The Hardest Eight Hours

The Australian Bakery World Cup team prepares for the upcoming Louis Lesaffre Cup in Canton, China.

The Australian Bakery World Cup team will head to Canton, China, in May to compete at the Louis Lesaffre Cup in a bid to qualify for the 2012 Bakery World Cup in France. Team captain Brett Noy, team members Rob Howard and Trevor Sims, and team manager Will McPhail are focused on one thing: coming home champions.

Their task will not be easy – the Coupe du Monde is considered the ‘Olympics of baking’ for good reason. With just eight hours provided for competing teams to create world-class bread, pastry and a decorative bread piece from scratch, competitors will pour months and years of training into an attempt to pull off the perfect eight-hour shift. The China qualifier will see some very strong competition, with previous Coupe du Monde champion Japan joined by Australia, South Korea, Vietnam, China, Indonesia and the Philippines tin competing for the top two spots.

“It is by far and away the highest profile competition in the world. It’s very, very, very difficult,” Australian team captain and Uncle Bob’s Bakery owner, Brett Noy told Baking Business following the team’s first practice session at Hamilton TAFE in March.

“It’s very hard but we are just learning – the things we’re coming into contact with, things such as the French flour, new product design and the things we are doing. We’ve just never had the opportunity to do before except for (now). It’s incredible, absolutely incredible,” he said.

The team’s first official practice week took place in March at New South Wales’ Hamilton TAFE. There the team finalised their product development, design and timelines, with a run-through under competition conditions on the final day.

“It was a really good week. It was a hard week. We were extremely exhausted and we were up at 3:30am on the Friday morning. We started our practice at official timing at 6am and finished at 2pm and then I got in my car and drove back to Brisbane (and got back) 10:30pm that night. So that’s sort of the level of commitment we are putting in,” Mr Noy said.

“There’s an enormous amount of product to make. You know, (there’s a very limited time frame) and we will use every last second of that to be able to produce everything we need to produce.”

Having previously competed together at the Sigep Artisan World Cup competition in 2009, the team mates know and understand each other well. However, the World Cup’s timeframe is more extreme than anything they have ever experienced.

“We’ve got eight hours to produce something from literally a bag of flour to the end result, making many, very different products,” Western Australia’s Grainaissance bakery owner, Rob Howard said.

“The products are quite similar, but the training is quite different. This is about 10 levels above Sigep I reckon.”

Mr Howard said the team gets along very well and know what to expect of each other.

“We are all pretty highly focused at the moment. I haven’t got to the excitement stage yet. I’m still building my showpiece, which I’ve pretty much done, it’s just practicing and practicing and making sure I can get that – what I want to achieve in that eight-hour time frame.”

Western Australia’s The Cake and Cookie Co. owner, Trevor Sims said that he took the competition seriously and was practicing in his off days every week.

Mr Noy said team manager and The Just Loaf owner, Will McPhail’s technical knowledge was probably the best of anyone he knew outside of food technologists working in science labs and flour mills.

“Whilst he may have never done the formalised degree, the stuff that he understands about baking and fermentation science, I have yet to find anybody else working in a bakery environment working to a level that he does. So he will be a wealth of knowledge when it comes to particularly what we’re doing,” he said.

Mr Noy said that the team have come together well over the past year.

“It’s much better to have a champion team then a team of champions. That’s exactly what we have. We get along very, very well. We clearly and fully understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses. We just know our roles, very specific. And it’s a brilliant team. Those guys are just awesome to be with,” Mr Noy said.

In January the Australian team journeyed to Europe to watch the European leg of the 2012 World Cup qualifying round as well as to visit a number of French bakeries. Having watched the European teams and tasted their product, Mr Noy is confident that the Australian team is well established to qualify.

“We feel that, already at this early stage of our practice, we are well on par and exceeding the quality of the products that we have seen in Europe. So we are very pleased with that. The product design is very strong. The flavour is exceptional,” he said.

While at a Paris baking school, the team formed a relationship with France Gourmet and Grands Moulin de Paris (GMP) flour, the official flour of the competition, and have been practicing with it since.

“It’s the flour which the competition organisers use for the Louis Lesaffre Cup. So that is the flour we will have to use in China. We would have been at quite a disadvantage if we hadn’t been able to get a hold of that flour to practice. But having it is providing us with huge benefit,” Mr Noy said.

The character of the French ‘Type 55’ flour’s protein (gluten) is quite different to Australian flour and is not nearly as elastic. Though French flours routinely list a protein content of around 11.5 per cent, they perform more like a medium-protein Australian flour, around 9.5 per cent, putting them on-par with Australian all-purpose flours.

Mr Noy said their recipes are a closely guarded secret, but will be released through the Southern Cross Baking Group after the competition.

“We can’t give too much away on it because with the global media and Facebook and all the other things out there,” Mr Noy said.

“Needless to say there’s quite a degree of variation between all the different products. They are quite complex formulations, running multiple pre-ferments.The organic and nutritional loaf has certainly received excellent feedback. It was certainly one of the favourites of the guys at Hamilton TAFE. We’re actually taking organic flour from Australia to utilise with that.”

The team will meet again at Hamilton TAFE in April and May for further practice. With the level of competition they face, every hour of preparation could prove crucial.

“Japan is an obvious standout because they are a past winner of the Coupe du Monde. So they will certainly be coming with a force. I think in the prior two or three Coupe du Mondes they had automatic qualification. So they’ve haven’t had to actually qualify for a number of years. So they will be coming pissed off and keen. They will be expecting to win,” he said.

Despite this, the Australian team does not doubt its ability to win the competition.

“No team there is unbeatable and we are going with the expectation that we will be in Paris in April 2012 and we will be one of 12 teams to compete for the World Cup. That’s the goal, that’s the focus and we honestly believe whole-heartedly we can do it,” Mr Noy said.

The Bakery World Cup team would like to thank the support they have received from France Gourmet and GMP, Golden Egg Farms, Notley’s, F. Mayer, Callebaut as well as Hamilton TAFE for supplying a practice venue.

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