Susan Notter, Beatrice Schneider and Andy Chlebana at Pastry Live.

Greetings Competitors!

Welcome to our first edition of Uncommon Sense – Competition Tips from Champions.

Over the past decade, The Chicago School of Mold Making has developed hundreds of custom silicone molds with many of the best chefs in the industry. We also send Beatrice Schneider, our creative director, to be present with them during the actual international events, gleaning a wealth of knowledge from our talented friends. When it comes to sharing information gained by experience, our collaborators have much to offer. As the time draws near for Pastry Live 2015, we thought it important to share tips from past champion competitors.

The first in our series of competition tips, we proudly present 2011 National Showpiece Champion, Chef Instructor Andy Chlebana with whom Beatrice recently caught up with while he was driving cross country to yet another competition.

Uncommon Sense – with Andy Chlebana

1. Read the rules and instructions. If you don’t understand something, ask!

2. Regarding themes: Throw out your first three ideas or anything that comes to mind easily, because everyone else will likely have those ideas as well. Take a different approach. Dig deeper and discover what YOUR perception of the theme is, not just what someone has already expressed in another form. Draw on your personal experience and find a style that is unique to you.
3. Forget last time. Judges want to see something NEW.

4. If you are going for realism or specific precision, you need molds whereas more organic style (if well done) can cater to the imagination of the judges.

5. If you are going to use molds, don’t use them as a crutch. Use them to bring a further dynamic composition or effect that could not be done another way within your time frame.

6. When designing your showpiece, choose three main elements to support your idea. Then, put it on paper by drawing or sketching it out. Next, build a three dimensional model out of paper. Your goal is to get the materials to look as light and beautiful as possible while presenting innovative effects and elegant artistry.

7. Be fluid in your conceptual development. Allow it to evolve and run with it, but make sure you decide in advance when to stop making changes and commit to your plan. If you keep making changes past a certain point, your work will suffer from lack of focus.

8. Take photos of the process. You will be surprised how important they become over time.

9. Know when to stop. More is not always better. You will know you are done because you will feel it!

10. Have an great description, make it engaging!

11. Timing:

Create a staged ‘set up’ as close to the competition kitchen specification as possible.

A. Configure tables like at the competition, if tables are too small, even better.

B. Wear all your gear – complete dress rehearsal-hats, coats, slacks etc.

C. Practice no more than 6 times. If it’s not coming together, change it.

12. First Run:

The 1st run is to meant to run through the whole process and see what you are doing,

figure out what you need, what’s missing, and determine who does what better

The 2nd run will give you a much better idea of how things will really be.

The 3rd run should give you an idea of what works and should move comfortably.

The 4th and 5th run should be to finesse your run times.

The 6th practice should finish 15 minutes early.

13. Always prioritize big pieces first, then detail work. Not the other way around.

14. Team work:

Choose teammates with close proximity so you can practice frequently without travel hassles and costs.

Chose teammates based on great work ethic, attention to detail and great reputation.

15. Act like a team:

Share tasks by passing stuff back and forth so one starts the other finishes. Be very aware of your role and your teammates role. It should be very clear if you have to do a task or you don’t. Remember, you are partners and one can’t do without the other.

16. Departure:

Don’t leave for the competition until you got it all working. If you have a problem, work it out now.

17. Arrival:

When you get to the competition kitchen- check that all the equipment works!

18. Showtime:

Regarding competing at the World Cup of Pastry Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie, where multiple dishes and showpieces had to be presented, Chef Chlebana focused on whatever was due first, then focus on the next. Stay in the moment, one delivery at a time.

We hope you find these insights helpful and wish you a productive summer. In our next edition of Uncommon Sense we hear from the 2012 Champion, Daniel Keadle…