I am not a sports guy. Ever. The sports section of the newspaper only sees action in our house when we’re painting. So when I got an email invitation to meet Team USA, I came thisclose to hitting DELETE.
Then I saw it was Team USA of the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie. The World Pastry Cup. This was a decidedly different story. So it was, a couple of Mondays ago, that Marion and I found ourselves at the lovely Sofitel Chicago Water Tower Hotel, sipping wine, nibbling on delightful little appetizers and anxiously awaiting the dessert portion of the evening.
Established in 1989, the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie is the most prestigious event in the industry. It takes place bi-annually in Lyon, France, during SIRHA, the International Hotel Catering and Food Trade Exhibition. This year, after a grueling selection process followed by months of intense training, teams of pastry chefs from 20 countries will convene in Lyon in January to dazzle a panel of 22 judges and a live audience with their technical and artistic wizardry in the realm of desserts, chocolate, sugar and ice. Specifically, each team is required to perform live before an audience and prepare in ten hours:
• A Chocolate Cake, composed of Valrhona Grand Cru Chocolat, presented on an all-sugar sculpture
• A Plated Dessert, representative of the team’s country, presented on an all-chocolate sculpture
• A Frozen Dessert, using Ravifruit Frozen Fruit Purées, presented on an ice carving.
The official partner and founder of the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie is Valrhona, a premier French chocolatier. Since 1922, Valrhona has been producing chocolate couverture in the middle of the famous vineyards of Tain l’Hermitage in the Rhone Valley, France, near Lyon. The company is literally “Aux sources du Grand Chocolat” in its role as a planter, discoverer, selector and blender of ﬁne and rare cocoa beans. The French are nothing if not obsessive about food, and we are all beneficiaries of their perfectionist tendencies. Valrhona, for instance, is committed to the creation and enhancement of authentic, intensely-ﬂavored and unique chocolates; they are unique among chocolate producers in offering more than 10 dark chocolates with a cocoa percentage above 64%. And they are currently the only company in the world that produces vintage chocolate made from beans of a single year’s harvest from a specific plantation.
Valrhona’s business is also concerned with encouraging initiative and talent. They have sponsored the Coupe du Monde from its beginnings nearly 20 years ago.
Geographically spread out, Team USA’s training schedule forces them to be organized and focused. Once a month, throughout 2008, the team will meet for intensive weekend training sessions at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Maryland. This year, the team consists of President and pastry chef consultant En-Ming Hsu; Team Captain David Ramirez, Executive Pastry Chef at The Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida; Rémy Fünfrock, Executive Restaurant Pastry Chef at The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Roy Pell, Executive Pastry Chef at The Phoenician, Scottsdale, Arizona; and Team Alternate Jim Mullaney, Executive Chef at The Cloisters Hotel, Sea Island, Georgia.
The United States has sent a team to Lyon since the competition’s inaugural event in 1989 and has come home with the Gold in 2001, the Silver in 1997 and the Bronze in 1995, 1999 and 2005. Team President Hsu served as Team Captain in 2001 when Team USA was awarded the gold.
So what are Team USA’s prospects for winning this year? Well, if the Chocolate Passion Fruit Cake we sampled [winner of the Best Chocolate Cake in 2007, and yes, those are little flecks of gold leaf on the top] is any indication, I’d say they’re pretty delicious—er, good.