GNT USA team
The winning GNT USA, Inc. team

Unlike that classic and ever-reoccurring novelty song “Yes! We have no bananas,” the American Association of Candy Technologists (AACT)’s seventh annual Iron Confectioner competition did. And then some.

In fact, there were plenty of bananas in all forms for the two competing teams to evaluate, peel, mix, bake, whip, pour, crush … well, one gets the picture. As the concluding act of the AACT’s National Technical Seminar last Wednesday, which was held at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort in Lincolnshire, Ill., the Iron Confectioner competition pits three-person teams against each other in an hour-long “candy-off.” To make things interesting, a secret ingredient — unbeknownst to either group — is literally unveiled at the beginning of the competition.

This year, the ceremonial removal of the tablecloth marking the beginning of the competition revealed fresh bananas, dried bananas, banana chips, banana nectar, banana baby food, banana flavor and banana fruit powders. The three-person teams from GNT USA, Inc. and Tate & Lyle found themselves in a battle for — OK, can’t help myself — the top banana title.

Representing GNT was Christina Olivarez, corporate executive chef and team captain; Claire Tuohey-Mote, applications specialist; and Alice Lee, color culinologist. The trio for Tate & Lyle included Sanjiv Avashia, senior food scientist, specialty food ingredients and team captain; Annah Le, pastry chef and food scientist; and Whitney Johnson, food scientist, applications, specialty food ingredients.

Tate & Lyle
Sanjiv Avashia of Tate & Lyle

As usual, Tom Hinkemeyer from the newly formed consulting company Victus Ars, Inc. provided color commentary. As the competition progressed and the minutes ticked away, Hinkemeyer entertained the audience with close-up and personal descriptions of the action taking place, asking questions of team members as they worked preparing their confections.

Amazingly, both teams finished just minutes ahead of the 60-minute deadline, a first in the competition. A flip of the coin determined who would present the three confections first to the judges, which GNT captain Olivarez won, but she graciously deferred the honor to the Tate & Lyle team.

This year, the judges included Michelle Wagner, pastry chef at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort, Michelle Frame from Victus Ars, Inc. and Stacey Reed from Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate.

Iron Confectioner panel
The judges at this year’s Iron Confectioner competition included (from l. to r.)  Michelle Wagner, pastry chef at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort, Michelle Frame from Victus Ars, Inc. and Stacey Reed from Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate. Michael Gordon from Capol LLC assisted in tabulating the scores.

Tate & Lyle captain Avashia brought his team’s three confections for a visual inspection to the judges, which was followed by tasting. They included a banana tahini chocolate bar, which featured a gianduja made with tahini; a crunchy chocolate-covered macadamia nut; and a candy rope featuring strawberry, banana and peanut butter flavors.

Olivarez then showcased her team’s three confections: a pate de fruit made of banana puree; a candy bar featuring caramel, bourbon, sea salt, potato and plantain chips and banana marshmallow; and “Truzzles,” a white chocolate truffle that included marshmallow, banana chips, a banana ganache and sea salt.

This year, Michael Gordon from Capol LLC tabulated the judges’ scores using an electronic tabulating system, another first for the competition. After several tense minutes, the results were announced: Team GNT was chosen as the winner, outscoring Tate & Lyle 151-116.

While recognizing both teams for their creativity and competency, the judges indicated that the banana flavors in GNT’s offerings stood out more than in Tate & Lyle’s confections. In addition, the Truzzle was chosen as the best confection by the judges.

Created by Randy Hofberger, principal of R&D Candy Consultants and past AACT president, the Iron Confectioner competition continues to delight both participants and conference attendees as a fitting finale to the annual gathering.