The World Bakery Masters is often referred to as the “Bakery Olympics” – and for good reason.
Yes, it’s an amateur competition involving the world’s best but did you know the actual competition is an eight-hour marathon requiring technical and scientific knowledge, physical fitness, mental focus and stamina?
Father-of-three Dean Tilden is about to find out just how tough it is.
The baking teacher at TAFE’s Hamilton campus is one of just six bakers worldwide selected to compete in the Nutritional Bread Making category at the 2018 Masters de la Boulangerie (Bakery Masters) competition in Paris in February.
A total of 18 bakers will compete across three categories.
His selection for the World Bakery Masters has been a three-year journey to date. He was selected by an international panel of judges for his outstanding performance at the Louis Lesaffre Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia, in November 2015 as part of the Australian Baking Team.
He is just the second Australian to compete at the World Bakery Masters. Brett Noy, owner of Uncle Bob’s Bakery in Brisbane, president of the National Baking Industry Association and Tilden’s coach and mentor, was the first.
“I bet you’re wondering how a ranga from Rutherford managed to get that far,” Tilden asks Weekender with a laugh.
It wasn’t quite the way I had planned to phrase the question, but that’s Tilden.
“We placed third in Jakarta so we just missed out on the World Cup but my individual score was good enough to put me into the top six of the Bakery Masters. Out of the 32 countries, they saw enough potential in me,” he explains.
“I made 10 doughs in eight hours – a traditional French baguette, sourdough, a beetroot loaf and a beer bread, even a chilli polenta with wasabi pea bread. Fancier breads like that.
“It was intense. It was 34 degrees when we walked in to the exhibition hall at 4.30 in the morning, with 99 per cent humidity. It was horrendous.
“With bread doughs you need to keep the temperature really controlled. I needed a finished dough temperature around 23 degrees, even cooler because it was so hot outside once you finished mixing. They had no ice, either, so I didn’t even have any cold water to keep the doughs cold.”
Challenges aside, Tilden triumphed, is one of the top six bakers in the world and has the chance to be crowned world champion.
And Noy reckons his mate has what it takes to win the title.
“He’s dedicated. That’s the thing that stands out the most for me,” he tells Weekender from Queensland.
“You’ve got to find a balance between your present level of confidence and what it will take to win. Quite often at the beginning there is a big gap, and part of my role in coaching Dean is bridging that gap.
“This is the F1 version of baking. It’s as high as you can go so you really do have to push yourself to the limit.
“But even with the right preparation and training you still can’t recreate exactly what it’s going to be like on the day. It’s not until that day that you can take the extra step and find out it you’re ready or not.”
Noy competed in the 2014 World Bakery Masters and has judged at elite competition level.
“Dean and I are on the same page in that our role is two-pronged. One prong is, of course, our personal and professional development. Getting over there and doing the best we can,” he explains.
“The second prong is paving the way for future generations of bakers.
“We both understand that Australian baking compared to European baking is still in its infancy and there’s a long way to go and a lot of things to develop, but part of that development process is getting Australian bakers exposure to that level of international competition.”
Tilden has been elbow deep in dough for months, working on flavours and textures. But that’s the technical, scientific side. Noy is in charge of the rest.
“A lot of people don’t realise this, but it’s incredibly physically and mentally testing. We need to work on nutrition, fitness and pushing Dean past his present capabilities because that is what is needed on the day,” he explains.
“You have to be physically fit. You can’t go to the bathroom for eight hours. And it’s mentally exhausting. Your brain is operating at its highest level of assessment non-stop for eight hours. It feels like you’re in a race car going very, very fast.
“Every movement has to be choreographed down to one-minute increments.
“You need to know that you are on time at every stage. If you delay by even one or two minutes, further down the line, three or four hours later, it will bite you to the tune of 10 to 15 minutes and put you in significant trouble.
“When I competed I finished exactly on time but another competitor finished two-and-a-half hours late. Things can be over-proved or under-proved and that changes the flavour, the colour, the bake. It’s highly scientific and takes a lot of technical expertise to make it work on the day.”
