Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

competitions belong to a lengthy tradition of professional cooking contests. The earliest may have taken place in the seventh century b.c.e., when the Assyrian king Sardanapalus, who was known for his love of feasting, organized a contest that rewarded the winner with money and honor. In 1882 the first concours culinaire was held in Paris. This cooking competition quickly became an annual event, with pastry and confections featuring so prominently that by 1894 a critic complained that they dominated the offerings. Similar tests of culinary prowess were organized over the next decades in Vienna, London, Brussels, and New York. The Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung, or “Culinary Olympics,” is the oldest international competition, its title picking up on an enduring kinship between cooking and spectator sports. Four nations participated in the original IKA, which took place in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1896 with the goal of promoting tourism via the exchange of culinary techniques and ideas. Today, the Culinary Olympics—which includes pastry as both a team and individual event—takes place every four years and features more than 750 professional chefs from 31 countries.