Cher Harris, executive pastry chef at The Hotel Hershey, returned to the United States on Tuesday evening as “The Pastry Queen.” This is one of the most prestigious awards for women within the pastry industry.
Harris, executive pastry chef at The Hotel Hershey since 2009, competed January 18–20 at the Ladies’ World Pastry Championship in Rimini, Italy. This competition was held in conjunction with the 35th Salone Internazionale Gelateria, Pasticceria E Panificazione Artigianali (SIGEP, International Exhibition for the Artisan Production of Gelato, Pastry, Confectionery, and Bakery). She represented the U.S. as one of 11 contestants, each representing a different country. The other countries represented were Belarus, Brazil, Columbia, Croatia, France, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, and Switzerland.
“This has been a crazy experience; it’s surreal,” says Harris. “Everyone at SIGEP has been treating me like I’m famous. I’ve been invited back to be the lead judge for the next Pastry Queen competition!”
The Ladies’ World Pastry Championship is held every two years and is an event only for female pastry chefs from around the world. It offers them a significant opportunity to test their skills and find new stimuli for a successful, rewarding career.
Over the three-day period, Harris had different “challenges.” On the first day, Harris was paired with an Italian barista and instructed to prepare 10 tiramisu that complimented the barista’s espresso. The second day, Harris had to create 10 verrine portions (a dessert presented in a glass, usually built in layers) that represented the U.S. On both of these days, she had one hour to complete the challenge. The third day lasted nine hours. Harris prepared three entremets (a multi-layered mousse-based cake), 16 plated desserts, and a sugar showpiece. All three elements had to fit the competition’s theme: “The Evolution of Cinema.” Contestants were scored by a jury of 15 people: the winner from the 2012 competition, two representatives from an Italian pastry society, a French “Master of Pastry,” and each country’s team manger. Fifty percent of the score was based on flavor. The other 50 percent included scores on presentation, theme, and organization.
Susan Notter, pastry director at The Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts, is Harris’ mentor and invited her to represent the U.S. in The Pastry Queen competition. She was also Harris’ manager during the competition. Notter and pastry chefs from New York City and France worked with and trained Harris in terms of recipe selection and flavor composition. Formal practices began in September 2013 and grew more intense in the two months prior to the competition, up to two times per week. A full kitchen setup was provided as part of the competition. Harris took some of her own equipment to Italy, and upon arrival in Italy purchased equipment that was compatible with the country’s electrical voltage.
Harris received a monetary prize for winning the Ladies’ World Pastry Championship. On Saturday, February 22 she will do a demo at the Travel and Adventure Show in Washington, DC. In early March, she will be in New York City to participate in the U.S. Pastry Competition.
As executive pastry chef at The Hotel Hershey, she oversees a staff of up to 18 employees that create everything sweet for all dining outlets at the Hotel. She thrives on the attention to detail and exactness needed for pastry. She enjoys the challenges of bread and acknowledges that is takes even more patience and a different handling style. But Harris’ true passions are in specialty wedding cakes and plated dessert composition.