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Monroe College Student wins U.S Junior Pastry chef Champion Title

25th March 2016

Earning "U.S. Junior Pastry Chef Champion" Title was a Piece of Cake for Monroe College Culinary Student Zinzi Mpande

You could call it an initial career misdiagnosis. When Zinzi Mpande first set out to earn her college degree in the island of Antigua that she calls home, she had big dreams of becoming a doctor. Within her first semester, however, she realized that her professional passions lay in a more creative direction.

After initially switching to art classes, she realized that what she really wanted to do was cook.

(The constant din of Food Network programs playing in the background as she studied for her pre-med courses may have had something to do with it.)

With her parents' blessing, she traded in her stethoscope for a spatula and enrolled in ABHTI (Antigua and Barbuda Hospitality Training Institute), a competitive culinary arts school in Antiqua that gave her the skills and knowledge necessary to first obtain an internship at Hermitage Bay Resort and then, after graduation, a highly sought-after culinary position with the pastry team at Jumby Bay Resort.

As an intern at Hermitage, Zinzi started in the resort's fast-paced, high-volume main kitchen, but she eventually found herself working within the less-frenetic pastry area. She became a key part of the team responsible for creating platter after platter of decadent desserts and sweets for the hundreds of hotel guests that stayed at the popular Caribbean resort each week.

With bigger career ambitions in mind, however, Zinzi decided to go back to college to get her Hospitality Management degree, enrolling in New York's Monroe College in the fall of 2014.

Her passion for pastry, however, remained strong. Clearly her talent did, too, for she was just crowned the US Junior Pastry Chef Champion for 2016 at the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York held last week at the Jacob Javits Convention.

It's easy to see why the judges were salivating over her winning plated dessert: A creamy peanut butter mousse complemented by a sweet, silky banana crème brulee center that was served with a spicy banana cake topped with caramelized bananas drizzled with a dark chocolate sauce and a coconut sorbet. The petit four she prepared was equally impressive and delicious. Called a mini coffee and orange bombe, it featured coffee and milk chocolate whipped ganache with an orange-cinnamon cream atop a vanilla shortbread cookie called a sable. The fragrant and zesty orange notes entwined with the warm, aromatic spiciness of cinnamon paired remarkably well with the hint of coffee and sweet vanilla.

"I am incredibly honored to have won the recognition of the judges, but cannot take all the credit," Zinzi said. "Both Christina Iarusso, a fellow student who came on board to assist at the last minute after the person I was expecting to work with fell ill, and Chef Ebow Dadzie, my advisor and a professor in Monroe's Baking and Pastry program, have my deepest gratitude for helping me get this honor. I share the victory with them."

Zinzi expects to complete her Hospitality Management degree at Monroe this spring. What's next for the almost-doctor-turned-pastry-champ? She would like to continue honing her craft at one of New York's finer restaurants.

Wherever she ends up, she no doubt has a rather "sweet" career ahead of her.

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