The Pastry World Cup (Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie), one of the most overlooked top-level competitions in the world, took place this past September. Yes, that’s right — not THE World Cup that is bound to be the talk of the town next summer, but the one with “Pastry” in it, which has little prospect of being a sensation outside the food industry anytime soon.
So what exactly is the Pastry World Cup? Why don’t we — even those who are self-acclaimed foodies — care more about it?
Held every two years in Lyon, France, the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie is the most prestigious competition for pastry making around the world. It features finalist teams from 5 continental Pastry Cups, each representing their country. A team is composed of one captain who tastes the entries and three candidates who work during an intense 10-hour period to create chocolate desserts, frozen desserts, restaurant desserts, a sugar sculpture and a chocolate sculpture. Due to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the food industry, the Pastry World Cup 2021 was postponed from January this year to May at first, and then again to late September. Teams from only 11 countries participated, whereas 20 teams entered in previous competitions.
There is more to what meets the eye and the taste buds in this gourmet competition. As a value-based contest, the Cup seeks such traits as innovation, emotion and universality in the dessert entries. As Dominique Crenn, a judge in the Cup, states, “It's easy to be a great technician, but if there's no story behind it, who are you?"
This year’s gold medal team, Italy, has surely impressed the judges. "When I saw the Italian dessert, it spoke to me," says Crenn. “It was about connecting the human to nature, and nature communicating back. You look at it, everybody connects with it.” For the theme “all art is an imitation of nature,” Italy crafted desserts that were inspired by the honey bee. Their restaurant dessert, the suspended honeycomb, is an awe-inducing display of both skill and innovative thinking. The dessert’s delicate balance between simplicity and complexity brings out a sense of elegance. Sophistication lies under its apparent simplicity — an impressive variety of ingredients including chocolate, vanilla, almond, mango, apricot pulp and lime ganache are used, yet the piece maintains its weightlessness and ethereal beauty, the latter of which the jury is principally looking for in restaurant desserts.
Despite the Pastry World Cup’s prominence in the culinary world, virtually no major news outlet covered the Pastry World Cup. Only a handful of articles can be found on cooking-specific platforms. The only article about the contest on Euronews was largely focused on a geopolitical aspect of the event. More specifically, it included quotes from the captain of the UK team complaining the judges were biased toward Italy and France, and that there was possibly a Brexit bias. It is understandable that news pages want to use eye-catching narratives in their story to attract more readers. However, considering that Euronews is headquartered in Lyon, the home base of the Pastry World Cup yet the sole coverage of the Cup on Euronews is blotted by a topic distracting from the actual spirit of the contest, something smells wrong here.
Isn’t it ironic how the vast majority of us indulge in a pastry every other day but never knew about the Pastry World Cup? A justifiable reason for not paying attention to the Cup is that artisanal pastries seem too far removed from our lives. None of the desserts made at the competition will end up on our plates anyway. Then again, though baked bread is much more accessible, the public doesn’t do The Bakery World Cup justice either. The Michelin Guide may well be the only high-profile food-related recognition that the general audience gets exposed to but even so, few people could name any Michelin restaurants.
Perhaps the deeper cause for our shared neglect of the Cup is a lack of appreciation for food as a demonstration of craftsmanship and creativity, of which the increasingly fast-paced industrial lifestyle is a major culprit. Too often we value food for its ability to enhance our productivity rather than for its own virtue. Thus, the advertising slogan for Saladelia outside Perkins Library: “Yum on the run.” You can often see students skipping multiple meals but never their coffee.
There is hope for reverting this permeating culture for people to consciously view food as an art and food-consuming as an enjoyable activity. In fact, by adding the restaurant dessert component to the contest, the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie is attempting to direct fine pastry towards a more accessible path. The rising population of The Slow Food Movement also shows promise for a gradual change in people’s opinion toward food.
It’s high time we care more about our food, even if not the Pastry World Cup. Treat yourself to some calming food videos. A curiously comforting effect comes out of watching the making or smashing of fine desserts. Browse through the Food & Drink section and Best of the Triangle 2021: Eat and Drink on INDY Week, a local newspaper, to find the next enticing local eatery. Be on the lookout for Triangle Restaurant Week, a premier four-day event with Triangle restaurants offering multi-course meals. Savor your pastry, one bite at a time.
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Katherine Zhong is a Trinity junior and local arts editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.