You won't catch me often taking a long desert drive to Las Vegas, Nevada. If I get the urge to gamble, I can do that in New Mexico where I live. But the 2003 World Pastry Forum taking place in "Vegas" at the Rio All-Suite Hotel between Sunday, June 29 and Saturday, July 5, 2003 is no gamble; it offers nothing less than culinary bliss. First, try three to five days of intensive pastry training. Visit a dessert industry trade show held at the same time. Reward yourself afterwards by becoming a spectator at the grueling National Pastry Team Championships. Sample the richest cakes, the most ethereal confections. Revive your spirit. Stimulate your sensations. Gain weight.
Pastry is often lumped in with baking, though as a general rule few practitioners are blessed with the "touch" for both disciplines. Talented bread bakers reveal a sixth sense that allows them to "speak" to their flour, water and yeast. Bread baking is earthy and sensuous. Pastry is precise and aesthetic. Within the pastry world, sub-specialists create marvels with sugar, while others deal with that most capricious of ingredients, chocolate. Complex candy and confection work deals with sugar solutions that can exceed 350 degrees Fahrenheit. It's not pretty when they splatter. The art of the chocolatier demands mastery of subtle temperature differences at much lower levels. What all these disciplines have in common is a need for dedicated exactitude. One of the first things I learned in my own professional pastry training years ago is that we use the term "formula" instead of "recipe." You can often take significant liberties with a recipe, but you stray from a formula at your own peril.
The World Pastry Forum (worldpastryforum.com) offers the most intensive week of front line pastry involvement you could imagine. You can opt to begin your week with the five-day professional pastry and baking program. World-renowned pastry professionals like France's Olivier Bajard, Venezuela's Sebastien Canonne, and sugar wizard extraordinaire Ewald Notter will teach professional techniques. Swiss-born, Notter, who runs the Notter International School of Confectionary Arts (www.notterschool.com) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is so lionized in his field that he no longer considers it ethical to enter pastry competitions.
It may be best to browse the professional course and seminar offerings only after you've had a full meal, or at least a helping of sweets. The course menu includes: Textures and Taste; Sugar Art Techniques; Pastillage; Rustic French Desserts; Ice Cream Creations; Plated Desserts; Marzipan Figures; and of course, Chocolate in all its glory. You'll work hard, but yet imagine this scenario: after hours of heroic effort, you look down at your hands and discover they are completely covered with Belgian chocolate. Your first solution to this problem is not going to involve the word "faucet."
If the Professional Pastry Program (at $1500) transcends your budget or your ability to justify vocational training, you can choose the three-day "Recreational Program" (at $750), to focus on cooking and entertaining at home. Instructors include cake guru Colette Peters (author of Colette's Cakes: The Art of Cake Decorating) and pastry educator Nick Malgieri. Chef Nick is the guiding force behind the pastry program at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York (www.iceculinary.com), where I had my own training, and is the author How To Bake and Chocolate. I can report from personal experience that everything Nick touches turns to pastry magic. He also gives a welcome Italian perspective in a field where even many of the "American" chefs speak with French accents.
On the Pastry Forum application form, you'll see a space for "jacket size." That's right: you'll use and proudly take home an impressive logo-emblazoned chef's jacket, along with an apron to prove you've been to the front lines. As if the duds weren't enough, every participant gets a free subscription to Pastry Art and Design magazine (www.pastryartanddesign.com). The magazine is as serious as the profession it covers. The photographic essays are exquisite.
At the same time as the World Pastry Forum, you can also catch the Great American Dessert Expo (www.dessertexpo.com) at the Las Vegas Convention Center (July 2 and 3). While this is a trade-only event, you still have time to boot up your home computer and print up an appropriate food industry letterhead or business card so they'll let you in. The expo will feature hundreds of equipment and ingredient exhibitors, dessert demonstrations, and . . . oh, just use your imagination, and bring your insulin.
The Pastry Forum training programs include admission to the National Pastry Team Championships (www.pastrychampionship.com) that take place July 4 and 5, also at the Rio All-Suite Hotel. If you think the World Series or Super Bowl generate excitement, you haven't been to one of these competitions or seen them on the Television Food Network. The two-day competition features twelve teams of three professional pastry chefs who each have thirteen total hours to create masterpieces. You can sit comfortably in the stands and watch these artists sweat while they produce entremets (cakes), frozen desserts, plated desserts, petits fours, and bonbons. The big event comes as the teams present their breathtaking sugar and chocolate showpieces. Difficult to move, these crumple and fall now and then; when they do, you can hear the hearts breaking into as many pieces as the hardened sugar.
The competition judging itself is as rigorous as the contest. Television personality and chocolate expert Jacques Torres (author of Dessert Circus) heads the panel of fourteen senior pastry chefs. The judges look beyond obvious qualities such as appearance and taste. Throughout the two grueling days, they also grade the contestants on real-world areas such as team dynamics and even work-station cleanliness. The winning team, in addition to a $50,000 first prize, will go on to represent the United States in 2004 at the World Pastry Team Championship, which takes place at the same hotel. (They ought to call it the Rio All-Sweet Hotel.) The US team took world honors in 2002, though with names like Jean-Philippe Maury, Laurent Branlard, and Jean-Claude Canestrier, you can only guess where these masters learned their demanding craft.
Of course, if pastry to you is only a spectator sport, you could opt to attend the Pastry Team Championships and the Dessert Expo without attending either Pastry Forum course beforehand. But think how much more enriching it would be for you to have served on the front lines first, piped out and filled your own delicate éclairs with crème moussaline, and made your own chocolate and sugar showpieces with the expertise and support of world-class pastry giants. You will gain weight in either case, but you'll have greater moral fiber to lose it afterwards if you get your hands dirty before you watch the competitors sweat. And you can use extra moral fiber in Las Vegas. Top -- Food Articles Home
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