Developing the future of pastry and baking in the Middle East

The Richemont Masterbaker Pastry & Baking Championships has become an important gateway to raising regional industry standards
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Richemont
Mike Hook

After a record number of applications this year, the qualifying contestants battled it out in the Live Heats for a spot in the October finals of the Richemont Masterbaker Pastry & Baking Championships.

Not just a way to fine-tune the skills of professional bakers and pastry chefs, this contest has quickly become an important gateway to raising regional industry standards.

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WHY DOES THE COMPETITION EXIST?

Firstly, the championship is about shining a light on talent in the market. Bakers and pastry chefs use this platform to showcase their skills, creative and technical abilities, that they may not be able to show in their normal working routine.

Secondly, the competition parameters mean that the chefs have to create all the products from scratch, over multiple high-pressure days of live cooking. In an industry where ready-mixes and pre-made products are often used, the chefs need to demonstrate that they understand and respect the fundamentals of the craft - ingredients, flavour profiles, techniques and science – and apply them to a real-world commercial environment. By practising, perfecting and demonstrating these, the knock-on effect is better skilled chefs in the workplace, and enhanced career prospects.

A valuable extra spin-off effect is that industry veteran judges have a platform to ‘give back’ and pass on the experience gained from a lifetime of high-level international culinary experience.

FORMAT OF THE CHAMPIONSHIPS

Three times the number of applications were submitted this year by professional chefs to enter the region’s largest professional competition. From these, the pastry and baking contestants with the highest qualifying scores in the pre-tests went on to take part in the Live Heats. These chefs were challenged not just to create beautifully presented, flavourful products, but were also given the opportunity to showcase vital industry skills such as technical proficiency, waste management, consistency, time-management, hygiene and decision-making.

The Live Heats saw more than 20 contestants whittled down to the four bakers and four pastry chefs who battled it out in the finals to determine who would become the Richemont Masterbaker Pastry & Baking Champions of 2019. After the Live Heats, the contestants were strongly advised by the judges to “practice, practice, practice” for the finals - advice that was taken to heart, resulting in the closest margin of points awarded in the competition’s history.

The judges remained hands-on throughout the Live Heats and Finals, monitoring the start-to-finish progress of every contestant. Addressing the contestants at the start of the competition, Chef Bernard Charles said: “We’re not here to criticise you but rather provide feedback that makes you better.”

The judges encouraged the contestants during the inevitable nervousness at the start of each round and provided detailed feedback to every chef at the end of each day. In turn, the contestants were unanimous in their agreement that the judging process - and competition itself - had enriched their skills and confidence, with all concurring that they felt the annual contest had given their career a boost.

Following a hard-fought contest, Rushi Mei-Li was crowned as pastry champion and Bishal Sunuwar took home the top prize in the bakery category.

DEVELOPING THE F&B INDUSTRY

The competition’s challenges were designed to marry the chefs’ flair for creativity with the need for practicality in the real world. The tasks therefore forced the chefs to become familiar with the core skills involved in baking / pastry, so they can become more responsive and skilled in meeting the changing tastes and trends of the market.

Contestants were asked to produce specified amounts and weights of various products within strict time constraints. On the face of it, the time limit and boundaries of the tasks added drama to both the Live Heats and Finals - but the reality is that this is how commercial operations really work. The real-world F&B environment requires them to work to margins, and therefore wastage of ingredients is not acceptable. Further to this, customers demand not only a consistently excellent product every time, but also want to experience the latest in trends and culinary innovation. The judges therefore awarded and deducted points based on the contestants’ performance with accurate use of ingredients, artistry and timing, in addition to the important factor of taste.

When seen from this perspective, the competition becomes much more than just a baking challenge. If a chef struggles to produce ten consistent products in an F&B segment that operates with a larger scale production mentality, then this competition will reveal where they can benefit from further knowledge or training. And if our home-grown chefs can become better, then so do the standards of the industry.

The Richemont Masterbaker Pastry & Baking Championship is important to the industry in exposing areas for improvement and motivating young chefs to address this. “I want to show the judges I listened to their feedback and have corrected my mistakes in the final,” said one of the finalists. In a region where apprenticeships are not as common as they are in Europe, this is a professional competition that provides young chefs with valuable advice from senior specialists and helps enhance careers – whilst sending a strong ripple effect out into the industry.

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