Monday, January 24, 2011

Memories of the World's Largest....

I came across this picture today.

Depicted is none other than the World's Largest Creme Brulee. An official Guinness World Record, we established it through the combined efforts of the California Egg Commission, students at the Art Institute of Los Angeles and the Bel Age Hotel.  The Guinness record hangs on my office wall.

Here's how the "Big Brulee" got started. I used to give lectures about eggs on behalf of the commission ( I was a consultant)  to companies, culinary schools, universities - basically whoever wanted me. Because the audience was usually young and fidgety, in order to keep them interested,  I would try to work in a story and object lesson about Howard Helmer, World's Fastest Omelet Maker.

Howard established this Guinness record when he was about 30 and built a career around it.  He recently retired, but had a marvelous time for 35 years or more working for the American Egg Board, traveling around the world, making omelets really fast, on television, at trade shows and state fairs.  The purpose of his presentation was to teach the audience that eggs are the fastest food you can possibly imagine. He would teach through a zany funny presentation that in 40 seconds, you can have an omelet on the plate. After he completed his demonstration, typically he'd have a cooking set-up so that everyone in the audience could apply the lesson right away. I watched every imaginable kind of person walk away delighted with themselves and of course with Howard for teaching them this wonderful technique.  

The point I would make with the story is excellence. If you become the best you can be at something, the goodies in life are highly likely to follow: money, fame, respect.  If you become the best in the world at something, even better. Depending on the audience, I would offer the commission's financial support for the group to make a Guinness attempt at any culinary record containing eggs. 

This group of kids at the Art Institute of LA starting talking about what they could do better than anyone else. They told me they would "cook something up".

A week later, they came up with the Big* Brulee idea. The effort was spear-headed by their inspired teacher, Rick Royal. It took a lot of work: engineering to get the frame to support the weight, a special recipe which could be cooked in a huge steam kettle and a myriad of small details, certifications, insurance waivers, special witnesses required by the Guinness people.  Most importantly, the young people had experiences they will benefit from for the rest of their lives. Determined to succeed, they hurtled forward despite bureaucratic red tape and various road blocks. Worst of all for the students to overcome was the negative energy generated by the naysayers, skeptics and the ever present lazy- ass people in life who sit on the side lines chewing a toothpick and finding fault with the brave and gutsy people trying something new. Like fleas on a dog, these annoying kill-joys show up whenever there's something new afoot.   

The event was held in 1999, on the rooftop of the Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood and was an operational and public relations success. At the end, all of the chefs and students hitched up their blow torches and flame throwers; brown sugar and raspberries were thrown all the surface by on-lookers, and the chefs blasted away at the top, fire skittering over the surface, scorching the sugar and making great caramelly bubbles. It was a dramatic grand finale. 

A couple of news helicopters hovered around filming the event and we got pretty good press. The dessert was sold to guests for a nominal fee which was donated to a charity for homeless teenagers. Over the years, we (the commission) got a lot of mileage out of the event - for instance, we used a video loop of the event in the commission's booth at every trade show for years. The return on our investment was splendid. 

In 2005 I got a call from a newspaper in Orlando where their Culinary Academy broke our record of 23.25 feet in diameter by 2.75 feet. They used exactly the same format; copied everything- even selling plates of the dessert to raise money for charity which was their primary reason for the effort.  As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery. The reporter wanted to know if I had any comments to make. I offered the group my heartiest congratulations and told him while we'd enjoyed being Largest, records, like eggs, are made to be broken.

*Later I found out that being listed as the "Largest" anything can be dangerous. Occasionally we ended up on a curiosities list next to something like the world's largest tumor. Yuck.


  1. Absolutely fascinating! (Do I always say this? But I really mean it...really.) What a great story.
    So sad that they got booted out of the record book, but as you said...they'll never forget that experience.

  2. Who the heck are "barbara &amp nancy?

  3. William Branson10:16 AM

    "If you become the best you can be at something, the goodies in life are highly likely to follow: money, fame, respect. If you become the best in the world at something, even better."
    I remember my Grandmother sharing this with me... lets just say it left quite an impression.