Israel takes the cake in baking competition


Israel is famous for the rich variety of its traditional “Israeli breakfast.”

By Avigayil Kadesh

Any hotel guest who’s ever enjoyed a bounteous “Israeli breakfast” will not be surprised to learn that Israel recently captured first place at an international baking championship in Italy. The culinary mavens from the Jewish state beat out competing chefs from France, Australia, Germany, Spain, Portugal, England, Morocco and Mexico.

The Sixth SIGEP Bread Cup was held in Rimini Fiera, Italy, from January 21 to 24, 2012. The Israeli team won gold medals in the categories of healthful bread and baked dessert. The other two categories are traditional bread and artistic bread.

Jackie Hazan, head of the Israel Chefs Association’s patisserie and boulangerie (pastries and breads) division, spent six months coaching a team captained by baker Eli Abraham.

The team was rounded out by Alex Besser, Abraham’s co-worker at the Lachma artisan bakery in Holon; freelance pastry chef Eran Shwartbard; and freelance bread designer Osnat Lipson.

“We trained at the Bishulim Culinary School in Jaffa for patisserie, and for bread at Lachma,” Hazan says. “Six months is a long time, but it’s a must.”

The team first met at Hazan’s house to decide which items to prepare in the different categories.

“I have been in a lot of baking competitions in my life, so I know what they are looking for,” says Hazan, a chef developer for the Israeli branch of the multinational Belgian chocolate company Puratos. “Innovation is very important.”

The winning Israeli healthful bread was spinach pocket bread filled with pistachio-coated balls of cheese and drizzled with yogurt sauce — a gourmet takeoff on the Israeli staple fast food, pita stuffed with falafel balls topped with tehina sauce.

In the dessert category, the Israelis wowed the two juries of professionals and tasters with their Black Forest-style strawberry and fruit brioche.

A strong, professional team

Hazan was captain of the first Israeli team at an international baking competition, held in Paris in 2003. He’s worked with Lipson, Shwartbard and Abraham in three previous competitions and added Besser to the group after a culinary audition.

“Every year we have won one gold medal, and once took second place in the [Bread Cup] competition,” says Hazan. “We are going up slowly but surely.”

He adds that chefs from the other countries “give us a lot of respect. We are very strong and very professional.”

Germany came in second in the contest, and Australia third.

Next up: Israel Chefs Association president Leon Menachem says he’ll captain a team of 20 Israeli chefs headed to Romania for the sixth International Open-Air Cooking Championship. He culled the talented teammates from hotels, restaurants and cooking schools throughout Israel.

Video of the championship: