The first week of September marks the anniversary of the annual fall food and beverage show from Altamira Foods, to showcase “just the best” of the culinary industry. Altamira Foods, a family run, specialty food distribution company for Colorado and New Mexico, began in 1984 with the importation of Italian olive oils. Yet in the past five years Altamira consciously decides to “hit the higher end,” says Joey Gentry, vice president and CEO of Altamira Foods, and refocuses it’s attention on “something finer.”

By creating trade partnerships with friendly competitors Altamira enables cross traffic with the wine and craft spirits realm to incite “a lot of momentum,” says Gentry, with mutually beneficial networking opportunities among “buyers, chefs, industry folks and professionals.”

“It’s a fun business and we have a really cool core group of vendors that we deal with,” says Gentry. “But our niche has turned us into a mega pastry company.”

Mariana Ramirez, La Coupe d’Altamira competitor and pastry supervisor at the Colorado Convention Center, is intent on the details of her dessert. Photo credit: Tom Hemerka of Pastry Elite

RMFR attends this year’s foodie event at the Denver Marriott Tech Center to explore the platform of palatable samplings while providing coverage of the star of the show, La Coupe d’Altamira, the highly-anticipated pastry competition. Gentry shares with us that it’s “rudimentary” beginnings have been able to grow into an official component over the past eight years in large part due to the guidance of Adam Thomas, executive pastry chef at The Broadmoor.

Pictured left to right: Adam Thomas, executive pastry chef at The Broadmoor; Joey Gentry, vice president & CEO of Altamira Foods. Photo credit: Tom Hemerka of Pastry Elite

Thomas, who serves as a judge for La Coupe d’Altamira, alongside fellow experts, Gonzo Jimenez, chocolatier and co-owner of Miette et Chocolat, and Liliana Myers, pastry chef at Safta in Denver, says that the panel strives to attract more qualified participants that rise to the occasion with proper execution and stylistic delivery.

“It’s better every year and we have stronger contestants,” says Thomas. “As we get more national attention we’re hoping to bring out a little bit more technique and skill set from our competitors.”

La Coupe d’Altamira judges. Left: Gonzo Jimenez; Middle: Adam Thomas; Right: Liliana Myers. Photo credit: Tom Hemerka of Pastry Elite

Each participating chef has a total of two and a half hours to prep and execute three sweet elements: a plated dessert, bon bon, and petit four display showpiece, that includes their confections, and the incorporation of at least two Valrhona chocolate products. Judges grade submissions on taste, use of ingredients, technicality, cleanliness, aesthetics and creativity, which includes a new surprise element this year, a mystery bakery item that contestants don’t discover until their time clock begins. The winner walks away with a substantial check for $1,000.00 and the opportunity to participate in a class through Valrhona L’Ecole du Chocolat in Brooklyn, New York.

Tallyho. Photo credit: Tom Hemerka of Pastry Elite

La Coupe d’Altamira 2018 represents local Colorado talent with first place recipient, Saura Madani, pastry chef for Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group, based out of the Opera House at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Despite her impressive credentials, Madani attests that these competitions are nerve-wracking and that “you never know what’s going to happen on stage.”

Madani focuses on a clean, thoughtful showpiece.  Photo credit: Tom Hemerka of Pastry Elite

“They did throw a curve ball at us with the extra bakery item,” says Madani, to which she responds with raspberry macarons, which integrates the question mark component beautifully. She also presents a distinguished, layered almond strawberry cake, punched out in a ring with almond granola, strawberry coulis, Valrhona Almond Inspiration whipped ganache and basil ice cream.

Madani impresses with a linear and textural plated dessert. Photo credit: Tom Hemerka of Pastry Elite

Her award-winning bon bon plate arrives in the form of shimmering half-spheres with a white chocolate shell, white chocolate basil ganache and an olive oil almond ganache adorned with gold speckles and a design transfer sheet. Madani successfully rounds out her performance with a clean, geometric show piece that she calls “simple but elegant” with understated floral design details.

Madani shares her golden bon bon recipe on her personal dessert blog, Sweet Saura.

“I’m glad with the turnout and I would do 1,000 things over again if I could, but I did have a lot of fun,” says Madani. “I feel like I put out my best.”

Madani’s “best” earns her the win at La Coupe d’Altamira. Photo credit: Tom Hemerka of Pastry Elite

Altamira Foods proves to be the ultimate foodie facilitator with a stage for the creation of decadent dessert concepts and an enticing platform for gastronomic geek outs. So whether we find ourself mingling over fine charcuterie and grade-A protein purveyors or enjoying a brilliant vino repertoire, we appreciate the community atmosphere that highlights the quality and consistency of the top tier in the Rocky Mountain region.

“The food show is always one of the better ones,” says Thomas. “Altamira really brings specific vendors together and only partners with true fine food distributors.”

*Header image courtesy of Tom Hemerka of Pastry Elite