Competitions, karaoke and camaraderie were just a few of the ingredients that went into an eventful May Bank Holiday weekend at the Alliance of Bakery Students and Trainees’ (ABST) conference in Torquay.

Held at the Toorak Hotel, there were a few moments during the Friday night dinner, when the conference looked like it was going to be some-thing to write home about for all the wrong reasons, when a precariously balanced candle toppled over and nearly lit up a white tablecloth. Fortunately, the crisis was averted, thanks to some quick reactions, and the delegates all got on with enjoying the start of the weekend.

The meal on Friday was followed by a little karaoke and a lot of silly hats, the wearers of which paraded around the room, competing for the title of Best Silly Hat. The winner wasn’t a baker, but a toddler, with baby bottles attached to the side of his hat and a rather ’cool dude’ pair of shades. Next followed a quiz - half bakery, half general knowledge - a raffle and dancing, which went on into the night.

== Competition time ==

Saturday was competition day, with the entries laid out on tables in the Chatsworth rooms, ready for judging to start at 9.30am. Entries came from around 180 students at Blackpool College, Tameside College, Liverpool Community College, Brooklands College and University College Birmingham (UCB), with over 700 different items on show. The Hovis and Granary competitions attracted the greatest number entries with 352 loaves up for judging. "The Masters Award for the Best Bread in Show went to Adam Whately from UCB, for a 400g Hovis loaf," said chairman of the bread judges Charles Geary. "I personally, along with head technical judge Colin Lomax. feel it is the best we’ve seen in the last six years."

Geary said the overall standard of the competition breads was very good. "The winning loaves in particular were especially good, showing great skill and technique. The Innovation class showed a quality of thought and the California Raisins competition was of an exceptionally high standard again, with great thought and innovation.

"The Live Dough competition (Wrights Trophy) was also of a very high standard - the highest we’ve had for years - and with only one point between first and second," Geary said, adding this is very rarely the case.

In the confectionery competition, new ABST president, Christopher Freeman, chair of the confectionery judges, said the quality of the celebration cakes and the Slattery Trophy entries (for chocolate cakes) had been excellent. "We had a great team of judges. The quality of all the products has been very good."

General secretary and confectionery judge, David Mizon added that the entries were slightly up on last year and that there had been a good mix across the board.

Lomax also noted that the quality of the loaves was better than last year and said demonstrations at colleges on technique, carried out by Rank Hovis technician Chris Foxall, had really helped the students.

"From a lecturers’ point of view, it’s nice to have someone come in from outside - and the students listen to them differently," explained retiring competition secretary and Brooklands College tutor Jane Hatton. "The popularity of the conference goes through peaks and troughs, but there has been a real interest this year. Even if the students don’t win, they get a lot out of doing it and learn so much from taking part."

Mizon said the conference gave the students a great deal of encouragement and made them very competitive. "It also gives employers the opportunity to view new students’ work, an experience of the kind you wouldn’t get if you were just interviewing them," he explained. "We’ve had over £20,000-worth of sponsorship for the conference this year from various sponsors, including British Bakels, BakeMark UK, California Raisins, British Sugar, Unifine, Cereform, Slattery, Muntons and Rich’s. We’re very grateful to them and hope they’ll support us again next year."

At 3.30pm, the doors were opened and students poured into the room, eager to find out how they’d done and to celebrate the success of fellow students.

== Winners included: ==

Gary Inman from Blackpool College, who won first prize in The Horton Trophy for an 800g white loaf; Brooklands College student Jung-Yun Jung, who walked away with the British Sugar Award for her floral cake design, as well as first prize in the Live Wired Sugar Rose Corsage and The Goldex Cup; Tony Thomsen from Blackpool, who won The Masters Cup; Catherine Bamber from Blackpool, who took first prize in the California Raisins’ Confectionery category; and Philip Scase from Tameside, who won the Bread category.

Everyone donned their glad rags for the drinks reception and black tie dinner after the excitement of competition day had died down. The formal dinner featured speeches from the likes of past-president John Lindsay, and saw the presentation of a cake to chosen charity Rowcroft Hospice. A collection of £108 was made, which will be donated to the hospice.

The evening continued with live band ’Freeway’ and a disco where everybody had the chance to let their hair down.

== Need for support ==

Sunday morning brought the students’ AGM and prize-giving ceremony. In the general secretary’s report, Mizon spoke of the support needed from government, for young people to keep the quality of craft bakery high. He also spoke of the urgent need for volunteers to fill various roles at the ABST, especially the position of editor.

Lindsay spoke of the ABST’s achievements during the year, namely in improving the number of members. "We had a few goals at the start of the year, one of which was to double the number of students and, to a great extent, I think we’ve done that," he explained, adding: "If we don’t stand up for the future of our industry, nobody will."

Hatton then gave a vote of thanks to the retiring officers, and to those who had taken risks to bring about change. This was followed by the installation of Freeman as the new president and Lindsay was presented with the past-president medal, with John Renshaw named as president-elect for 2009/10. "The display you put before us yesterday afternoon was fantastic," said Renshaw, addres-sing the students, adding, "and then you really showed us how to party."

The awards presentation followed, with students refused the chance to hide from the limelight, as eager tutors had their cameras at the ready. Many struggled to keep hold of their large trophies.

On his aims for the coming year, Freeman said the ABST would continue to make the students’ conference focused and affordable, as well as build on the networking success of the organisation. "We had more students and more competitions this year," he said. "To see the delight on students’ faces when they won is great. They also have the chance to talk to the judges about how they can improve."

Freeman added that it was all about spearheading the baking industry and keeping it to the fore, making sure the students and the industry alike receives its just rewards. "We want to encourage and enthuse young people about what they can achieve," he said.