The Fine Art of Demonstration
Observations from the 2006 Pastry Forum
By Chris Northmore
Chances are if you are a pastry chef or cook these days you very likely have been approached to present a seminar or demonstration of some kind. Schools look for visiting chefs, retail stores look for product demonstrators, purveyors looking for trade show demonstrators. This is a growing niche in our industry - and one you may want to consider next time you are asked.
I have presented and taught demonstrations as well as attended many, and I will be the first to admit that teaching and presenting are skills in themselves. I have great respect for my instructors through the years that made the class enjoyable and demonstrators that informed, kept my interest and made teaching look like it was easy. I have worked as an adjunct instructor and participated in more than one visiting chef program, done a few local demonstrations and I can say the art of teaching effectively is as challenging as the art of pastry.
Behind the Scenes
Presenting a quality demonstration requires multiple skills: knowledge of the subject, a sense of timing, presentation style and personality, good mise en place and just like pastry – practice, practice, practice. Few people are naturally great teachers the first time and if you are a veteran viewer of the Food Channel it is easy to see the progress of its chefs over the years. That video charisma is part natural and part learned - they all didn’t come across so smooth back in the early days.
I was able sit in on some of this years’ Pastry Forum presentations and demos and came away with some great pastry techniques and recipes as well as some thoughts on the art of presenting which I will be sharing with you in a series of articles covering this great event in future issues.
First and foremost to a successful demonstrator possesses a desire to help others learn the art of pastry and to express their love of their work. Whether teaching pulled sugar or how to operate an ice cream machine, the desire to educate is always apparent in the delivery.
Each chef practiced a different style and comfort in presenting but all infused and motivated students with new ideas and energy to take back to their kitchens. The creative process and the experience of passing it on to others is, in my opinion, one of the reasons we love to go to work in a kitchen each day.
All of this year’s presenting chefs stressed the amount of time required for preparation. Two to four times the demonstration time is a good starting point for the amount of it takes to organize, prepare recipes and handouts - not to mention packing and travel time. And if it is your first experience than double it again!
Highlights from Pastry Forum 2006
- Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sebastien Canonne M.O.F. of the French Pastry School in Chicago led two hands on seminars which required turning a banquet room into a fully equipped yet carpeted working kitchen less the running water. Hundreds of recipes prepared by students in Phoenix were pre-scaled in Chicago by the French Pastry School staff then packed and shipped to Phoenix - a three day operation in itself. Not to mentions recipe books, unpacking, setting up on site and conducting the actual 15 hour seminar.
- Donald Wressell of Guittard Chocolate shipped his five foot tall rolling tool box, chocolate kettles and his signature molding system to assure smooth presentation. And Biagio Settepani loaded his car with numerous tools and specialty molds for his gelato seminar then drove over 40 hours cross country and watched three DVDs while driving(don’t try this) with chef assistant and son Sal Settepani to bypass the packing time, shipping or excess luggage costs.
- Nicholas Lodge, founder of International Sugar Art Collection, demonstrated gum paste for specialty cakes also drove from home base Atlanta. With cakes, tools, and his own video presentation system, camera and LCD screens to assure that all equipment and mise en place arrives in tact and also stressed that the drive eliminates the packing time that would be required to ship or fly with the supplies and eliminates the worry of what to do if things don’t arrive on time – or at all.
- Anil Rohira uses the support of his employer Albert Uster Imports to help with preparations for his seminar. Even with the help he concedes that preparation time is at least double to triple the demonstration time depending on the subject.
- Ciril Hitz of Johnson & Wales University amazed the audience by demonstrating the time-intensive process of bread making in just three hours by using doughs made ahead of time and then demonstrating the key steps of each process. Cirl Hitz assisted by Mitch Stamm also of Johnson & Wales University orchestrated a great demonstration in a make shift bread bakery complete with steam injected deck oven, proofer, and dough sheeter.
Tips and Tricks
For Successful Presentations
Some other tips that led to great seminars this year.
- Prepare, pre-bake and present the key points of the process. Mixing is not interesting to watch unless it is a key component or technique which needs to be shown.
- Break things down into the essential components. Many times components can be made ahead and just the assemble process demonstrated.
- Know your audience. Most seminars are attended by a cross section of people. The topic and demonstration should be balance as to not be over the head of some yet not to basic to others.
- Utilize presentation tools. Handouts, recipes, video screens and cameras, drawing boards for diagramming, PowerPoint presentations to aid in the delivery of information. Visual and video aids can help keep the attention level of the participants.
- Sample ingredients and tasting portions: cooking exercises all of our senses, product samples or ingredients involve the audience in taste in addition to seeing and listening.
- Include an assistant in your demo to assist in organization and finishing while you are speaking- this keeps the seminar moving and maintains the attention of the audience.
- Tasting of final products: aids in the understanding of the demonstration and the recipes and also builds anticipation and energy for the audience.
- Interject your personal experiences at work or in the industry to help connect and relate with the audience. Many times students look at teacher or demonstators as working in a different realm than they do – the actuality is we are all doing similar work every day.
Chris Northmore is the pastry chef at the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Chris is one of four American certified Master Pastry Chefs and a frequent contributor to Pastry’s Best Magazine.