Imagine this: A room filled with 11 different types of cookies, a panel of feisty celebrity judges, and a band of students hoping for gold. Cue: The International Culinary Center’s first annual Cookie Olympics. And things got a little kookie at this cookie competition. Let me explain.
The national anthem was supposed to kick off the events, but a mishap in sound department resulted in “O Canada!” blasting from the speakers. No one seemed to notice until a young kid behind me asked the very astute question: Why is Canada’s anthem playing?
Alan Richman, the sometimes salty critic and one of the guest judges, teased, “Can we grade the sound?”
The event was then proceeded with the lighting of the torch—or the blowtorch in this culinary sporting—err…eating—event. The torch carrier made a loop around the darkened room, and came full circle to emblaze three Sterno burners (the ones used for chafing dishes at catered functions). Let the games begin.
The judges were poised to judge each of the 11 cookies (each from a different country) on flavor, texture, difficulty of technique, presentation and ease of eating. The first-prize winner would be treated to a free dinner at the school’s restaurant, L’Ecole, and have their recipe and cookie featured on the restaurant’s menu.
Contestants and Judges
When the singing and pyrotechnics were finished, the eating began. Tasked to test their taste buds was the row of famed judges:
Kierin Baldwin, executive pastry chef at The Dutch
Dan Kluger, executive chef at ABC Kitchen
Johnny Iuzzini, JamesBeard award winner, “Outstanding Pastry Chef”
Alan Richman, Dean of Food Journalism at The International Culinary Center
Christina Tosi, Founder/owner of Momofuku Milk Bar
The judges ate cookies from Canada, China, Bangladesh, Japan, Mexico, Ukraine, Russia, India, America, Jamaica, and France. Milk and champagne fueled them through this massive sugar rush.
“Punch up the flavors,” and “Add a little more salt,” were Chef Baldwin’s repeat comments every time she tasted a cookie.
The judges loved the savory cookie entries like India’s Chana Masala shortbread, which was made with chickpea flour and topped with a ginger and sundried tomato jam. It made me wince, but the judges loved the spicy topping.
One of the crowd favorites was America’s Fred Flintstone cookie, which was a glorified chocolate chip cookie with a Cocoa Pebbles brittle baked in. Chef Iuzzini noted that if the student coated the cereal with a caramel, and let it dry before mixing it into the cookie batter, the brittle would’ve maintained its crunch rather than becoming soggy and chewy. (I still would’ve eaten a dozen of these in one sitting.)
Bojena Lotina cutting her Dulcetto Baz cookies
The ultimate winner was Russia’s Dulcetto Baz cookie, which was kind of an enigma if you didn’t have a recipe in front of you. Bojena Lotina, an International Culinary Center culinary student, took home both the gold and the “Fan Favorite” award.
“It makes no sense to me, but I love it,” was Richman’s first reaction to this dense dulce de leche cookie, which was studded with shortbread bits.
The second and third prize winners were the Indian Chana Masala cookie and the Jamaican spice cookie, respectively.
The event had a palatable amount of kitsch, and the students were genuinely excited to bake their original cookie recipes to a crew of talented bakers. It was safe to say that everyone left the event with a sugar high and a few good tips for perfecting a great cookie:
Using nuts? Toast them to extract more flavor. –Johnny Iuzzini
Add salt to make the flavors pop. – Kierin Balwin
Need more structure in a cookie? Add more flour. –Johnny Iuzzini
Your cookie name should match the cookie’s flavors. Making a cherry and green tea cookie? Both elements should be prominent in the cookie. –Dan Kluger