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19th U.S. Pastry Competition (2008) results


bibbotson
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The 19th U.S. Pastry Competition was held this past Sunday, March 9th. For more information, visit the ParisGourmet website

The winners:

1st place - Wing Cheung, Grand Hyatt Hotel (New York):

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2nd place - Anthony Smith, Cosmopolitan Club (New York):

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3rd place - Salvatore Settepani, Pasticceria Bruno (New York):

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Honorable mention (4th place) - Javier Trujillo (Chicago):

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Edited by bibbotson (log)

Brian Ibbotson

Pastry Sous for Production and Menu Research & Development

Sous Chef for Food Safety and Quality Assurance

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wow! thos are so beautiful!!! i love the carps details =P blown sugar?

The carp in Wing Cheung's piece appeared to be curved cast sugar for the body, surrounding the pastillage "ribs", blown sugar for the upper and lower portion of the head, and bubble sugar for the fins along the back.

Brian Ibbotson

Pastry Sous for Production and Menu Research & Development

Sous Chef for Food Safety and Quality Assurance

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I think Salvatore Settepani's entry is the most visually appealing piece of all of them. I wonder what the exact criteria was for judging?

I really think those big thick clunky bases on the 1st and 2nd place entries are fairly horrid.

Even though each piece is different, there seems to be a "sameness" about all of them; as though

there's a certain "style" each one has to attain. I've noticed this with lots of sugar and chocolate showpiece competitions. Why is that?

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I think Salvatore Settepani's entry is the most visually appealing piece of all of them. I wonder what the exact criteria was for judging?

Judging combined a cake (65 points, or approx. 43% of overall), bonbon (20 points, or 13%) and the technical/artistic assessment of the showpiece (65 points or 43%). So you don't necessarily see the pieces of 1st, 2nd or 3rd as being "better" in that order, its only one aspect of the judging. But it is the only one I can share here :)

I really think those big thick clunky bases on the 1st and 2nd place entries are fairly horrid.

Even though each piece is different, there seems to be a "sameness" about all of them; as though

there's a certain "style" each one has to attain. I've noticed this with lots of sugar and chocolate showpiece competitions. Why is that?

Well, first of all the theme was Under the Sea, so all the pieces here (and the other 11 pieces I didn't post pictures of) tend to repeat some visual elements.

This competition requires an approximate balance of 50% chocolate, 50% sugar elements. The mechanics of combining the two and the different weight-bearing abilities drives many competitors to have a chocolate base or center from which the sugar elements emerge, so that creates some visual sameness.

Is this what you're seeing? Or do you mean something different?

Brian Ibbotson

Pastry Sous for Production and Menu Research & Development

Sous Chef for Food Safety and Quality Assurance

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Judging combined a cake (65 points, or approx. 43% of overall), bonbon (20 points, or 13%) and the technical/artistic assessment of the showpiece (65 points or 43%). So you don't necessarily see the pieces of 1st, 2nd or 3rd as being "better" in that order, its only one aspect of the judging. But it is the only one I can share here :)

Thanks for sharing that info. I've always believed that tasting and showpiece competitions should be separate though. It may have been that the showpiece that came in third place was the most visually appealing to the judges overall, but he lost points on how his cake tasted so he came in third.....how fair is that? The showpieces should be judged on their merits alone and not be subject to loss of points because of another element of the competition that has nothing to do with the showpiece. See what I'm saying?

Well, first of all the theme was Under the Sea, so all the pieces here (and the other 11 pieces I didn't post pictures of) tend to repeat some visual elements.

This competition requires an approximate balance of 50% chocolate, 50% sugar elements. The mechanics of combining the two and the different weight-bearing abilities drives many competitors to have a chocolate base or center from which the sugar elements emerge, so that creates some visual sameness.

Is this what you're seeing? Or do you mean something different?

I could tell there was definitely a theme in play there....as with most competitions. I also understand from an engineering point of view how it makes sense to have all your chocolate piecework at the bottom and the sugar stuff toward the top. I also understand how height translates into "difficulty" which gets you points. I think what I'm trying to say about "sameness" is that with showpiece work I am constantly seeing the same curves and flows within the pieces, regardless of theme. I think that the rules of the competition are mostly why that is. I also think that architecturally, those curves and flows are what work best.

What I see in the 1st and 2nd place entries are these huge clunky bases of chocolate which provide more "area" to attach the sugar pieces, which translates to me as being less risky or difficult. Whereas, the 3rd and honorable mention pieces have more delicate chocolate bases which are more visually appealing, and because of this seem to look more difficult to execute.

The balance factor is far more apparent in those pieces than in the first two. You'd think you'd get extra points for that. But what do I know.

