Earlier this month while many Charlotteans were shaking off their New Year’s Eve excess, three of America’s master bakers were hard at work in the uptown kitchens of Johnson & Wales University kneading away, crafting some of the finest and most exclusive baked goods in the city.
Jacob Baggenstos, pastry chef at Seattle’s Bakery Nouveau, Nicky Giusto, a fourth generation miller and baker with San Francisco’s Central Milling Company, and Jeffrey de Leon, group pastry chef for Farmshop in Santa Monica, Calif., were filling the ovens on New Year’s Day with what they hoped would be winning creations in this year’s Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie — the Bakery World Cup.
The world’s best bakers converge in Paris to compete for their respective countries in this grueling multi-day competition, which is held every four years.
The event, in early February this year, is designed by world bread associations to drive innovation, nutrition, taste and commercial viability into the market for what is arguably one of the world’s most ancient and perfect foods.
These west-coast bakers, Team USA’s entrants into the field of 12 international teams, were in Charlotte because they’re coached by Charlotte master baker and Johnson & Wales senior baking instructor Harry Peemoeller.
Peemoeller was first exposed to baking at age 10, when he along with his siblings, also bakers, began learning in his stepfather’s bakery in a small town outside of Hamburg, Germany, where he grew up.
He achieved the prestigious master baker certification at age 22 from the German Culinary Institute and came to the states not long after that. Peemoeller joined Johnson & Wales in Norfolk, Va., in 2000 and relocated to Charlotte when the university opened here in 2005.
As for his protoges, Peemoeller said, “They have been training for 11 months. While they have mostly trained out west, I wanted them to travel to Charlotte to experience different kitchens, equipment and conditions and gain exposure to the rigors of travel. Most importantly they learn how to pack and travel with their equipment.”
Peemoeller tries to set up his kitchen to emulate what the bakers might find overseas. He even arranged to bring in a special type of flour from France they may encounter.
“The wheat is much softer,” said Peemoeller. “The team needs to know how to work with (a) variety of conditions from humidity, different ovens and different styles of flour in order to be successful.”
The three-man team competes in four categories: baguettes and bread from around the world, sweet Viennese pastries, savory presentations and an artistic piece, Peemoeller’s particular area of expertise.
On this Saturday morning, de Leon was artfully filling specialty croissants with hazelnut and pear filling, while teammate Giusto was readying whole grain baguettes for proofing. Baggenstos was grappling with very thin dough while shaping pieces for his top secret bread sculpture and artistic piece.
“The theme is sports representing our home country,” revealed Baggenstos, sharing no additional details. “People will be surprised, but immediately connect with the sculpture. I’m getting excited.”
Excitement, along with some incredible aromas, was definitely in the air along Trade Street on this New Year’s day.
Photos: Michael J. Solender and Johnson & Wales