From Oct. 12 to 13, Maurice Kalisky of Davis’ Upper Crust Bakery participated in the fifth-annual Raisin Bread Contest, winning the California Prize for his multigrain walnut-raisin bread, Birdseed. The contest was hosted by the California Raisin Marketing Board (CRMB).
This year there were 104 entries, and 36 were chosen to come to the competition. Thirteen finalists were chosen in the end.
There were three categories of bread baking: artisan, commercial and breakfast. Each category had four prizes: a grand prize, judges’ prize, idea prize and student prize.
“Our whole goal is to pay honor to the American baker,” said Larry Blagg, vice president of the CRMB. “The typical baker works in the back room and a lot of them have a tremendous [amount] of creativity.”
Kalisky made his bread with Sacramento County wheat milled in Woodland, raisins from Fresno and Yolo County honey. The bread is sold at the Farmers Market.
Fresno is the raisin capital of the nation and where the CRMB was conceived. The California Raisin Advisory Board, CRMB’s predecessor, was abolished in 1994. Raisin farmers started the CRMB in 1998 in order to popularize raisins.
“The California Prize was also awarded to recognize an honorable effort,” said a CRMB press release.
The CRMB held the competition at the American Institute of Baking (AIB) in Manhattan, Kan., which offers one of the only graduate programs in cereals in the nation.
At the competition, each contestant baked, sautéed and cooked in their own area in the AIB’s lab for an hour, cycling through to make small batches of their bread, pastries or breakfast dishes.
“All the people who enter[ed] the contest turn[ed] in a written application and the photographs. All the judges [came] together in Chicago to decide,” Blagg said.
During the competition the judges asked the participants to describe their bread. The judges then gave the bread and other baked goods scores. Scores were based on taste, look and price.
“We really hope that they’re going to make a product that’s reasonable to make in their own bakery, if they’re making a product for show or if it’s something they’re actually going to sell,” Blagg said.
After the judges decided on the winners, contestants brought out their food to share with others on a banquet table.
“If I see something that is a little unique and the judges didn’t give it a great score, I get the honor of saying I think this is pretty cool. This is only the third time I’ve done that,” Blagg said.
Winners earn a tour of California, the San Joaquin Valley and the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. Since Kalisky is already in California, he’ll be part of the group in the spring.
Although Kalisky is a certified master baker, bread making was not Kalisky’s chosen profession when he moved to California in 1970. He started his bakery in 1986, even though he was already working in a different business.
“I had a construction business, which was already a second career, because I had come to Davis in 1970 to study geology,” Kalisky said.
Kalisky said he was inspired by Julia Child’s second book to start his own bakery. Julia Child was an American chef known for bringing French cuisine to America.
However, Kalisky’s humble beginnings have found a long trajectory.
“Besides winning this award, for the last 15 years, I’ve been an international bakery consultant,” Kalisky said.
Kalisky was introduced to Julia Child during her visit to Northern California to popularize one of her books. He knew someone at the radio station Child stopped by, and called in.
“We were told it was a good thing we called because she had missed breakfast, and they hadn’t done anything about it. So if I brought breakfast, I could meet her,” Kalisky said.
After Kalisky met Child, she invited him back to her house in Cambridge, Mass. Kalisky and his daughter flew out to see Child’s famous kitchen.
“It’s been an interesting journey. You only live once, and you’ve got to try different things,” Kalisky said.
JULIE WEBB can be reached at email@example.com.