Indianapolis pastry chef Cindy Hawkins, owner of Circle City Sweets, competed in her fifth World Food Championships in November as part of Team Indiana, a Culinary Crossroads initiative, and placed in the top 10. We caught up with Hawkins at her shop and production kitchen at the AMP artisan marketplace and food hall in Indianapolis to find out what it’s like to compete.
What’s the actual competition like?
People watch cooking competitions on TV, and people backstab and sabotage and they’re terrible, and it’s not like that at all. You might have a little old lady next to you, and then you might have a professional baker somewhere else. We’ll bring a bottle of sparkling wine or something, and when we’re finishing up, we’ll toast, and you’re sharing with the people around you and encouraging them. It’s a good time, it really is.
What type of cooks compete?
Home cooks, bloggers, barbecue people, you name it. There are a lot of barbecue teams in the dessert competition. It’s a huge variety of types of bakers.
What do you do once you get there?
We’ll get there the day before, and your whole purpose the day before is shopping. To get the lay of the land and shopping. The competition is at the fairgrounds, so it’s this big, huge, open space. In the center of a rectangle is the turn-in table. Then there’s two sides, and they’re big cooking arenas. There’ll be maybe 25 workstations on either side. When you get in there, you’ll have a chef’s meeting about a half hour before you compete. When that’s done, you get to go set up your station. We’ll pull out rolling pins and whatever tools we’re using.
What type of dessert did you do this year?
I always lean toward tarts. This year it was a small rectangular tart. We did a really nice sweet dough tart shell. We bruleed some bananas on the bottom of the shell after they’re baked, and then we made a banana moonshine pastry cream, so it had a layer of that. Then we piped a really pretty design in Italian meringue on top, and then a tiny, baby croquembouche for each one filled with that same pastry cream.
Did you practice a lot?
The first year we did it, we probably did five practice runs. We practiced like crazy. After that we haven’t practiced quite so much, but we did one test run, and we finished with easily 20 minutes to spare.
What the most challenging part of competing?
Not placing in the top 10. It’s a little heartbreaking. The first year we competed, we were in the bottom of the scoring. But its also the most thrilling when you make the top 10. That’s so awesome. As much as you want to pretend like it’s not that big of a deal, it’s so exciting when you get top 10.
The World Food Championships attracts more than 1,500 cooks from 42 states and six countries competing in 10 official categories – and lots of foodies who come to watch.