By Lydia Zilinsky, Collegiate Staff
For the past six years, Grand Rapids Community College’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Arts has hosted an annual sugar pull.
The idea first came from Chef Giles Renusson, a professor at GRCC, as a side project to demonstrate to his students how the inversion of sugar leads to crystallization.
Renusson explains how mixing sugar and water with small amounts of acid forces the glucose and fructose to come loose from each other, and as the sugar cools it becomes pliable.
It is important to him that he teach the science behind baking, as well as keeping it fun and interesting.
Last year, the video of the sugar ribbon showed Renusson and his class creating the sugar mixture and with the help of friends and community members, they were able to pull the ribbon 210 feet.
This video was seen around the world, and Chef Renusson has received positive responses, and even challenges from chefs in Norway, Egypt, Asia, South America, and around the globe.
“It has energized and motivated a lot of pastry chefs across the world,” he adds.
Each year the goal is to stretch the ribbon further and make improvements on how the sugar is mixed and stretched.
“It is good team building,” Renusson explains, “It is also good exercise in logic.”
This year the students in Renusson’s pastry class experimented with the sugar ribbon before the final pull. The event was cancelled due to rain the first two times it was scheduled, and on the day of the official pull the temperatures were lower than ideal. Even with these challenges, the class did not give up as Chef explained they would continue to adjust and try again.
They worked on every detail, mixing five pounds of sugar with less than three grams of acid, and heated to 115 degrees Celsius. The mixture is then kneaded to be kept pliable, and electing an anchor to hold the sugar helps as it is pulled from both ends.
“If we sag, we break. If we break, we lose.” Renusson announced to his students as they worked together to stretch the sugar by quickly moving their hands under the ribbon while pulling.
On the day of the final pull, the students rallied to invite other GRCC students, friends, and anyone walking down Fountain Street to help with the pull in hopes of breaking the world record.
“You’ll be rewarded with candy!” culinary student Natalie Eising encouraged as she persuaded onlookers to join in the pull.
“We’re breaking a world record!” others added confidently.
Working as a team, they brought out the sugar mixture on a heated marble slab as the anchor, Bobby Gillum held the ribbon from the middle as it was pulled in each direction. After the first run, Steve Peterson cooked two more mixtures, adjusting for colder weather and greater pliability. After the final pull, the ribbon measured an impressive total of 350 feet!
Everyone involved walked away proud, with a handful of the red, gold, and blue candied remains of the ribbon. They managed to beat last year’s record by 140 feet.
Chef Renusson plans to continue striving to be better and as the tradition moves forward. He has dreams of someday partnering with organizations for sponsorships or charitable organizations.