Friday's evaluation session took longer than expected, as we dissected each and every bread and pastry product (literally and figuratively), and each aspect of Dara’s decorative piece, with intent detail. It can be extremely demoralizing for the team to work so hard all month, all week, and all day on their individual products, only to then sit at the evaluation and be told all the things that need to be improved, or changed, or eliminated, or incorporated.

And that was the main component of the evaluation session–dozens of changes were mandated, some so small as to possibly appear as mere minutiae (but only to non-bakers), some quite significant. To their credit, Solveig, Peter, and Dara all accepted our critiques without hesitation.

We are currently 3 1/4 hours into today’s work session. The pace is good, the mood in the room is positive...

...and now it’s the other end of the day. Evaluation of the day’s work is almost complete. Palpable and considerable progress has been made. One might think–the team members have been working on their stuff for months already, why isn’t everything perfect? Think of a track meet where a dozen people are running the 400-meter dash. The difference between first place and second place might be .01 second. In its way, the Coupe is no different. The bakers representing the 12 participating countries have been practicing almost ceaselessly for a year of more. The need for absolute refinement is crucial; the bakers must thoroughly internalize their work. The distance between the winners and the non-winners will likely be a paper-thin line of skill. So the products that are good at today’s practice must become much more than merely “good” if the members of Baking Team USA are going to stand on the winner's podium in Paris on April 2.

Some people may vilify the nature of competition itself, as something that artificially distorts one’s connection to the good work of baking. And there may be validity to that perspective. Valid too is the perspective that, collectively, all the bakers who’ll be representing their respective countries at the Coupe will be serving a most beneficial role in advancing the skills and the techniques of today’s baking community, and even more importantly, will be furthering the camaraderie that unites us in this most rewarding trade.

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Jeff Hamelman
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