The baking tradition in France may be unparalleled. At the heart of that tradition is the vibrant city of Paris that continues to lead the way with new baking techniques, product and ingredients that have the potential to transform the global artisan baking world. The eyes of the craft baking world are constantly on Paris, and that’s never more true than during Europain.

The European craft baking tradeshow held Jan. 11-14 reinvented itself this year. Held at the Porte de Versailles located in the Paris city center, the location and size of the venue made it possible for attendees to not just attend the show but also experience all the city has to offer. Despite difficult conditions due to a more than month-long public transit strike that all but shut down the city’s Metro subway system, more than 38,000 filled the halls of Porte de Versailles for four days.

The venue was smaller than years past, but the new format and new show features were welcomed by baker attendees for the more intimate atmosphere. “While I was strolling around the stalls, I could really feel there was renewed interest in both exhibitors and visitors for this Europain trade fair,” said Christophe Girardet, owner of the bakery Victor et Compagnie in Lyon, France.

While it was a very French-focused event, about 25% of attendees were from other countries. And of the 452 exhibitors and brands at the show, 18% were international.

Nowhere else in the show could the international influence be more felt than in the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie — World Cup of Baking.

China wins the cup

The largest competition in the world of craft baking, the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, saw China take home the top prize, followed by Japan then Denmark. It was the 10th ever World Cup, which occurs every four years, and it was China’s first time winning it.

It may not have been the ending Team USA was looking for, but the experience was worth the work.

Team USA, sponsored by the Bread Bakers Guild of America, competed next to 11 other countries in four categories: baguette and breads of the world, viennoiserie, artistic creation and gourmet baking.

The competition began on Jan. 11, when the team arrived at the Port de Versailles Expo Center at 4:30 a.m., ready to take on the madness of the next eight hours of baking. In that time, the team created a suite of baked foods, including traditional baguettes, pain zizzis, brioche a tetes, croissants, puff pastry and non-puff pastries. The theme of this year’s artistic creation was “Music from your country,” and the team chose to showcase New Orleans jazz in a towering piece of edible art.

Team USA prepare to present their final products during the World Cup of Baking.

One of the team’s signature creations was the “Billie Holiday,” which was a strawberry rhubarb non-puff pastry with lemon flavor.

Nicky Giusto of Central Milling was the team’s coach and oversaw the work of the young bakers. Jerod Pfeffer made the baguettes and world bread. Kate Goodpaster was in charge of the viennoiserie and pastries, and Nicolas Zimmerman was the head of artistic design. Pfeffer is the co-owner of 460 Bread, Driggs, Idaho, while Goodpaster works for Patisserie46 and Rose Street bakeries in Minneapolis. Zimmerman is a French-born baker working for his father, Pierre Zimmerman, at La Fournette, in Chicago.

Once the baking began, the team was locked in.

“Every five minutes was planned out,” Giusto said. “We have things to do every five minutes and we tick those boxes as we go.”

With under 10 seconds left on the clock, the team embraced and celebrated completing this monumental task.

“They hustled, they spent every ounce of energy they could, and then some,” Giusto said of the team. “I’m really proud of how they performed.”

Professionally, the competition also offers many opportunities to improve skills and network with some of the best bakers in the world.

“You really get to fine-tune your skills as a technician solving problems in a bakery,” Giusto explained. “That’s something that will stay with them. And it’s incredibly important for careers is the camaraderie and the people you meet at the competition. The networking opens up doors.”

Not only do the competitors get to observe different techniques and methods, but they also share ideas. Whether it’s a new combination of flours in a bread or new technique for rolling baguettes, the ideas are shared and ultimately improve everybody’s craft.

“Looking at all the other countries work is inspiring for our day-to-day production,” Giusto said. “You have all these different cultures influencing their suite of products that they’re presenting, and we get to absorb all that along the way. That’s what this competition is about, celebrating our craft as bakers, celebrating what we’ve done, our accomplishments, and then sharing all that knowledge.”

The 2020 Coupe Europe de Patisserie — the European Pastry Cup — was also held at Europain and Switzerland took home the top prize in this European competition. Sweden and Russia also made the podium and three countries will join the United States, France, Italy, Japan and the UK pastry reams in January 2021 for the World Cup of Pastry in Lyon.

Go to the next page to see how bread was spotlighted at Europain 2020.