There is no prize money, either. The winner takes the glory – and a medal.
“You do it completely for love. It’s an amateur sport for professional people,” Noy says.
“That’s why they call it the Olympics for bread.”
Tilden has the passion and dedication. He was 14 when he started working at a Tenambit bakery and left school in year 10 to pursue an apprenticeship.
“I used to get up at 4am on a Sunday, then I started doing midnight to midday because I just loved it,” he says.
“I was put on as a pastry cook at first because it was cheaper. Bread was regulated back then and the bakers’ union was still fairly strong and you were paid $100 a week more as an apprentice baker.
“About 15 or 16 years ago I got introduced to sourdough and it sparked a desire to learn something new. So I moved away from pastries. There was a teaching opportunity at TAFE and I wanted to keep learning more and more skills and more of the science behind bread.
“That’s when it really started for me.”
Looking back now, he realises that school wasn’t for him.
“It wasn’t a good fit for me. I wasn’t dumb, I had logic, but I didn’t seem to fit in a classroom,” Tilden says.
“When I did PE or cooking in school I’d come first in the year but when it came to the other subjects I had no interest.
“The moment I learned to use my hands I learned to use my brain. I finished my School Certificate on a Thursday and I was back working at the bakehouse that Sunday. I started my apprenticeship immediately, went to TAFE. I didn’t have any time off.
“Once I started to use my hands I used my brain. I knew what I wanted to do and what I needed to do to get there.
“I’ve worked at quite a few places over the years. Every 12 months I would have a new job. For me it was a case of someone ringing me and offering more money and off I’d go, getting more experience.”
Tilden is ambitious but not at all interested in pursuing a baking career overseas.
“I can bring Paris to my students here,” he says.
“I mean, there’s not even a French guy selected in my category for the bread section. There’s someone from Taiwan, Japan, Netherlands, Canada and Turkey but not France.
“We’re really trying to raise the profile of the bread baker. The pastry guys already have it. Bread is just bread in this country. We have a bit of a tall poppy syndrome when it comes to bread bakers.
“There’s a few of us now trying to change that profile and get people more interested but our industry’s heavily driven by price point and the big boys, I guess you could say. We don’t seem to want to keep learning. I don’t know what it is with bread bakers but we don’t want to advance our skills.
“I want to try to raise that profile and say to Aussie bread makers ‘Hey, there’s a big wide world out there’. You go to any European country and they love their bread bakers.”
The deregulation of Australia’s bread industry 20 years ago is, he says, partly to blame.
“That’s when big changes happened. I can remember as an apprentice making wholemeal you had to have at least 90 per cent wholemeal flour in it. If there was too much baker’s flour and you labelled it wholemeal bread you were fined.
“Now it’s just got to have a percentage of grain in it when it comes to wholemeals and brans and grains. It makes a dough really temperamental when you start adding grains and meals to it, so if people don’t have to put as much of that in they won’t have as many technical issues.
“Baker’s Delight, though, say they make 100 per cent wholemeal and they do, they pride themselves on that. Their wholemeal is actually wholemeal.
“In Europe there is a law about sourdough. Here there’s no law. You can use additives and call it sourdough, and it’s not actually sourdough. You can add liquid flavours or vinegar and you can call it sourdough.
“But when you eat my sourdough it has basically been a three-day process to get that final loaf. That’s the difference between a traditional long cold-fermented sourdough in comparison to some of the store-bought breads.
“It’s very frustrating.”
Tilden’s campaign is being supported by TAFE NSW, National Baking Industry Association and Noy, who will accompany him to Paris.
“I honestly believe Dean is capable of taking out the event,” he says.
“It’s not normal bread he will be making. It’s all natural, no chemicals, nothing artificial. It all has to be through the baker’s skill and knowledge.
“Passionate bakers, though, will tell you that the dough speaks to you through the way it feels, tastes, the way it’s moving. Dean is one of those bakers.”