After 20 years of stiff competition, this year's Decadent Dessert fundraiser poses a tough challenge for local chefs hoping to win the People's Choice and Presentation awards.
Pam Albrecht, head chef at Dos Amigos and last year's People's Choice Award winner, has her eyes on the prize -- again.
"I hate to lose," she said. "I just try to come up with something unique every year. And I never open a book. I always try to do something of my own."
This year, Albrecht hopes her chocolate butterfly tower will claim the Presentation Award.
"It is a sour cream chocolate cake with one layer chocolate truffle cake, another layer chocolate cake, milk chocolate mousse, white chocolate mousse, hazelnut dacquoise, icing with semi-sweet chocolate ganache and chocolate butterflies on top," Albrecht said. "It's an ode-to-chocolate theme this year because I always think of chocolate as the most decadent thing you can have for dessert."
Matt Cardille, owner of Fuzziwig's Candy Factory, is not taking the competition as seriously as Albrecht. The idea for his dessert came during a bout of insomnia.
"I'm making peanut butter s'mores because it's something that we have that is really good," Cardille said. "But I have no strategy, because I know I'm not going to win. I just make something and bring it because it's a good cause."
Rocky LeBrun, the owner and chef of Antares, also is not concerned with strategies. He will decide on his dessert the day before the event when his kitchen crew shows up.
"I don't have time. I'm shorthanded, and I'm chained to the stove," LeBrun said. "If I had time, I'd build a house out of chocolate."
Other participating chefs include Mary Ann Ninger, the pastry chef at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort, and Lisa Ciraldo-Freese, owner of Chocolate Soup.
Ciraldo-Freese participates in the event because it supports a good nonprofit organization and because the competition gives her and other chefs an opportunity to work with chocolate and sugar, she said.
"We get to do fun things rather than slave away in the kitchen. It's just a great feeling," Ciraldo-Freese said. "First of all, dessert is in my element, and I like to see what other people produce."
Ciraldo-Freese will create three desserts that involve sculptures made of chocolate and Isomalt sugar.
Ninger will use colors and a variety of flavors to bring the heat to the competition. She won the Presentation Award last year. Her entry this year is called "Steamboat Sunset."
"It is a triangular-shaped dessert with a brownie crust on the bottom and a layer of raspberry, mango and passion fruit mousse coated with Oreo crumbs and garnished with white and dark chocolate moons and stars," Ninger said.
Decadent Desserts provides a kind of personal satisfaction for her. It gives her an opportunity to grow in her craft and continue to push herself to higher levels.
"My motto is: It should taste as good as it looks," Ninger said. "I'm hoping with tropical flavors and a touch of chocolate, it will be as tasty as it is beautiful."
Although more than 20 local chefs will showcase their talent Sunday, the main goal of the event is to raise money for Advocates Against Battering and Abuse. Advocates is a nonprofit organization that provides 24-hour crisis services to all victims of crime, but primarily victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Diane Moore, the executive director of Advocates, started organizing the event in 1985 to enhance the organization's fundraising ability.
"I think it's a really special fundraiser, not only for using the talents of local chefs, but it has come to be known as an event to see friends and neighbors," Moore said. "You get to sample over 20 desserts, and the combination of live music and auction items make for a evening of decadence."
It's the cause that keeps chefs such as Albrecht coming back every year.
"I think Advocates is a great thing to have in a small town. If we don't help fund a service like that, we won't have this service," she said. "And most pastry chefs are women, so it's women helping women."