Will it be sweet victory for the Phl in Lyon?

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star

Sweet, because it is the first time that the Philippines has qualified to compete in the World Pastry Cup in the latter’s 26-year history.

Sweet, because the Philippines is only one of 21 countries, out of close to 100 hopefuls, that made it to the finals in Lyon, France this Jan. 25.

 Sweet, because the lean and mean Philippine team, though travelling to Lyon without government’s financial support, is doing this for national pride.

“After 10 years of trying, we’re on our way,” says James Antolin, vice president of the Pastry Alliance of the Philippines. “I don’t know when this will happen again.”

World Pastry Cup (Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie) founder Gabriel Paillasson has been quoted as saying, “The World Pastry Cup was to be, to pastry, what Formula One is to the automobile.”

It’s a major race, dubbed “the most demanding and rewarding of contests for pastry chefs,” which in the past 26 years has been dominated by the French (with seven gold medals) and the Japanese (with two gold medals).  No Southeast Asian country has so far won a gold medal in the competition, which will certainly be no piece of cake for the pastry chefs.

After more than 50 national selection rounds and four continental selection rounds, the 21 teams will face each other live in front of 2,500 supporters in Lyon.

“Hope we will not let the country down,” says renowned pastry chef Penk Ching, who is one of the team’s mentors and COO of the Pastry Alliance of the Philippines.

The competing team is composed of three pastry chefs Bryan Dimayuga, Vicente Cahatol and Rizalino Mañas Jr., who will have to prepare in 10 hours a boggling showcase of three chocolate desserts, three frozen fruit desserts, 12 identical desserts on plate, one artistic creation made of sugar, one artistic creation made of chocolate and one artistic creation made of sculpted hydric ice.

In addition to the artistic creation made of sugar that must be composed of at least 50 percent drawn sugar and blown sugar, the candidates will be required for the first time to sculpt a whole block of chocolate and integrate this into their artistic chocolate pieces.

Chef James says the team will also inject Philippine-grown ingredients when they can, like  pureed mangoes and calamansi.

The chefs, coincidentally all from the Makati Shangri-La Manila, practice for the competition on their free time from work. They have been relentless in their rehearsals since they qualified (only four countries out of 12 made the mark) for the Asian Pastry Cup in Singapore in April last year.

There will also be a team of mentors like chefs James and Penk, who will drive for the chefs, buy their ingredients, cook for them, keep house for them and give them moral support in Lyon, which reportedly is bracing for sub-zero temperatures during the competition. The team leaves on Jan. 19 in order for the chefs to acclimatize to the cold weather.

“The important thing is that they get to duplicate in Lyon what they’ve been practicing in Manila,” says chef James, who, like chef Penk, is a Business Administration graduate. He followed his heart and took up pastry-making and baking courses at the CCA in San Francisco in 1992 and worked at the Four Seasons in Newport Beach before returning to the Philippines. He headed the CCA in Quezon City and is now a consultant for top culinary institutions.

“I love sweets,” says chef James, who followed his (sweet)heart (now his wife) to Manila after 23 years of living in the US. “It’s the final symphony to any meal.”

Why are James and Penk pouring heart and soul into supporting the Philippine team in the World Pastry Cup?

“For national pride, definitely,” says James, “and to take advantage of all the things we can learn in such competitions. The transfer of knowledge is priceless.”

“The exposure is also valuable, and the people you connect with,” says chef Penk, who believes it is time “to pass on the spatula to a younger generation of pastry chefs.”

The “sheer happiness” from having made it to the World Pastry Cup finals also gives Penk something akin to a sugar rush. Despite her busy schedule, she is energetically seeking sponsors and support for the team, which at present is still cash-strapped. (Penk also trains housewives in Gawad Kalinga communities to make sugar flowers and children with cancer under the Kythe Foundation to frost cupcakes as part of their therapy.)  

But the team and its mentors are undaunted by the challenges they face.

“We’ve made an impact,” James quotes Pastry Alliance Philippines president chef Buddy Trinidad, who will be one of the jurors in the World Pastry Cup for the entries of the other countries.

“People believed in us and we can’t let them down,” stresses Penk.

With the Filipino’s skill and artistry, and the incredible moral support being given Team Philippines by mentors like chefs Buddy, James, Penk and Peachy Juban, many are confident the team will get its just desserts.

And that’s not sugar-coating it.

(You may e-mail me at [email protected].)











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