Friday, April 9, 2010

Taiwan chef wins 2010 Master Baker in France

On March 10, Taiwanese pastry chef Wu Pao-chun won the title of Master de la Boulangerie in the bread category at the Europain and Intersuc (aka the World Cup of Baking). According to the Central News Agency, Wu was able to beat 24 candidates from 17 nations in the competition. Within 8 hours, Wu was required to bake breads such as baguettes, sandwich loaves and a specialty bread representative of Taiwan. Among the ingredients in Wu’s specialty bread were Taiwanese millet wine, dried lichee and organic roses.

Rising to the challenge

The competitors were assured their place this year by being a part of the winning team in the 2008 competition. That year, Taiwan competed for the first time and won a silver medal at the World Cup of Baking. It was a tremendously difficult competition. Six weeks before, the rules went out asking the bakers to make 11 kinds of baguettes in 8 hours. In total, that meant 251 baguettes – something that usually takes 12 hours to complete. The Taiwan team toiled away for the entire 8 hours without water or bathroom breaks and became the first team to finish. Out of the 12 teams, only 6 met the deadline.

Launched in 1992 by Christian Vabret, the World Cup of Baking was Vebret’s idea to revive the art of baking. Considered one of France's top bakers and a great promoter of the industry, he wanted to reverse the decline of French baking as more small bakeries fell into the hands of big business. The event is now part international trade show and part competition.

Bakers compete in individual categories and also as national teams. The French teams dominated the competition for years, but in the last decade or so, they have not done as well. The United States won in 1999 and 2005. Japan won in 2002. In 2008, the French team finally took back the title after a 12-year drought. This year’s Master for Artistic Creation went to Francois Brandt of the Netherlands and the Master in the Viennoiserie category (yeasted pastry) was won by Frenchman Thomas Planchot.

The pride of Taiwan

Wu’s win was unique coming from a country that has little artisan-style breads. Heavily influenced by Japan, the Taiwanese people enjoy pantry-type breads which use heavily processed flour to make softer and richer bread. However, Wu’s specialty bread really impressed the judges.

Wu has spent years perfecting his specialty bread. First, he made sure his special dough could withstand the temperature changes he might face in the competition, than he began experimenting with the perfect blend of lichee, rose and wine. Along the way, he ate a lot of failures. And in the end, it was his “multitude of flavours” that he had spent a lot of time devising that won over the jury and the public.

In a Europain press release, Wu said, "During the competition, the hardest thing was the isolation as I didn't speak the language: I couldn't share my feelings with the other candidates. Luckily, the members of the Taipei Representative Office in France gave me active and enthusiastic support over the five days and I saw the pride in their eyes when the results were announced: a very fine gift…"

At the award presentation for the 2010 Master Baker, Taiwan’s representative to France, Director-General Lu Ching-long jokingly told the audience, “If you want to enjoy good French bread, come to Taiwan!”

Wu currently works in a bakery in Taipei and plans to open his own bakery in four to five months.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.