Chef News

Chef Chat: Tracy DeWitt of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Scottsdale (Part Two)

Hannah E Williams
DeWitt and her assistant, Richie, in the kitchen.

Yesterday we heard from Chef Tracy DeWitt of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts - Scottsdale. Today the conversation continues.

Competition is the name of the game for Tracy DeWitt, who, along with three other regional champs, will strive for the title of American Culinary Federation's Pastry Chef of the Year today.

"I go into a competition thinking I need to have the best day of everybody here, because if they have their perfect day, and their product is better than mine then they deserve to win. But if I have my perfect day, and my product is better than theirs, then I deserve to win."

DeWitt and her student assistant, Richie, have been practicing upward of 16 hours a week since May for the ACF competition, for which they need to make six hot desserts, six cold desserts and one cake in three hours or less.

"It's a well choreographed dance," DeWitt says of competing in baking, which she compares to competitive figure skating. "First you get the rules, and those are compulsory. You have to do them. And then you develop your routine. And then you just practice, practice, practice, practice to nail the technique, to nail the timing, to get the rhythm down. All those vocabulary words apply to food just as skating and athletics... We're just a little plumper than the athletes."

While DeWitt is confident they're prepared for the competition, she's not cocky - even with all her accolades: a gold medal in the 2006 National Bread and Pastry Championship, a silver in the 2009 Amoretti World Pastry Forum's National Pastry Team Championship, and a gold and $10,000 check for her sugar sculpture in Food Network Challenge's "Extreme Candy Carnival" competition.

"You're only as good as your last meal cooked, right? I'm only as good as my lasted competition competed," DeWitt said.

Today, DeWitt lets us in on her competition secrets, makes us want to go camping and volunteers to work at Charm City Cakes and to bake for President Obama.

How do you deal with pre-competition jitters? I think what helps me to get through it is knowing that every competition, I feel nervous until they say "go." The moment they say go, I'm just practicing my routine. I've got all the steps memorized. For three hours straight, I know exactly what to do and in what order.

Secret weapon: Richie! I got Richie! [Her assistant for the ACF competition.] He doesn't know the word "no." It's not in his vocabulary. "Yes, chef" is all he can muster up and that's just fine by me. I also have my husband [Chef David Smoake] who I call my secret weapon. He's a pastry chef, and we compete in all the Food Network shows together. Plus, he's always in my head, and this time he'll be in the audience cheering me on.

Hardest competition: Easy. Amoretti World Pastry Forum's National Pastry Team Championship. No question. It's a grueling 13-hour competition spread out over two days. And you have to make 14 desserts, three cakes, three ice cream cakes, three different petits gateaux (seven of each), three different bonbons, 21 of each, a 6-foot sugar showpiece, a 6-foot chocolate showpiece and a bonbon platter.

What did you do with the prize money from your Food Network Challenge win? I went to France. Back to Paris to pay homage to my inspiration. That and my best friend from high school lives in the south of France so I went to visit her. If we win this one, I'm getting a new roof, which is not nearly as fun as going to France.

Favorite person to watch on the Food Network: Duff Goldman. I like his style. I like his laid-back fun atmosphere. I would love to work in his bakeshop [Charm City Cakes]. That just looks like a blast!

Who would you like to bake for? I would have liked to have baked for Julia Child, but that's not going to happen now. Maybe in heaven I can bake for her. She's sort of an inspiration for me too, in terms of teaching. I also wouldn't mind baking for President Obama. You gotta reach for the stars!

Favorite thing to eat: My husband's chicken pot pie. He puts his heart and soul into it. Homemade gravy. Home made crust. And he makes me chocolate cake when we go camping. He bakes it underground in a dutch oven. And my favorite dish camping is a green chili pork stew that he does. It is so good. We probably eat better camping than when we're home!

(This was part two of our Chef Chat with Tracy DeWitt. Check out part one and check back tomorrow for a recipe and Friday for the ACF Pastry Chef of the Year results.)

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Hannah E Williams