South Charlotte

Competition is sweet for this Charlotte chef

Harry Peemoeller, Johnson & Wales' senior baking instructor, will lead the American team to Paris in March for the international Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie - The World Cup of Baking.

Peemoeller, 52, and his colleagues are coming off a victory in the recent Sigep Bread Cup 2011 international competition in Rimini, Italy. Team USA is one of 12 teams participating in the World Cup, a prestigious invitation-only bake-off held every four years.

For Peemoeller, the competition is something he has been training for almost his entire life.

Born and raised in a small town outside Hamburg, Germany, Peemoeller got his first exposure to commercial and retail baking at age 10, when he and his four brothers, also bakers, began learning in his stepfather's bakery.

At 14, Peemoeller began his formal education and training as a baker. "Legalized slavery," Peemoeller recalled with a chuckle, referring to the amount of work required of apprentice bakers. "I became aware of just how difficult life as a baker can be at a young age."

The craft fascinated Peemoeller, and he became certified as a master baker by the German Culinary Institute at age 22.

After stints with his stepfather and operating his own bakery, Peemoeller came to the U.S. in 1989 in search of additional business experience and new challenges. He worked in a commercial bakery that supplied Disney World in Orlando and then operated his own bakery in Miami.

"My time in Florida was some of the most professionally satisfying time of my career, but my hours were a strain for my family," said Peemoeller. "Unbeknownst to me, my wife completed an application on my behalf and submitted it to Johnson & Wales in Norfolk, Va., in response to an opening for a baking instructor. The position offered more reasonable hours and more time for my family.

"The next thing I knew, I was interviewing for the position and moving the family to Virginia ... in 2000."

When Johnson & Wales relocated to Charlotte in 2005, Peemoeller and his family came along, settling in Tega Cay.

Peemoeller's star has risen rapidly in international competitive baking. He was first approached by a colleague in 2007 to participate in the National Bread and Pastry Championship, which Peemoeller and his team won. He has competed in several national and international competitions, taking the top prize in each.

In Paris, teams will compete 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.

While the details of his artistic piece are secret, Peemoeller said his design will be an interpretation of the American Wild West.

"My piece is 40 inches high by 40 inches wide by 40 inches deep," he said. "It probably weighs close to 100 pounds and is made of hundreds of individually baked components."

With one final culinary mountain to scale, victory for Peemoeller is so close he can almost taste it.