DUHS student takes first place at culinary arts competition

DOWAGIAC — When the cookie dust settled, Sara Torbet stood on top.

The Dowagiac Union sophomore took home two first-place finishes in the 2020 Downtown South Bend Gingerbread Village Competition on Dec. 19.

The competition featured four categories: non-professional child (18 and under), non-professional (individual, family or group), professional (individual or group) and people’s choice.

Torbet won both the non-professional child and the people’s choice categories.

“It was quite shocking, to be honest,” Torbet said. “I was excited to find out the results.”

Her gingerbread village piece featured a gingerbread house made using Pop-Tarts with a gumdrop roof and homemade frosting, a chocolate sidewalk, waffle cone trees, a hot chocolate hot tub with a marshmallow snowman inside, Santa’s sleigh with gummy llama reindeer, a pretzel firepit and coconut snow.

“It took about 30 hours,” Torbet said. “The snowman by the fireplace wouldn’t stay together or stand up. Piping each piece definitely gets tiring with the piping bag cramping up your hand. It was discouraging sometimes, but worth it in the end.”

Gingerbread competition entries had to be dropped off fully assembled at the Courtyard by Marriott between 5 and 6 p.m. Dec. 2 or between noon and 1 p.m. Dec. 3. The pieces have been on display since Dec. 4 and will remain displayed until Christmas Eve.

This was Torbet’s third year participating in the competition, finishing third in her age group in 2019 and second in 2018.

Torbet’s passion for baking was forged in her grandmother’s kitchen years ago and later cultivated by her mentor, Kevin Stanz, whom she was introduced to when she began volunteering with the Cass County Council on Aging. As the COA’s head chef, Stanz took her under his wing and introduced her to the world of culinary art.

“I just love the focus and the creativity I get to experience,” she said. “Being able to express myself through it has been fun.”

Stanz and Sara have not been able to collaborate this year due to restrictions related to the ongoing pandemic. Even so, Sara’s mother, Jennifer Torbet, has enjoyed seeing her daughter’s culinary development over the past two years.

“To watch her grow to where she is quite an accomplishment for her,” she said. “She gets better ideas every year. Kevin has really helped her with cool tips and tricks.”

Torbet looks forward to learning more from Stanz next year if and when the pandemic subsides and encourages anyone looking to step into culinary art to be patient.

“I’d say to just go for it and to just use your imagination,” Torbet said. “Try your best and don’t get frustrated with yourself.”

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