|The 20th annual U.S. Pastry Competition took place recently at the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show in New York City. Finalists included 15 pastry chefs from some of the country’s finest restaurants. The theme of this year’s competition was “Give My Regards To Broadway,” with each entrant submitting a showpiece, a cake and a bonbon interpreting the theme. Cacao Noel, a line of chocolate available only to professionals, was used by all the pastry chefs.
The Nibble Editors were on hand to taste the cakes and bonbons, along with delicious Pol Roger Champagne, one of our favorites. Although we didn’t have a vote, we did have an opinion.
– The pastry chefs seemed to take on their own theme of mousse and gelee: almost every cake we tasted was made of layers of mousse, mousse and more mousse, sometimes with gelee. It got to the point where we felt we were in a mousse competition, and wanted to send out for a piece of flour-based cake! If this is any indication of pastry trends, ladies and gentlemen, the retro mousse cake is back.
Ajith Saputhanthri’s first place-winning “Curtain
- We also felt that while each cake was beautifully executed, showing great craftsmanship, the many recipes were on the bland side—beautiful to look at but not vivid on the palate. Why is that??? If what we see on “Hell’s Kitchen” is any indication, there may be too much smoking going on and it’s numbing the taste buds!
– A panel of highly esteemed chefs judged the competition; none of our favorites took an award. Note that our favorites were based on taste rather than appearance, as all of the cakes were attractive. Awards were given to the overall entry, which focused on the “showpiece” sculpture, as well as the cake and the bonbon.
– First place went to Ajith Saputhanthri, of Russo’s On The Bay restaurant in Howard Beach, NY. His showpiece, called “Curtain Call,” featured a hand-carved solid chocolate sculpture depicting intricate folds of a theater curtain and theatrical mask sculptures. His cake was a combination of Earl Grey tea chocolate mousse and a pomegranate-raspberry-hibiscus gelee, and his bonbon included lime and bittersweet chocolate. Salvatore Settepani took second place with his “Phantom Of The Opera”-themed showpiece and passion fruit, hazelnut and ginger-white peach cake. Third place went to Andrew Chlebana for his “Homage To Broadway” showpiece and tropical caramel-chocolate cake.
– We were disappointed to see that our favorite cake didn’t receive even honorable mention status. We were wowed by the cake made by Jose Manuel Hernandez of Fiamma Restaurant in New York City. It had a top layer of milk chocolate gelee and a middle of passion fruit gelee on top of—gasp—a real piece of hazelnut cake. The sweet-tart contrast of chocolate and passionfruit and the tempered, non-overpowering sweetness really, well, took the cake. Chef Hernandez, please invite us down for some more!
Despite our critique, we know how hard each of these pastry chefs work, and how committed they are to creating beautiful desserts for their customers, and how much time and sacrifice went into their entries. We look forward to next year’s competition.
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