Matt Stum's profile on the World Food Championship's website reads, "I'm Matt and I like to cook." You could remark about how this is somehow indicative of the ethos of Stum and his boss and fellow competitor Craig Baker, but it's really just because Matt Stum wants to cook good food. In a Puritannical sense, there's probably no better reason to join a cooking competition, just like he, Baker and Circle City Sweets pastry chef Cindy Hawkins did.
As an organization, the World Food Championships is a somewhat labyrinthine network of smaller food competitions that lead up to the big Florida event. Hawkins won her spot in the competition by winning an online recipe contest. Similarly, Stum and Baker got in through separate smaller categories for burgers and seafood, respectively.
The competition is more than just pro chefs, too. There will be plenty of home cooks and amateur food bloggers in the ranks as well. Though after spending the afternoon tasting and watching demos of Baker's and Hawkins' dishes, I'd have a hard time imagining the untrained home cook being able to match their precision.
Hawkins held a demonstration for me and some other food industry writer-type folks in the Ivy Tech pastry kitchen. She had her sous Tanya Kessenich saute the precisely-cubed green apples with some vanilla bean. Then Kessenich piled the cubes into a soft caramel tart, neatly arranging every single piece on the perfect fluted pastry and topped it all with perfect, long drapings of caramel.
Before that, we were treated to what might actually be my favorite cupcake I've ever had. It was a coconut cupcake with a passion fruit curd filling, all topped with Chantilly cream (sweetened, sturdy whipped cream) and a sprinkle of toasted coconut. Instead of that horrible mouthful of toothache-inducing buttercream, you get this heavenly, light and fluffy bite of light sweetness with a bunch of fruity brightness in the middle. It really is something like magic and if it doesn't win, well, I'll know that those judges are being paid off.
Baker's dish, while he joked that the presentation wasn't quite as neat as it could be after removing the best meat from his whole snapper, was also transcendent compared to even most good restaurants' preparation of fish. Then again, there's a reason Baker is holding down one of the best independent seafood restaurants in downtown.
And while I didn't get a chance to try Stum's burger, there's no doubt that The Local will keep turning out some of the very best in high-quality, approachable dining. It's hard to imagine a reality in which Stum's burger would be less than outstanding.
Hawkins is offering "sponsorships" to help get them to the Sunshine State, and they'll be recreating the competition dinners in private demonstrations for sponsors. You can also check out Hawkins and team on Periscope during the competition, and stay tuned to the Baker family of social media presences for updates.
Good luck to our hometown competitors!