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Editor's Note: This story is unlocked for everyone to read courtesy of the CRVA, our partner in nourishing culinary exploration for residents and visitors of the Queen City.

June 20, 2024

National Pastry Conference to debut in Charlotte

The weekend-long event features competitions, demonstrations, and more

by Kristen Wile

A local pastry chef is leading the debut of a new event uniting bakers, chocolatiers, and dessert artisans around the country. The National Pastry Conference will debut in August here in Charlotte, taking place August 29-31 at the Park Expo & Conference Center, largely thanks to the efforts of Justin Fry. The owner of JF Chocolat, Fry has taken part in many pastry competitions throughout his career. He’s also been part of filming the series Bake Squad, which led him to meet much of the talent working with him to kick off the National Pastry Conference, or PastryCon.

The three-day event will feature showcases, networking, and competitions featuring everything from cookies and cakes to chocolate. PastryCon was inspired by an event in Atlanta that’s no longer in operation, but was beloved by its participants. Fry hopes to revive that sense of community as the conference grows — and believes Charlotte’s culinary scene is a natural place to nurture it.

“What I love about Charlotte the most is the camaraderie in the food scene,” he says. ” It’s incredible. The food scene is coming up. The city is growing. It just seemed like the place to kind of show off the city.”

While the event is focused on professionals, there will be opportunities for those who simply love desserts to attend and taste, too. Attendees can purchase tickets that includes samples for them to vote on a people’s choice winner, or pop in and watch the chefs at work in one of the competitions. Stage entertainment and speakers include live recordings of podcasts, as well as well-known pastry personalities yet to be announced.

Justin Fry, right, is the owner of JF Chocolat and president of the National Pastry Conference.

For professionals, brands will be on hand to show off their products and equipment. There will also be conference rooms in the upstairs area hosting demonstrations. The competitions will take place over three days, with eight categories: cake artistry, chocolate artistry, chocolatier, cookie showcase, concept cakes, gelato, ice cream, and plated desserts.

“The driving section of this whole conference is our competition,” Fry says.

Each category has a chef advisor. Those advisors include pastry chefs well known in the industry: Ashley Holt (cake artistry), Gonzo Jimenez (chocolate artistry), Kriss Harvey (chocolatier), Susan Trianos (cookie showcase), Viki Kane (concept cakes), Michael Laiskonis (gelato/ice cream), and Ramon Perez (plated dessert). Those advisors are experts in their categories, and helped determine the rules and qualifications. Two competitions — the concept cakes and cookie showcase — will feature hobbyist versions, intended for those who sell cakes not as a primary income and are new to the industry.

For those who enjoy the excitement of TV baking competitions, Fry suggests attending the final day of competitions.

“Showpieces, the cake artistry and the chocolate artistry, are going to be the most impactful, because it’s that whole, we’re attaching the pieces,” he says. “Either they’re going to move their piece to the display table, or they’re going to build their display on the table. There’s that whole element of, are things going to break when they move it? That seems to bring lot of excitement to these competitions.”

Fry hopes to grow the festival each year, and create the must-attend competition for pastry chefs across the country. Learn more about taking part in the competition here, or explore tickets.

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