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MILL CITY RISES AGAIN: (Adopt your best monster-truck voice:) Europain! Europain! Europain!!! No, not pain, pain, French for "bread." Try again: Europain! Europain! Europain!!! The world's biggest bread fair, this year in Paris! Paris! Paris!!! The Americans walked away with the gold medal in bread two years ago--and it's time for a rematch. Or should we say grudge match? Yeah, the French invented the baguette, but this year the American team will make them cry maman!

Seriously, folks, Europain is the world's biggest artisan bread convention, it's held in Paris every three years, and it is the site of the big La Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie contest, in which nations compete to see who makes the best baked goods. This year the competition is in February, and the American team is being coached by Minneapolitans. Here's the lineup: Tom Gumpel, from the Culinary Institute of America, will be doing sculptural bread; his colleague Robert Jorin will compete in the viennoiserie category (layered, laminate doughs like those used for croissants and danishes); and Jan Schaat, who runs the Il Fornaio baking school in San Francisco, is up in the plain bread competition. The coaches are Minneapolis's own Didier Rosada (bread) and Philippe LeCorre (pastry). OK, OK, Rosada and LeCorre are actually French, but they really do live in the Twin Cities, because they're the instructors at the National Baking Center at the Dunwoody Institute.

In fact, the entire American baking team will be here in January for some last-minute training with LeCorre and Rosada, and to attend a fundraiser for the Baking Center. If the monster-truck howling in the first paragraph got you sufficiently excited, call (612) 374-3303 to reserve your tickets for the January 14 cocktail-and-hors-d'oeuvres event. Tickets are $100, or $150 at the door, which is a lot of hot cross buns, but nothing compared to the $250,000 the German chocolate company Schokinag recently kicked in for overhaul of the Dunwoody pastry lab--so don't even think of whining.

I couldn't find anyone in Vegas who was making book on the event, but Greg Tompkins, director of the National Baking Center, has some predictions:

"From what I've seen so far, I don't know that we have anybody as good as Craig [Ponsford, last round's Europain bread winner and this year's U.S. team manager] in the bread category. I think our best shot is in decorative bread. Tom has made molds from African soapstone carvings, and he can make the bread into masks, and I've seen where he's made woven blankets out of bread to wrap around these figures. It's just astonishing, incredible stuff." The Americans didn't win the final grand prize last time because the competition is judged by adding together the decorative, viennoiserie, and plain bread scores--but that an American won the latter category was shocking enough to the French. "The French have been ridiculing Americans as a bunch of Wonder Bread eaters for years," says Tompkins, "and when we swiped the gold medal with a baguette, it put them on notice that there are some people over here that know what they're doing." Yeah! Bake this, Jacques!

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