CT baker to compete in 2022 World Bread Awards USA in Las Vegas

Michelle Nicholson, the owner of Flour Girl Bakery and Café in Hebron, is bringing two kinds of sourdough bread to Las Vegas this weekend to compete in the World Bread Awards USA.

In the Tiptree World Bread Awards USA competition — which will take place from Sept. 18 to 21 — participants will enter their products in various categories and the 25 judges will announce the winners on Tuesday.

“I was really excited and probably a little terrified,” Nicholson said of her reaction when she first received the invitation. “It's a very big award competition. It's a big broad competition. It covers a lot of ground and I'm sure [there are] going to be incredibly talented people there.”

Nicholson is bringing her classic sourdough for the sourdough category and her Scarborough Fair roasted garlic sourdough bread for the savory category.

The Tiptree World Bread Awards USA hosts the competition with the International Baking Industry Exposition, the largest grain-based food industry conference in the Western Hemisphere.

“For a baker like me, that's a big thing. Just to be with all of these people that know what they're doing. It’s amazing,” Nicholson said. “I don't run into a lot of people in my industry. There are not a ton of people who focus on bread and even less who focus on sourdough.”

Tiptree World Bread Awards USA canceled the in-person competition in 2020 due to the pandemic and instead held the Bread Heroes Awards, recognizing bakers who gave back to the community.

Michelle Nicholson, owner of Flour Girl Bakery and Cafe in Hebron, CT, will compete in the 2022 World Bread Awards USA. 

Michelle Nicholson, owner of Flour Girl Bakery and Cafe in Hebron, CT, will compete in the 2022 World Bread Awards USA. 

Flour Girl Bakery/Contributed photo

That year, Nicholson hosted a “bake-athon,” where volunteers made 1,600 sweet rolls for everyone who was taking home Thanksgiving dinners from the local food pantry. Nicholson was named the first runner-up in the Northeast in 2021 and received an invitation to compete in the World Bread Awards USA the following year.

All of her bread accolades come just three years after she started her Hebron bakery in 2019 while on her front porch. Nicholson started learning how to make sourdough and began a Facebook group of about eight people who also shared the hobby. She later got a cottage food license when her free bread samples became popular. The COVID-19 pandemic hit soon after.

“All of a sudden, you couldn't get bread, you couldn't get flour and you couldn't get yeast,” she said. “And I had access to all of those things because I had already an established cottage food bakery. I just started baking more and people would order the bread.”

As her business grew, she moved into an unused church kitchen and later, into an official bakery in March 2022 and the café next door. The Facebook group, now called the Flour Fanatics, has around 500 members, she said.

Nicholson said being new to the bread industry may give her an advantage in the competition.

“I don't have any classical training. So the fact that I don't really know what I'm walking into, and I'm able to experiment with a very open mind, it’s worked so far,” she said.

The winners of the competition receive industry recognition, networking opportunities and a cash prize for overall winner.

But she wouldn’t know what the prize is, because according to Nicholson, winning the competition isn’t what’s most important to her.

“I am honored to be a part of this competition,” she said. "I am staking my sourdough up against people who have been baking for generations. I have been baking for three years. So I am completely befuddled that I get to stand my sourdough up against theirs.”