You know a contest has been a hit when one judge claims, “The entries from the professional pastry chefs were remarkable,” the second judge suggests, “I think I indulged too much,” and the third confesses, “And [after] some … well, let’s just say I licked my fingers.” Such was the case with the Kings and Queens of Pastry Contest held March 19 at Whole Foods Market and cosponsored by The Independent and UCSB Arts & Lectures, which came up with this contest and other events to expand its Food for Thought series of lectures and films with more community participation.
Inspired by the documentary Kings of Pastry—which screened at Campbell Hall on March 3—four amateurs and six invited professionals threw their toques into the ring to become the winners. All 10 chefs gathered under a tent that held back the light rain, and more than 50 Whole Foods customers got to taste the amateurs’ entries and be a quarter of the decision-making process.
Lauren Reynolds, the winner in the amateur section with a tropical carrot cake, said, “I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk with people about their favorite desserts and other favorite foods. Fellow contestants were warm and welcoming and shared how they became interested in making pastries. I also enjoyed talking with the professional pastry chefs, learning about their educational background and work experience.” Reynolds herself is currently attending SBCC Culinary School, so there’s the possibility her pastry talents might be on display for more of us to see—and taste—soon (even on the Web, at the under-construction sweetemilysbakeshop.com).
Reynolds managed to edge out strong competition from runner-up Kathy King and her gluten-free lime tart, Patricia Selbert’s rum cake with cardamom custard, and Brian Shaw’s savory breakfast bite with onion, Gruyère, and roasted red pepper.
On the professional side, well, let’s just say I was glad I emceed the event and didn’t have to judge, as all six entries were stellar and distinct. As judge and Indy wine writer Laura Sanchez put it, “I found myself marveling over the complexity of flavors and textures of many of the pastries. The entries ranged from seemingly simple to ultra-sophisticated and were all uniquely delicious.”
For instance, Mark Brouillard of Fresco Café whipped up three differently filled (chocolate, tiramisu, raspberry) bismarcks—sort of a donut gone to finishing school—common in New England, where he lived before moving to California. Danny Douglas of Danny Douglas Catering offered a dacquoise, which is as fancy as it sounds, covered with chocolate ganache and bathed in a strawberry-lime compote.
Our Daily Bread proffered a classic marzipan cake, simple and direct. Rosie Gerard of Wine Cask paid tribute to her mom’s angel-food–ricotta cake, but gave it a lovely update by making her own ricotta and adding strawberries macerated in thyme for a bit of savory zing.
The runner-up in the professional category was Cindy Black of Blue Owl at Zen Yai and MMM … Cake, who also walked the sweet-to-savory line with a goat cheese tart covered with fresh berries and herbs, and then eaters got to choose one of three sauces—a Meyer lemon curd aioli, a guava lime vanilla bean, or a basil-mint crème (and this choice was very hard, so most tried all three).
Still, it was hard to deny Renaud Gonthier of Renaud’s the victory, given he not only made a delicious edible pastry but also showed up with a magnificent centerpiece of baked wonder that was a good three feet tall. “Renaud’s showcase chocolate sculpture reflecting Santa Barbara’s landscape was over-the-top amazing,” said judge and A&L Associate Director Roman Baratiak, “and his green confection a stunning work of art of delicate and refined details, surprising flavors, and unabashed genius.” That confection featured an artful balance of myriad elements, including green cocoa butter, thyme mousse, lime macaron, and a secret little dab of raspberry jam at the bottom that was not just tasty, but also functional, as it held the treat to its cardboard.
“It was a great pleasure for us to have the opportunity to participate in the event,” Gonthier said afterward. “Finishing in first place was great, but most important was to be able to showcase and explain the work we are doing every day. It is a work of art (heart, too) that requires good craftsmanship and years of experience. This will, I hope, inspire and motivate talent in our community.”