Chef Paul Competes for the National Pastry Chef of the Year title.

Thank you to Chef Percy Whatley for sharing his thoughts on Chef Paul Padua’s recent competition and the ACF convention. We will post photos of Chef Paul and his own thoughts over the next few days.

I had a great excuse to go to the ACF National Convention inDallas,TXthis year.  The Ahwahnee Pastry Chef Paul John Padua was competing for the National Pastry Chef of the Year title and I wanted to show the support he needed to stay focused and comfortable throughout the days of the convention.

First off, a few words about the Pastry Chef of the Year competition:

Chef Paul has been training for this for three months, along with training for the Amoretti National Pastry Team Championships.  Talk about an extremely heavy workload!  The Pastry Chef of the Year competition begins with the regionals, which took place in April.  Each regional winner, Northeast, Southeast,Midwestand West, goes to the nationals to compete against each other for the national title.  When Chef Paul won the Western Regional Chef of the Year title, it was on the toes of the Pastry Team Championships.  He had to train double, which, anyone who has competed knows is aLOTto take on along with your day to day job.

After the team championships, Paul worked on his presentation every day prior to traveling toDallasfor four weeks.  He would come in around 9 AM and not leave until 1 or 2 AM the next day.  The competition (and practice sessions) entailed a showpiece of 18” minimum height (chocolate, sugar, etc), an entremet (plated dessert) composed of Splenda no calorie sweetener and the mystery ingredients provided, and a glazed petite four.  The entremets and the petite fours need to be in five portions, one for show and four for the judges to taste. All of this needs to take place in 2.5 hours with the assistance of a commis.

Chef Paul and his assistant (Ian Cornelius) travel toDallas…

Thanks to Chef Christopher Tunnell at Choctaw Casino, Chef Paul was able to do a practice run of the competition two days before the event and do some of the necessary prep that he needed.  Chef Christopher was very accommodating and even lent Chef Paul a couple of pieces of equipment so that he would not have to travel all the way fromYosemitewith even more than he was already traveling with.  It is wonderful the subsidiaries don’t hesitate to cross those lines of internal hospitality.  Chef Christopher and his team also came down to root him on the day of the competition…Thanks again Chef Christopher and your team for all of the help and support shown to Chef Paul!!!

On the day of the competition, Chef Paul showed great focus on getting all of the items accomplished.  His time slot was last, so all of the other pastry chefs would show before he would in 15 minute increments.  He had his showpiece complete before any of the other chefs, and he had to repair it once as it was, when the main support piece came off of the mantle it was mounted on…many of the spectators cringed as he almost dropped it!!!  He was quick with his hands and saved the sugar sculpture from shattering though…Thank Goodness!!!  At this point it looked good with his time line.  He had his glazing of his petite fours complete in a timely fashion and everything was looking good at that point.  When it came to plating the entremets, he had some trouble with the ice cream and the caramel sauce and unfortunately set him back 8 minutes late.  Each minute is points shaved from your total.

After observing the other pastry chefs, my opinion may be a little biased, but Chef Paul performed well and without the unfortunate time lapse making him late in his service window, he would have been close, if not above, the front runner.  His showpiece was nice, the spectrum of textures was complete on the entremets, the glaze and garnish work on the petite fours was sharp and consistent between all of the pieces.  We have a very talented pastry chef indeed…

Now, part deux…the convention:

The convention happens every year, somewhere in theUSA.  Throughout the convention are opportunities to network with industry peers, to gather much needed CEH’s (continuing education hours) for recertification, general sessions, gala dinner gatherings, and to dabble in a trade show with various food products and kitchen equipment.  It is, hands down, the largest gathering of culinary professionals in the nation.

There are a number of competitions during the convention.  These include, student team championships, Pastry Chef of the Year, Chef of the Year, Chef Educator of the Year, along with a few others that are sponsor driven, but are in no way, any less intense.  All of these are open to the public for viewing at no additional charge to you, as long as you have a valid pass.

The cost of the convention, if you were to go for the 5 days, is around $800.  This includes various dinners, lunches and breakfasts.  If you do what I did and attended for two days, then it comes to $125 per day, one meal per day is provided.   I went on a budget, as we all should in this economy, and stayed at the Holiday Inn next to the airport for $120/night rather than at the much more posh Gaylord Texan (host hotel of the convention).  This Holiday Inn had a shuttle that took you to the convention center and back, so, a car was not needed, except that we had some affairs to attend to in downtown Dallas, about 20 miles away.  All in all, the cost of the event, including travel, rental car, hotel and meals, was under $2000 for me to go.  The benefits, for all industry professionals, are the networking, the CEH’s, observing the competitions, the trade show, and maybe to bump into old friends.  It has been five years since my last convention, and in my opinion, this is too long of a wait between them.

It is always productive to attend conventions, at the very least, every other year.  In other words, ask your General Manager for support now so that it can be budgeted for next year.


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