Also, on a personal level, as an artist, I'm kind of a "less is more" person. I'll take delicate and flowing over clunky and overdo any day. :smile:

Actually, the bottom line is.....when it comes to art......who really is the best? No one really knows the answer to that, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Your best hope is that most of the beholders like your stuff best...... :raz:

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I totally agree that these are lacking in any artistic value, and I just don't understand the criteria for judging them. I guess you could say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and good art is not necessarily visual in a certain specific way, pretty or ugly. But I definitely don't think good art is the grand total or showcase of all possible technical proficiencies, like a watercolor explosion.

You could argue that these are works of technical proficiency, but is technical proficiency a sign of good art? Picasso, although technically proficient in drawing figures chose to push his artistic sensibilities further to create works that were not necessarily directly representational; rather, representational in a more cognitive or even emotional way. Good art is supported by good technique, not the other way around.

I have always believed good art should make you think and feel at the same time, and I know that food has the ability to make me do that, even food pushed in the direction of sculpture, but I seem to think the works that are being presented at the competition are simply ego-centric works of pastry/confectionary bravado that make me think the chefs were working off a checklist of techniques rather than searching through their souls for inspiration that will be meaningful to themselves and their audience.

Stephanie Crocker

Sugar Bakery + Cafe

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thats what bothers me ALL THE TIME when i see a chocolate/sugar showpiece. last year at the salon du chocolat i saw the creations from all those pastry chefs. i cant help it but most if not all of these looked to me like 7th grade art class results. before i started over in pastry i worked as a graphic artist for more than 15 years. i am as well trained in free hand drawing, airbrush and watercolors as in 3d modelling, product design and photoshop illustration. so my point of view to the artistic value of those showpieces is quite a different one. iam too much of a neophyte to start doing my own showpieces right now. one have to have a profound knowledge on how to do what and when at what temperature etc. but i think that once i practice and practice and practice i hope my works will have a different approach & visual quality...

once you see the works of the contemporary catalonian pastry chefs you see what i mean:

ramon morato, paco torreblanca, carles mampel,enric rovira, oriol balaguer etc.

cheers

t.

Edited by schneich (log)

toertchen toertchen

patissier chocolatier cafe

cologne, germany

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I totally agree that these are lacking in any artistic value, and I just don't understand the criteria for judging them.

I can't say I've kept up with contemporary sculpture, so it's hard for me to judge these from an art perspective. But I'm willing to bet these pastry chefs know even less about sculpture than I do.

And I'm scratching my head about the point of all this ... is it a sculpture contest or a pastry contest? Granted, food is expected to look enticing, more than paintings are expected to taste good. But I still expect the primary values of food ... taste, texture, aroma ... to take great precedence over visual and structural values.

Did the judges even taste these things??

Notes from the underbelly

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I totally agree that these are lacking in any artistic value, and I just don't understand the criteria for judging them.

I can't say I've kept up with contemporary sculpture, so it's hard for me to judge these from an art perspective. But I'm willing to bet these pastry chefs know even less about sculpture than I do.

And I'm scratching my head about the point of all this ... is it a sculpture contest or a pastry contest? Granted, food is expected to look enticing, more than paintings are expected to taste good. But I still expect the primary values of food ... taste, texture, aroma ... to take great precedence over visual and structural values.

Did the judges even taste these things??

I am also a little confused what judges look for: as paulraphael mentions, is it food (eg., taste etc), art (eg., artistic appeal) or is it something different eg., technical features, ie., to a professional with the knowledge, is it to try and build the most difficult structure with most intricate decorations?

Edited to add: don't get me wrong - the sculptures are absolutely amazing from my perspective. I'm not an artist but I can appreciate the technical difficulty in doing what has been accomplished by these contestants (I couldn't even come close to doing the same) and I do like the way the sculpture look . . . . I'm just trying to understand what exactly is being judged.

Edited by gap (log)
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And I'm scratching my head about the point of all this ... is it a sculpture contest or a pastry contest? Granted, food is expected to look enticing, more than paintings are expected to taste good. But I still expect the primary values of food ... taste, texture, aroma ... to take great precedence over visual and structural values. Did the judges even taste these things??

The showpieces, the cake and the bonbons are each judged on their own, by their own separate set of 6 judges. Among the judges are eGullet contributors and eminent chefs whose books and works are discussed frequently here (such as Andrew Shotts, En Ming Hsu and Richard Capizzi for the showpieces, Eric Bedoucha and Laurent Richard for the cake, and Pascal Janvier, Jean Francois Bonnet and Michael Hu for the bonbons, and overseen by Florian Bellanger).

The results are weighted and combined, with the combined tasting elements (cake and bonbons) dominating over the showpiece. And in the event of a close result (like last year) the tasting side must determine the winner. As pastry chefs, taste is the most important thing.

