The Masters de la Boulangerie, organized by Lesaffre, took place over three intense days on Feb. 3-5 in Paris, as competitors pursued the title of World Master Baker. Previously, only six bakers in the world held this title. Now there are nine. The 2018 event was part of Europain 2018 at the Parc des Expositions at Paris Nord Villepinte.

Déborah Ott of France won the World Master Baker title in gourmet baking, and Peter Bienefelt of The Netherlands won the World Master Baker gold medal in nutritional bread making. Taiwan’s Peng-Chieh Wang won the title of World Master Baker in artistic bread making.

“It was crazy,” said Jacob Baggentstos, who represented the United States in the artistic bread making category at the Masters de la Boulangerie. Baggenstos is the pastry chef at Bakery Nouveau in Seattle, Washington. Also representing the United States in the prestigious competition was Jeffrey DeLeon, the group pastry chef for Farmshop in Santa Monica, California. He competed in the gourmet baking category. 

Launched in 2010, the Masters de la Boulangerie, a global competition for individuals, is part of a four-year international competition cycle: Louis Lesaffre Cup, Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie and Masters de la Boulangerie.

Canada was represented by Alan Dumonceaux in gourmet baking and by Marcus Mariathas in nutritional bread making. Dumonceaux is the chair of the baking program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

As ACE Bakery’s senior director of product development, Mariathas brought his expertise in traditional European methods as the sole North American representative in the nutritional bread making category.

Mariathas shared in an exclusive interview with bake magazine that he grew up on a small island in Sri Lanka. “My father passed away when I was young, so as the eldest child I wanted to provide a good life for my family. The Civil War was a difficult time, and so when I saw an opportunity to come to Canada, I knew it was my only shot to support my family. It wasn’t easy, but I made it to Toronto (in the middle of February, with only a T-shirt on!)

His mother was a single mother at a young age, raising four boys on her own and working full time. She was a manager at two co-operative grocery stores back home. When she finally came to Canada in 2000, she was able to retire.

Early in life, Mariathas found a fascination with science, mathematics, chemistry and physics. “I always thought numbers and logic was incredibly fascinating. From a career standpoint I wanted (and planned) to be in finance. When I came to Canada, I applied and got into the University of Toronto to study finance.”

He shares that he never anticipated being a baker. He was well on his way at the University of Toronto toward earning a finance degree in accounting when he needed a part-time job and came across a posting for a night baker at ACE Bakery (when it was in Toronto, at King & Spadina).

“I got the job, and was working as a baker in the night, and going to school during the day. I got to work alongside great people — great business people too. I learned all about artisan bread and the science and math required to craft exceptional products full of flavor and different textures. I was in my fourth year of university and was offered the chance to become a full-time baker at ACE Bakery…and I picked baking! A very non-traditional option, but I took the risk, and I am very grateful I did!”

Today, Mariathas is the senior director of product development at ACE Bakery. He is responsible for ensuring each and every single artisan product made — from branded ACE items, to private label, to foodservice — is crafted with nothing but the simplest ingredients and artisan techniques, no matter what the size.

“I play a large role in the business operations as well, work closely with customers, and also get to teach my team members about artisan bread, artisan baking and encourage them to develop their professional skills,” he says.

Mariathas considers his greatest skill to be embracing technology instead of trying to combat it. “Because of that, I have the ability to create remarkable artisan breads the same way we did 25 years ago, except on a grander scale.

He recognizes that people read labels and pay closer attention to their consumption habits than ever before. “It’s important to ensure we provide a variety of options that appeal to a variety of consumers. We need to monitor trends but also ensure we keep doing what we do best, never compromising on our process, quality, and simple ingredients and the rest will follow.”

He sees a bright future ahead for the bread industry. “Currently artisan bread is eaten on special occasions; it is special to eat artisan bread. My vision is to see ACE Bakery breads — and eating better quality, special breads — become the norm. I would love to get teenagers and children into the artisan bread space, to create a demand not only from adults, but that stems from a young age.”