How Sweet It Is: The Quest for Pastry Chef of the Year

The American Culinary Federation Pastry Chef of the Year competition, sponsored by Plugra European Style Butter, is one of the most anticipated competitions of the year. Each year, pastry chef competitors produce elaborate pastry showpieces, displaying the craftsmanship and art that exhibits their professional composure and skill.

Below are showpieces from the 2016 Pastry Chef of the Year competition. Cher Harris, CEPC, executive pastry chef at The Hotel Hershey, Hershey, Pennsylvania, took the title in 2016.


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This year’s competition will be held at Cook. Craft. Create. ACF National Convention & Show, Orlando, July 9-13. The competition for Pastry Chef of the Year will take place on Tuesday, July 11, from 10:45 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.

Four pastry chefs, who advanced in regional competitions earlier this year, will be challenged to create desserts with the theme “Disney Villains.” This theme is required to be reflected in all of the desserts created during the competition.

Competitors will be required to produce four portions of a cold-plated dessert, 12 pieces of a signature cookie and a showpiece. The cold-plated dessert must contain key lime, strawberries and cream cheese.

Below are the plated desserts and cookies from the 2016 Pastry Chef of the Year competitors.

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The ACF Pastry Chef of the Year award recognizes a pastry chef who displays a passion for the craft, has an accomplished reputation in the pastry field and has helped educate others by sharing skills and knowledge.

The American Culinary Federation is pleased to present the best pastry chefs from across the nation as they vie for glory of the national championship.

Julia Julian, CEPC, Central Region Pastry Chef of the Year

Julia Julian, CEPC, is a culinary and baking/pastry instructor at Fox Valley Technical College, Appleton, Wisconsin, and a member of ACF Fox Valley Chapter. She received a gold medal at the Central/Western region culinary salon held at Joliet Junior College, Joliet, Illinois, for creating a mango tart with toasted passion fruit meringue, coconut tuile, coconut creme fraiche ice cream, tropical fruit salad, passion fruit papaya, fluid gel and mango caramel.


“Winning this title reminds me of where I am at and where I have come from. I have had many great mentors, but the one who will always stand out to me is Chef John Johnson, from Madison College, who always encouraged, helped and pushed me to reach for the next level in my career. My greatest enjoyment comes from sharing what I know and have learned with others who are just as eager as I was to enter the food industry.” — Julia Julian, CEPC

Maria Wu, Northeast Region Pastry Chef of the Year

Maria Wu is a pastry cook at The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester, White Plains, New York, and is a member of  ACF Long Island Chapter. Wu received a silver medal for her spiced creme fraiche ice cream, brown butter cake, citrus white chocolate flexi ganache, passion orange gel, kaffir crumble, mango curd, coconout snow, coconut tuile, mango salad and micro cilantro at the Northeast Region culinary salon held at The Culinary Institute of New York at Monroe College, New Rochelle, New York.


“Being chosen as the regional champion is such an exciting privilege. Having the opportunity to compete at national convention will test all of our inner strengths and weaknesses. I am blessed with great mentors. I can’t thank ACF enough for giving me this opportunity to participate in this competition. I am always grateful for my friends and family who are always supportive. I believe it’s important to not only share one’s passion but also to share knowledge, responsibility and leadership skills. These are only a few of the many qualities that any great leader must possess to influence a team.” — Maria Wu

Cicely Austin, Southeast Region Pastry Chef of the Year

Cicely Austin is executive pastry chef at Aramark/Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina. She is a member of ACF Upstate South Carolina Chapter. Austin received a bronze medal for her passion fruit French toast souffle, passion-mango sorbet, tropical salsa and almond financier at the Southeast Region culinary salon at Johnson & Wales University, Charlotte, North Carolina.


“Earning this title is a tremendous honor and I am humbled and thrilled to represent the Southeast Region. On a personal level, this is giving me an opportunity to share the amazing effort that is put into higher education dining and what we do here at Clemson dining. I couldn’t think of a better long-term goal than teaching in an environment that allows me to continue nurturing young chefs and cooks. I have received so much support from friends and family throughout my career. Especially the support I’m given daily from my “family” at Aramark/Clemson.” — Cicely Austin

Dan Boman, CEPC, Western Region Pastry Chef of the Year

Dan Boman, CEPC, is a chef instructor at Art Institute of Phoenix, in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a member of ACF Chefs Association of Arizona, Inc. Boman received a silver medal for his warm chocolate almond cake, lemon creme fraiche ice cream, passion curd and mango saffron at the Central/Western Region culinary salon at Joliet Junior College, Joliet, Illinois.

“It is an honor and a great responsibility to be representing the Western region. It would be especially meaningful to me as a pastry/baking instructor to compete at the national level and bring home a gold medal. My future plans are to use this experience to encourage and coach students enrolled in the pastry program to compete at regional as well as national ACF events.” — Dan Boman, CEPC

To see the national competitions, register for Cook. Craft. Create. You can choose between a full registration or get a day pass. ACF will be live-streaming all the competition action right from the competition floor. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for all the latest updates!

Want to do cool stuff like this? Find a chapter near you! There are 150 ACF chapters across the U.S. that hold monthly meetings to provide you with personal and professional development.

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