Jennifer Earle reports from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Gala Ceremony
Sitting in the audience of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants gala ceremony, amongst some of the greatest chefs in the world, I listened as the announcements of various additional awards peppered the countdown: Best Sustainable Restaurant, Chef’s Choice, Best Female Chef… and, the one I was primarily there for: the inaugural Best Pastry Chef award. At first it looked a little convenient; Ramon Morató, Creative Innovation Leader of Cacao Barry, sponsor of the award, took the stage to present the trophy and then, the announcement:
“Winner of the inaugural World’s Best Pastry Chef award… Jordi Roca of El Celler de Can Roca”.
Jordi also happens to be the global ambassador for Cacao Barry, the very brand sponsoring the award. Ramon had also taken up a signed box of the limited edition new chocolate they’d launched earlier that day to give to the winner. Signed by… Jordi himself.
Aside from the fact that I am sure that there is no way Cacao Barry could have influenced the integrity of the awards and that I observed for myself the dropped jaws on the company representatives in the audience, the few hours I spent with Cacao Barry earlier in the day at the new chocolate launch had already assured me this convenient coincidence was just further proof that the new team behind the brand knew what they were doing.
The sponsorship of this new award, within what is probably the most-anticipated list of awards from any restaurant owner/investor and of foodies around the globe, is just one example of how Cacao Barry are making a stand for quality and ensuring their brand is associated with the very best in the food world. It is already the fourth year Cacao Barry have been the official chocolate sponsor of the awards. This additional sponsorship further cements their support of the event and of patisserie chefs worldwide. Of course, all of this would be fairly worthless if the quality of the chocolate was actually sub-par. Their latest efforts – all part of the master plan – are most certainly not.
For some time now Cacao Barry has been in the shadow of its parent company, Barry Callebaut. By “shadow” I do mean that the relationship causes them to bear some of the associations attributed to Callebaut and as a result have a less positive perspective than some of its peers supplying the restaurant and confectioners world. Barry Callebaut is an impressive business, but it is a behemoth and the range in quality of chocolate it offers is vast. They are set up to be all things to all people, thankfully with a minimum standard that excludes vegetable fats from being used. Cacao Barry is the premium arm of the company and acts completely independently from the rest of the group. It’s sadly carrying the stigma of that association and still in many people’s eyes has – as one foodie described to me – “the budget premium” perception firmly hooked to it.
Well, the new branding team is working to shake off this reputation, much to the excitement of the internal product team and, now, me. Last Monday afternoon saw the launch of the most significant chocolate in their range yet: a limited release, Brazilian Amazon 70% chocolate called Tocantins. Sadly it will be only exclusively available to this year’s Top 50 restaurants and selected ambassadors, journalists and bloggers (including very lucky us!). Cacao Barry’s Global Brand Leader Joost Lindeman was quick to assure the select audience of partners, ambassadors and chefs that the limited release was due to actual physical restriction of the product rather than a desire to restrict it to only some chefs.
Tocantins is exactly what a single origin chocolate should be, a journey of aroma and flavours that lingers deliciously even after it’s completely melted away. It starts with an almost olive-oil like texture and pepperiness and then peaks into fruity acidity and finally finishes with a strong but well-rounded cocoa note. The peppery feeling remains on your tongue as well. I’ve been impressed by some of Cacao Barry’s range before, thinking it equalled some of its rivals for quality cooking and patisserie. This new chocolate it would be almost terrible to tamper with. At most it should be served as an unadulterated bon bon, or a pure ganache tart, maybe with a layer of caramel. I’d accept a mousse as well, but I think I’ll be eating most of my (signed and numbered!) box straight from its beautiful slab.
The presentation is also well-thought through and striking. A papier mâché box indented with the name and stamped with the brand, closed with a piece of string and secured with a branded wax seal. Inside the box are two beautiful 500g slabs, perfectly tempered and then sprayed with more chocolate to give a matt, woody appearance, harking to its Amazonian beginnings. The only flaw in this gorgeous ensemble is that each slab is wrapped in brown paper tissue (sealed closed with branded stickers), imparting a slightly papery note to the outer layer of the bars.
I was shocked to realise that it’s taken this long for the World’s 50 Best to include an award for Best Pastry Chef. It seems long overdue. I surely can’t be the only person who will trek to a restaurant based on rumours of an outrageously good final course, or looks at the dessert menu first and plans the rest of the meal around that choice? The pastry chefs really are the unsung heroes of the restaurant world. They usually arrive first to bake the bread and leave last to put the final touches on the last plate that leaves the kitchen. Their work requires precision and patience as well as a great palate and skill. It is their talent that will ensure that a great head chef can secure a position in the Top 50 at all.
El Celler de Can Roca was already high on my hit list of restaurants, even before it took number one last year, but now that it’s still in the top two and has the world’s best pastry chef there’s no doubt that if I’m making a pilgrimage to visit any of these World’s Best 50, this will be it.