Chocolate sculptor Asher Toubkin is heading to France to take part in the French Dessert Open.
This year, Asher Toubkin, Israel’s premiere chocolate sculptor, is confident that his team has a shot at taking first place at the Open de desserts de France (French Dessert Open) International Dessert Awards at the Paris Expo in the Porte de Versailles on March 30.
“We’re going to do it,” says Toubkin, who led the Israeli team to fourth place at the last competition in 2006.
If Toubkin is right, and his three-man team, consisting of himself, sugar blower Aitan Barfi, and Israel’s participating competition judge Jack Hazan, a master chef and member of the Association of Israeli Chefs, will make first, second, or third place, they will become the first dessert makers from Israel to compete at the 11th Coupe de Monde de la Patisserie (World Pastry Cup), to be held in Lyons in 2009.
The profession’s flagship event, the World Pastry Cup is a kind of dessert Olympics that takes place every four years, showcasing the world’s top dessert-making talent from around the world. The event was created by Sihra, the International Hotel Catering and Food Trade Exhibition, which also established the International Caseus Award Cheese Contest and the Bocuse d’Or World Cuisine Contest.
The French Dessert Open, which takes place every two years, was designed to give pastry chefs from countries lacking international recognition for their dessert-making talents, an opportunity to qualify for the World Pastry Cup.
This year, Toubkin’s team will compete against nine other teams from countries including South Africa, Senegal, Poland, Hungary, Jordan, and Finland.
“We’ve got a much better chance this time around,” says Toubkin, who explains that at the last event, the Israeli team was not well enough prepared. To start with, unlike any of the other participating countries, the Israeli team neglected to bring cooling units. “We had no idea how hot it would be,” he says. “Our sugar sculpture almost melted!”
They also didn’t expect for the competition to be televised live on French TV. “This added an enormous amount of pressure,” says Toubkin, the resident dessert chef for the chain of Moses restaurants and their subsidiaries in Israel. “All in all, I learned a lot from the last competition.”
The competition is indeed high-pressure. In just under five hours (including a half-hour allotted to clean-up), each team must create from scratch and present to judges: a showpiece exclusively made of sugar, a showpiece exclusively made of chocolate, and 10 identical desserts made from a combination of chocolate and fruit (one for each judge to taste, plus one for display), all around a particular theme. Pieces are judged based on the methodologies employed by the chefs, cleanliness, creativity, artistic presentation, attention to detail, time, and of course, taste.
Toubkin, who will make both the desserts and chocolate sculpture on behalf of team Israel, estimates that he will have to practice creating the sculpture some 20 times ahead of the competition, in order to complete it in the required time.
This year, the team’s sweet creations will revolve around the theme of ‘Love at First Sight’.
“I wanted to show my girlfriend how much I love her,” says Toubkin, who explains that for the couple, who met some five years ago on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea, it really was love at first sight. “She is my biggest support for my work, and so I am designing these competition pieces in her honor.”
While Toubkin refused to reveal details about the two showpieces, he did divulge that the dessert piece, consisting of three layers of chocolate and fruit, will include the delicious products of the most cutting-edge dessert-creating techniques, dubbed “molecular cooking”.
“By breaking down ingredients into their most basic components, we can create new textures and combinations of flavors; truly sensational taste experiences,” says Asher, who lists among the various examples of such food chemistry, maple balls that melt on contact with your tongue and sugar angel hair that crackles in your mouth. “This new field in cooking and baking has filled me with enthusiasm and inspiration.
“If we win this competition, I hope it will bring more international attention to Israel’s rapidly growing gourmet chocolate culture,” says Toubkin.