I totally agree that these are lacking in any artistic value, and I just don't understand the criteria for judging them... But I definitely don't think good art is the grand total or showcase of all possible technical proficiencies, like a watercolor explosion.
I can't say I've kept up with contemporary sculpture, so it's hard for me to judge these from an art perspective. But I'm willing to bet these pastry chefs know even less about sculpture than I do.
thats what bothers me ALL THE TIME when i see a chocolate/sugar showpiece. last year at the salon du chocolat i saw the creations from all those pastry chefs. i cant help it but most if not all of these looked to me like 7th grade art class results. before i started over in pastry i worked as a graphic artist for more than 15 years. i am as well trained in free hand drawing, airbrush and watercolors as in 3d modelling, product design and photoshop illustration. so my point of view to the artistic value of those showpieces is quite a different one... but i think that once i practice and practice and practice i hope my works will have a different approach & visual quality...

These aren't graphic artists, or sculptors. They are working pastry chefs, and they approach the competition with different artistic abilities and sensibilities. And given the score-weighting and their time constraints to prepare, some don't lavish vast amounts of time on the showpiece's artistry. Some pieces do look amateurish or high-schoolish. Some have amazing technique on an element or two but lack any artistic elan or elegance for the piece as a whole composition. The judging attempts to combine both technical and artistic assessments, and I don't know exactly how they weight the two. Looking at the full range of pieces in the competition over the past several years, winning and not-winning, they clearly don't privilege technical difficulty on its own. Each year there are pieces that are very difficult to accomplish but which lack an artistic pleasantness and these do not do well.

As someone who was introduced to creating sugar and chocolate showpieces by a teacher with a studio BFA and who required students to begin the course by visiting museums and describing and sketching paintings and sculptures, I appreciate and aim for pieces with both technical and artistic values. There are always pieces that seem to be created by walking through a checklist of techniques, but they don't always (or even usually) win. Like the difference between the satisfaction of watching the first Matrix movie (special effects used to further a strong plot and story) and the later two (plot used to loosely tie together special effects sequences), there is an artistic judgement call between being able to do something and having it be useful in the cause of the piece.

The order of the winners reflects overall score, not of the showpieces. The tastings varied among these winners and that determined the final outcomes.

For Anthony Smith's piece, the photo shows the entire piece but doesn't convey well the exquisite piecework within it, both front and back. The manta ray on top, for example, was amazingly well done and detailed in a beautiful, artistic and technically difficult way. The displayed cake emerged from a large, meticulously-detailed clam that unfortunately collapsed before the photo was taken, which makes the chocolate reef loom larger as an unbroken expanse. Anthony in particular represents for me someone who produces artistic work and who I've watched spending months thinking on how to move from inspiration to concept to finished piece. This year's piece was a reef under the sea, the chocolate reef was not as wholly inappropriate as some of the comments here suggest. For example of other pieces of his that might illustrate my admiration of the artistry of his work:

gallery_35487_5530_9707.jpggallery_35487_5530_17589.jpg

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And Javier Trujillo's piece was absolutely beautiful, particularly the sugar work on top, which was actually two pieces joined in a vee-shape (once again, more and more-zoomed-in photos might demonstrate the aesthetic value better).

Schneich, if you can bring artistic training to your showpieces, all the more power to you. I don't think anyone doesn't believe it has a role, just not everyone has the same level of either inate aesthetic sensibility or training. Those that have either produce more beautiful work, no question. And I know of some competitors who deliberately have sought out training to remedy their known limitations.

I've always believed that tasting and showpiece competitions should be separate though.  It may have been that the showpiece that came in third place was the most visually appealing to the judges overall, but he lost points on how his cake tasted so he came in third.....how fair is that? The showpieces should be judged on their merits alone and not be subject to loss of points because of another element of the competition that has nothing to do with the showpiece. See what I'm saying?

That's the difficulty of this competition (and others). It's a challenge to do all three elements successfully.

As examples (without naming which competitors): one of the above 4 placers had the best cake and showpiece, solidly, but the next-to-last bonbon. One placer scored extremely well on the bonbon (nearly double anyone else) but only third on showpiece. And one eGulleter scored third place on their cake, very well on their bonbon but near last on their showpiece.

In general, year after year, you must score in the top four of each element in order to place in the top four overall. And as noted before, the competition deliberately and explicitly privileges tasting over the artistic or technical achievements of the showpiece, so competitors know the hurdle ahead of them.

If you want to just demonstrate how amazing a showpiece you can build, you can always exhibit at the Salon of Culinary Art that the Societe Culinaire Philanthropique puts on at the International Hotel, Motel & Restaurant Show in New York City each November. There is always some beautiful stuff there (and not coincidentally, Sal Settepani won the top award there this past year).

Brian Ibbotson

Pastry Sous for Production and Menu Research & Development

Sous Chef for Food Safety and Quality Assurance

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