Pastry Team UK aims for podium place at today's Patisserie World Cup 2015
Pastry Team UK is aiming high at this year's Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie in Lyon, and hoping for a podium place.
"We'd love to come top five," said Blas, "but we'd love to do even better than that. There's always more practicing that you could do, but I think we are where we would like to be."
Even more ambitious, Mercado added: "We'd love to do better than before, though; that's the point. The dream place would be first. We are prepared, but no-one knows what's going to happen on the day."
The team has faced challenges throughout training, including combining the schedule's demands with their day jobs, and Mercado getting pneumonia for two weeks, which put him out of action.
This is also the first time that the team has competed together after Andrew Blas took over from former ice contestant Nicolas Belorgey in August. The previous trio won gold at the European Championships in March, but this is the first Coupe du Monde for both Blas and Johnson (and the third for Mercado).
Commenting on learning new ice techniques, Blas told The Caterer: "In the 17 years I've been a pastry chef, I've never had to deal with ice like this before. It's a very different and challenging skill set."
He added that he has trained with London-based ice sculptors Hamilton to refine his design and technique, and was thrilled to be competing. "You give up a lot in your life to do this," he said, "but the rewards are massive."
This year also includes a new chocolate sculpture challenge, which asks that the chocolate candidate carve a 25 kilogram block of Valrhona chocolate which has added fat and oil to make it more malleable. This in itself has created new challenges, explained Johnson.
"It's exciting, but if the chocolate is a little bit warm, it can crumble easily. But once you understand the chocolate as a medium, you can achieve a lot. I'm feeling pretty confident. It's a great honour to be here, and I don't say that lightly."
He said the team's biggest challenge were the Asian teams, such as China, Singapore and Japan, who habitually present very strong entries to the contest.
Team chairman Benoit Blin was characteristically realistic about the trio's chances, but still optimistic, particularly as this year the usual powerhouses of France and Belgium are not taking part (France won in 2013, so skips a year, and Belgium pulled out of the show after reported disagreements with the organisers).
He said that the win in Europe had proven that the team could storm to victory in the right conditions, although he stopped short of saying he was "very confident".
He said: "I think this is our best opportunity to climb up the rankings a little. I would say that we should get a lot closer to the podium this year. If the team does well, they should be able to rise up. We've proven in Europe that we have a good formula to win, we just have to do it on the day."
He added that the contest was very important in raising the profile of patisserie in the UK, and helped give young pastry chefs a goal for which to aspire.
Today is the second day of the contest, and will see Pastry Team UK take its place alongside 10 teams including Japan, Italy, Argentina and Egypt, after yesterday saw entrants from nations including Switzerland, Singapore, Denmark and South Korea.
This year's contest has featured 21 international teams in total, including new entrants Algeria, the Philippines, and Guatemala.
The Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie takes place every two years as part of the Lyon exhibition Sirha, which also hosts the Bocuse D'Or contest at the same venue. Founded in 1989 by Gabriel Paillasson, the two-day Coupe aims to offer a Bocuse D'Or-style competition for the world of pastry chefs.
Each team has ten hours to produce an ice sculpture, a chocolate sculpture, a sugar sculpture, 12 plated desserts, three chocolate dessert plates, and three frozen desserts.
Judges from the 21 countries will judge both days - including team president Martin Chiffers from the UK - with the final results announced tonight (Monday). Prizes include a cash gift of up to EUR 21,000, trophies, and medals, including individual accolades for team spirit, innovation and best promotional poster.
Follow the action and see behind-the-scenes tweets from this year's contest in Lyon on the @CatererTweets account or on reporter Hannah Thompson's account, @HannahsRhapsody.
Some of the creations from the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie so far:
Line-up change for Team UK ahead of Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie 2015 >>
UK team for Coupe du Monde de la PÁ¢tisserie announced >>
France wins 2013 World Pastry Cup, as UK finishes ninth >>