Spinning gauzy strands of sugar | VailDaily.com

Spinning gauzy strands of sugar

Wren Wertin

The Fourth Annual Pastry Competition and Culinary Festival kicks off Saturday and continues Sunday. The two days are free to guests and include confectionery architectural feats, pastry demonstrations, seminars, children’s activities and live music.

Years ago, Mike Schneider, a self-professed creme brulee junkie with an “almost groupie-ish love of sweet and pastries,” approached Tony O’Rourke, Executive Director of the Beaver Creek Resort Company, about hosting a pastry competition.

“I told him, “You will not understand these things until you see it, and then you will be hooked.’ It’s wonderful to see someone take melted chocolate and table sugar and turn them into three-foot-high statues. It’s an amazing thing,” said Schneider.

Not only was O’Rourke hooked, but the Vail community was, too. The sheer drama of watching artists create sculptures out of sweets intrigued residents, who helped the festival outgrow its britches. They’ve since had to scale back the scope of the event, but the essence of it has remained intact. Five of America’s top pastry chefs have been invited to compete in the five-hour competition. The chefs are only too happy to participate, said Schneider.

“First of all, it’s in a drop-dead gorgeous place,” he said. “The chefs look forward to coming here, and the hospitality of the community is second to none.”

It’s difficult for chefs to get recognized nationally, and once they are recognized it’s difficult to stay there.

“This is something they can do to maintain recognition,” said Schneider. “This is the way they get to be creative.”

The competition is two-fold. First, the chefs will make two identical cakes, one for judging and one for visual showing. The cakes must include four ingredients: banana, chocolate, coffee and caramel. They will also create a sculpture out of equal parts sugar and chocolate; sugar is both table sugar, which melts and becomes glass-like and shiny, and pastiage, or royal icing, which is a matte white. The sculpture must somewhere include the cake, and this year’s theme is Magic.

Cakes are judged on several things. Taste is the most important.

“We don’t do anything with politics; everything is decided in the kitchen,” said Schneider.

Judges will also look at how it’s constructed, and how it slices. Cakes that pull down too much when being cut will receive lower marks. Also, the quality of the glaze on the outside of the confection will be rated.

The competition receives high marks for entertainment value, as each chef is determined to outdo the others. Keegan Gerhard, a world-class pastry chef in his own right, will be moderating. He’ll be able to explain to the uninitiated what exactly the chefs are doing.

“People may not think they’re going to stay for long and watch, but they will,” said Schneider.

In addition to the competition, Bon Appetit will have a demo kitchen set up near the Beaver Creek Ice Rink. One-hour seminars and demonstrations will take place there, led by a variety of culinary industry people. They will also be handing out samples.

“Beaver Creek’s annual culinary events recognize the achievement of talented chefs from around the country,” said Lynn Heiler, Vice President and Publisher of Bon Appetit magazine. “Bon Appetit is proud of its association with Beaver Creek and thrilled to be associated with this event, which gives food lovers access to world-renowned chefs and allows them to watch them at work and sample their delicious creations.”

Children’s activities and live music will be offered at the Beaver Creek Plaza all day Saturday and Sunday. The grand finale act will be a free concert by Marcia Ball on the Ice Rink Stage.

For more information, call 888-323-7612.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.

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