treand, MOF insisted I try it–probably because I was snapping so many pictures in his face. What was I supposed to do? I grabbed a fork–I’m not even sure if it was even clean–and took a taste (it was superb!)
When I was instructed to eat the cake (by the MOF), one of the competition assistants gave me a heavy, large silver dining fork like the kind you might receive at Bouley for your main course. After using the fork I was directed to immediately pass the plate, with the remaining cake on it, to other members of the audience or Press to try, which I did. I was then left holding this huge silver fork, now, with cake on it. Suddenly, more desserts arrived in front of the judges for me to photograph but I was still holding this damn fork and needed my hands free to operate my camera. I could have stood up and walked over to one of the assistants but that would have meant giving up my prime shooting location at the end of the table and I wasn’t about to do that, so I did did what anyone would do in my situation–I put the soiled fork in the pocket of my jeans–then promptly forgot about it.
The winner, Salvatore Martone, had his family at the show to see him win the grand prize.
I also got to try a small bit of this cake from runner-up Jennifer Yee. Not only was the glacage perfect but it also tasted great. There wasn’t a lot left on the plate after the judges worked it over so that should tell you something about how good it was.
As soon as I saw the rocks I knew this was Jennifer Yee’s piece as she had done a beautiful version of these trompe l’oeil rocks in a tasting a few months ago (go here to see that tasting). Yee told me she knew the piece didn’t meet the height requirement but she was concerned about the integrity of the structure and didn’t want to risk making it taller knowing that it could collapse and knowing it was only a small portion of the final score. The rocks were made of black sesame caramel.
The judges were discussing the use of matte black spray-on chocolate on the “spine” of Aya’s piece and how it can be used to cover-up finger prints and small imperfections and therefore was given a lower difficulty rating. The Emcee of the event, Keegan Gerhard, noted during the judging that “[pastry chefs] chefs don’t really like foods that are black–there are not many foods that are black naturally and if a food is black it’s often not for a good reason [like being burnt]”.
This showpiece from Salvatore was ready for the MOF competition–with the delicately balanced platform for the cake.