Early on at the Valrhona C3 Chocolate Chef Competition North American Finals, it was obvious the six pastry chefs competing for the coveted award were in a league all their own. “The thought process behind the recipes is high,” said the emcee, Chef Keegan Gerhard of Denver’s D Bar. “There is definitely a high level of talent here.” (Gerhard knows of what he speaks as the technical advisor to gold-medal winning Team USA at the 2001 Pastry World Cup.)
Hosted at the 12th Annual StarChefs International Chefs Congress in Brooklyn in October, the competition determined who represents North America at the C3 International Finale next year. After an intense day of competition, the esteemed panel of chef judges Kelly Fields, Willa Jean (New Orleans); Pierre Hermé, Pierre Hermé Paris (Paris); Johnny Iuzzini, Sugar Fueled Inc. (Brooklyn); Belinda Leong, B. Patisserie (San Francisco); Daniel Mongraw, Toqué! (Montreal); Ghaya Oliveira, Daniel (New York); Adam Thomas, The Broadmoor (Colorado Springs), and William Werner, Craftsman & Wolves (San Francisco), named Pastry Chef Mina Pizarro of L’Appart NYC the Grand Prize Winner. Competitors were evaluated on originality of recipe, taste, association of tastes, texture, aesthetics and incorporation of competition theme. In addition to her Finale representation achievement, Pizarro was awarded $4,000 and an exclusive Valrhona trophy. Yam Lok Hin (Madera at The Rosewood Sandhill Hotel, Menlo Park, CA) won second place.
But those elite chefs weren’t the only one passing judgment on the competitors’ petit fours based on Valrhona’s “WAINA 35%” and plated desserts based on “ORIADO 60%” (both chocolates are part of Valrhona’s Organic and Fairtrade Certified Range). A small panel of media judges, including So Good’s Lisa Shames as well as Tom Hemerka (Pastry Elite, Minneapolis) and Nick Muncy, (Toothache, San Francisco) got in on the judging—and tasting!—too. Giane Cavaliere (Volt Restaurant, Frederick, MD) won the press prize. Curtis Cameron (Acacia House by Chris Cosentino, St. Helena, CA), Christian Lai Chun (Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, Vancouver) and Thao Nguyen (Grey Eagle Casino & Resort, Calgary) rounded out the group of competitors.
In the end, though, it was Pizarro’s unique ginger honeycomb petit four with a honey gastrique and her beautiful plated dessert that included lavender ice cream and a refreshing balsamic glaze to help balance the rich chocolate components that captured the judges’ hearts.
Photos: Frank Apollonio