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Mesamérica 2014, Day Three: Just Desserts

Yesterday, Mexico's annual gastronomic conference Mesamérica concluded in Mexico City with a day dedicated to the sweet side of the kitchen. Pastry chefs, chocolatiers, and educators from Mexico and Spain offered demos and lectures, while the end of the day also saw the revelation of the winner of the Best Restaurant Dessert competition held in Mexico City earlier in the week. Pastry aficionados in the audience were especially enthusiastic compared to previous days, culminating in a standing ovation for the legendary Pierre Hermé. Here now, your hangover observations:

[Photo: Oriol Balaguer]

1) Famed Spanish pastry chef Oriol Balaguer, who worked for seven years at elBulli, led off the day's celebration of all things pastry. He demo'd some of his pastry tricks, including a chocolate dome that cracks open to reveal any surprise your heart desires, be it a clutch of flavored marshmallows or an engagement ring. Balaguer, who has three bakeries in Barcelona, said he'll also be opening a chocolate shop named La Chocolateria there in August or September with a demo table.

2) Mexico's Sonia Arias, chef and owner of Jaso restaurant and bakery, was up next with a great talk about the meaning of being a chef in a time when chefs are being considered like rockstars. Arias reminisced about her time at Daniel in New York, saying, "what I loved the most was the rush that I got from service" when any mistake made in the kitchen would be immediately obvious in the dining room. She asked those in the audience thinking about a career in pastry to consider how much they like to bake. She also dropped some wisdom, explaining that being a chef is also about building a team.

[Alejandra Hurtado]

3) Chilean chef Rodolfo Guzman sent a surprise video greeting to introduce pastry hotshot Alejandra Hurtado, of whom he said "you can be sure is our best cake and pastry maker." Hurtado said that she thinks of sweets cooking as an art, demoing a cake with a white chocolate exterior. At the end of her presentation, she announced a new stage in her life is a new cake line, so do be on the lookout for that.

4) Just before Catalan pastry chef, author, and director of the Chocolate Academy Ramon Morato took the stage in an enthusiastic Blackberry Auditorium, an audience member turned to Eater and said, "He's like a rock star." And, as though he had overheard, Morato came out and immediately declared how wonderful people are in Mexico. "I feel kind of like a rock star, which I'm not," he said. Rather, he added, he feels more comfortable in his role as a teacher.

Morato went on to describe the program at his school — noting that they recently opened a branch in Mexico — and offer advice to the culinary students in the audience about building a foundation, listening to others, and agreeing with Arias that for all the glamour around gastronomy right now, it's important to remember it's also a job. His goal was not to be famous, he said, advising that the purpose of work is to do what you love.

[Espai Sucre]

5) Still more popular Spanish pastry chefs were up next to much audience excitement — people sure did seem extra obsessive about pastry chefs at Mesamérica this year. Jordi Butron and Xano Saguer of pastry school Espai Sucre attempted to use their 20 minutes of lecture time to save audience members tuition for their 11-month course with a rundown of Espai Sucre's academic philosophy. They spoke of the different "gestures" that compose a dish, whether it's a cookie or a more fragile/meltable "final gesture." Saguer argues, "If you don't give the brain different textures and flavors, it gets bored."

6) One of the songs that played in the auditorium between presenters was "Lollipop" by Mika, a song that is not really about lollipops.

7) The great Pierre Hermé was the final lecturer of the day in a short translated conversation with Jordi Butron about his career and inspiration. In the past, Hermé said, he played with flavors unconsciously. But one day he decided to do it consciously with a work method. And in 1997, Hermé had the idea to do collections at Fauchon. In 2005, he started collections of seasonal products. And Hermé noted that an early relationship with Japan has indeed influenced the flavors of his products.

Toward the end of the talk, Hermé got into advice mode. "I don't make cakes for someone," he said. "The calling of a cakemaker is to convey sensations of taste and of flavor. So I do not concern myself with the reaction of the immediate audience." He went on to give the example of a rose and raspberry cake he created in 1984. "If I would have been a marketing person, I would have withdrawn it. But I am a cakemaker." And so he continued to offer and tweak the cake. Today, there's a version with lychees. It's the top-selling collection at Pierre Hermé, he said, underlining the lesson here: "If you trust your products, you should continue making them."

8) Someone accidentally set off the smoke machine at the beginning of Pierre Hermé's lecture, which led to some great jokes about whether he was going to have disappeared in a magic act or what.

[Elsa Judith Olmos]

9) This final day of Mesamérica also revealed the winner of Espai Sucre's Best Restaurant Dessert competition that had taken place earlier that week. After the organizers screened a video of the young contestants from restaurants in Mexico, Argentina, and Spain, they announced a winner: Elsa Judith Olmos of Mexico's own Corazon de Tierra in Valle de Guadalupe.

10) Mesamérica concluded with a "MashUp" presentation from ARCA Lab that explored the intersection of chocolate as well as vanilla in Mexico, where it is grown in 36 different regions. As presenters Hector Galvan and Valentine Tibere noted, it is "the most delicious alliance, vanilla and chocolate together." This presentation was, this one made great use of the smoke machines, green tinted lighting, and a gigantic, inflatable creature while they talked about "Mother Vanilla," which the ARCA website describes is part of Totonac legend as "an outbreak that emerged from the blood of two tragic lovers whose forbidden love bore fruit a flower aroma extraordinary."

11) Finally, Enrique Olvera introduced Monterrey restaurateur Guillermo Gonzalez Beristain, who announced plans for a forum in Monterrey in October featuring Mexican chefs such as Olvera, Benito Molina, Aquiles Chavez, Poncho Cadena, Marcela Valladolid, and Daniel Ovadia, and some Spanish chefs such as Xano Saguer and Angel de Leon.

· All Mesamérica Coverage on Eater [-E-]