By Larry Blagg
Have you ever wondered about the mentality and the work ethic of the folks who have come to dominate the automotive and electronics markets in the United States?
As the resident manager of the California Raisin business in Japan for more than 20 years, I was privileged to observe the amazing work ethic and high standards of craftsmanship exhibited by the Japanese people in every walk of life. It didn’t matter whether it was the weathered tofu maker on the corner or the neighborhood artisan baker who prided himself on being up to speed on the latest baking techniques, equipment and whose finished products were each a work of art. They all performed their jobs with a dedication unmatched in many parts of the world.
Large commercial baking companies such as Yamazaki Baking, Fuji Bread and Pasco had extensive and active product development groups devoted to making the world’s best bread. Retail bakery chains like Donq, Pompador and Kobeya had remarkably talented individual bakers who loved to compete in a variety of contests sponsored by such diverse groups as the dairy industry, yeast makers, chocolate makers and the California Raisin industry.
For 17 years, the California Raisin industry has sponsored the premier bakery products development contest in Japan, and during that period, more than 5,000 applications have been received with such a staggering variety that it reminds me of the saying that “No two snowflakes look alike.”
Each entry has been a work of art, and in the two most recent years of the contest, all 10 of the winners have launched their products into their local markets within the country. In spite of Japan being thought of as a rice-based country, it is now true that more than 70% of the population eats bread as part of their daily breakfast. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Japanese bakers also have stepped onto the world stage by twice winning the prestigious Coupe du Monde competition for the world’s best breads held in France.
It is in this spirit that the California Raisin industry decided to sponsor its first America’s Best Raisin Bread Contest in North America. The contest has just concluded and the 20 finalists were chosen at Kendall College in Chicago on Friday, September 12. To determine the winners, those finalists were invited to the bake off, which was held on October 10 and 11 at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kan. There were five winners chosen in the commercial bread category and five winners in the artisan bread category.
The finalists created a number of remarkable breads that contained pumpkin, pineapple, carrot, curry, asiago cheese, vanilla beans, almonds, pecans, apples, cinnamon, oatmeal and even wild rice combined with California raisins.
The judges are confident that the breads entered into this contest can compete successfully with those offered on the world stage. And the growers of California Raisins are so excited about the initial response from America’s bakers that they’ve already set the dates for next year’s contest.
To find out who the winners are, visit www.loveyourraisins.com. The winners will be posted in October shortly after the show.
Editor’s Note: Larry Blagg is senior vice president of marketing for the California Raisin Marketing Board.