This Mississauga man's talent for making bread landed him in 'the Olympics for baking'
ACE Bakery’s Marcus Mariathas competed against 6 experts in the World Master Baker competition in Paris
Marcus Mariathas says it's something he never imagined — competing to be the world's best in an event he calls "the Olympics for baking."
Mariathas, who is the senior director of product development at ACE Bakery, went to Paris last week to square off in the World Master Baker or Masters de la Boulangerie. He went up against six international contestants in the nutritional bread competition — the only North America to take part in that category.
"It's like reaching the pinnacle of a baker's career. It's probably at the top of my achievements," said Mariathas, 46, who's been honing his baking skills for 25 years.
World Master Baker happens every four years. The top 18 international participants are selected from prior events based on their scores to face off in what the baking community regards as the ultimate competition.
They compete in three categories— nutritional bread making, gourmet baking and artistic bread making. A winner is selected from each.
Mariathas was tasked with making seven different types of nutritional breads in eight hours, with only three hours of preparation time during the event.
"It's not just doing a great tasting bread, also you need to shape the bread into a great looking shape," the Mississauga baker told CBC Toronto.
For the French-style baguette and rolls requirement, Mariathas made his into the shape of a lacrosse stick to represent Canada's national sumer sport. For the "wow factor" bread he crafted a moose using eight different flours and a combination of seeds, and infused the dough with roasted red and yellow peppers.
"It created a nice story ... something that relates to Canada," he said of the moose bread.
While he was defeated by a contestant from the Netherlands, Peter Bienefelt, Mariathas explains that participating in the competition was the real victory.
"To come from where I did with no real experience of how to bake when I first started to becoming one of the top bakers — it's a success," he said.
From Sri Lanka to Toronto
Mariathas immigrated to Toronto from Sri Lanka in 1993 during the country's civil war. Two years later he started working at ACE Bakery's former downtown location while studying commerce at the University of Toronto. He was 21 at the time and had no prior baking experience.
"I was living on an island that had lots of fish, a lot of fresh food; that's what I grew up eating, so I get to enjoy something special about the bread," he told CBC Toronto.
Since day one his favourite type of bread remains the baguette — despite the 13-hour process required to make it.
"It's not something middle of the road, something that tastes like sawdust. It's something really good that you feel good about it when you're eating it. So that's what impressed me — the uniqueness to it."
Now he is regarded by his colleagues as a rising star in Canada's commercial and artisan baking industries.
This is a discipline of baking that Canada isn't traditionally known for, said Brian Sisson, vice president of operations for ACE Bakery.
"I always love having the products made how they were originally supposed to be made," Mariathas said.
"You never get sick of it."
Long road to international competition
In order to qualify for the World Master Baker, participants must compete at one of two separate events. The best bakers are then hand picked from either the World Cup of Baking or the Louis Lesaffre Cup.
Mariathas participated in the World Cup of Baking, or Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, in February 2016. This was the first time Canada qualified for the event. Although the team finished seventh, Mariathas and its two other expert bakers earned their places in the competition after scoring top points at the Louis Lesaffre Cup in Buenos Aires, Argentina in June 2015.
"I love what I do and I don't think that will ever change," he said.
"I like to be creative and innovative, and I like to bring the best quality ingredients together to make the best bread."
With files from Derick Deonarain