With record numbers in attendance this year, the annual Alliance for Bakery Students and Trainees (ABST) conference was a huge success, with the quality and quantity of competition entries prompting high praise from the judges.

Taking place from 10-12 June at the Alton Towers resort, the weekend saw a total of 301 delegates up from 233 last year with 11 colleges in attendance. These included 30 delegates from the Republic of Ireland, 15 trainees from the Limerick Youth Service a community-based initiative that offers youngsters the opportunity to learn baking skills and 15 students from the National Bakery School of Ireland. "And we would like to see 400 people in this room next year," said ABST general secretary David Mizon, during the AGM.

The proceedings had kicked off earlier on the Friday, with a series of demonstrations from some of the sponsors. Renshaw showed how to use its new ’snip and swirl’ icing, and encouraged delegates to ice and decorate their own cupcakes. Puratos demonstrated how to create various patisserie items, while Rich Products showcased its whip topping, and Barry Callebaut its bakery-focused ingredients and recipes.

A career in bakery

Colin Lomax then gave an inspirational talk about his career in bakery, including the fact he found his job at Rank Hovis through an advert in British Baker. He implored students to never be afraid to ask for advice; to never stop learning; and be proud to be a baker.

Lomax was also presented with a special achievement award, from the ABST, for his services to students and trainees over the years by Sophie Kilbey, from Blackpool & The Fylde College. After the AGM, Christopher Freeman announced, to much applause, that Lomax had been bestowed the "very rare honour" of Freedom of the Company, of the Worshipful Company of Bakers. The evening then saw everyone don their best Hawaiian beach wear despite the very untropical weather for a barbecue, before the evening’s music and dancing kicked off.

Day two was competition day, with entries laid out in The State Room ready for judging to start at 9am. There were a total of 1,076 entries, which equated to 1,427 items so a busy day for the judges. First-time bread judge Sara Autton, Fermex International, said the number of entries had really pleased her. "It has been very difficult to actually judge between them, especially in classes such as The Masters Cup. There has been some really smashing bread here."

Head bread judge Charles Geary said: "There have been lots of wonderful entries, absolutely unbelievable. Quality has surpassed previous years, and there have been some excellent products which would be a credit to any shop window. Some of the decisions were very difficult because of the closeness of the quality of the entries, and it came down to very fine details to decide on quite an exceptional number of the winners." He said the award for Best Loaf in Show was very hotly contested, but after much consideration, the judges arrived at a unanimous decision, naming Jean Atkins of Liverpool Community College as the winner for her 400g Hovis loaf, which topped the class in the Hovis competition. Atkins was visibly shocked to have won, but declared herself "really chuffed" to receive the award.

Hovis success

Lomax said there were just under 500 entries in the Hovis and Granary competitions, which he was very pleased with. "For the winner of the best Hovis loaf to also get Best Loaf in Show was an extra bonus," he added. Alongside Hovis winner Atkins, Gabriel Maftei, Blackpool & The Fylde College, was named winner of the Granary competition.

Other winners included: Daniel Roche from Tameside College, who won the President’s Cup, while Lisa Hepworth of Blackpool & The Fylde College was awarded first place in the Novices Cup.

The British Confectioners Award for the Best Overall Confectionery Item in show, was also awarded to Hepworth for the apricot Swiss roll she entered in the Novices Cup class. Kate Ferris from Brooklands came top in the Renshaw Decorative class (RegalIce birthday cake), while the Bakery Trainee Trophy was won by Sarah Bowden, Tameside College, employed at Robinsons Bakery.

The Horton Trophy was awarded to Julie Lister, Blackpool & The Fylde College, while team competition the Founders Cup went to Lisa Hepworth, Hannah McKenzie, Sophie Kilbey and Gabriel Maftei from Blackpool & The Fylde College.

Confectionery judge Dawn Gemmell, said the confectionery classes had attracted more entries than last year, and classes such as the Devon Rose Bowl had seen a big improvement in quality. However, she and fellow judge Cyril C Scorse stressed that the students and trainees must pay close attention to the competition schedule, with regards to the weight/diameter of products, for example, as these were the main faults found.

Lobbing the cob

In addition to the awards presentation, Saturday afternoon also witnessed the spectacle that was the Lob the Cob competition. The challenge was to ’lob’ a 400g fully baked cob from a baker’s peel over the furthest distance. The individual college heats had already taken place, with the finalists competing at the conference. Laura Richards, of Neath Port Talbot College, won for the girls and Dez Byrne, Limerick Youth Service, for the boys. They each received £100 in cash.

Following an evening drinks reception and three-course meal, the presidential chains were transferred from John Renshaw, to David Powell. Among Powell’s aims as this year’s president, he said, he hoped to grow on the success of the last couple of years, in terms of the numbers of colleges and numbers of people attending. "I’m also keen to try and give the companies that support us better value for money. A lot of these companies say they cannot find talented young people to work in their business, and yet, at the student conference, I’m bombarded with students who want to find a job. So I’m working on the idea of an employer/employee forum next year, where students could talk to different people from the industry for example someone from an in-store bakery, someone from a retail business and someone from an ingredients manufacturer in a bid to provide this missing link between potential employees and trainees and the industry." Another aim, echoed by the whole of the ABST committee, is to try to get more trainees to attend.

Mizon said he was extremely pleased with how the weekend went and couldn’t be happier with the progress the ABST has made, and continues to make, as an organisation. "Employers have had the opportunity to network with 230 bakery students from across England, Wales & Ireland, to view their work in the competitions, to gain references from their tutors, and to view them in a social environment, which we believe is a far better process than the standard interview, with its costs and often false impressions. I hope we see much more industry support in the year ahead," he said.