The World Chocolate Masters is a curious event. If you’ve never heard of it, it can best be described as a kind of “Chocolate Olympics”. Every two years, top chocolatiers from around the world gather for three days of intense chocolate making competition.
The next World Chocolate Masters finals take place in 2013 at Salon du Chocolat in Paris, but the preliminary rounds are already well under way, with countries around the world selecting their representatives. The UK event takes place in September at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair at Olympia and last week, sponsors Callebaut held a launch event at London’s famous ‘Gherkin’ building.
Architecture & Taste
The theme of for this year’s competition is ‘the architecture of taste’, which goes some way to explaining why we found ourselves at the top of one of London’s most distintive buildings talking about chocolate.
How does architecture relate to chocolate? Well a major part of the World Chocolate Masters competition is devoted to the creation of ‘showpiece’ sculptures which are often architectural in themselves. We were lucky enough to be in Paris for last year’s finals and had the chance to see some of the finalists’ artworks first hand. It’s hard to believe that works like this are made entirely of chocolate.
Of course, being a World Chocolate Master isn’t just about making stunning chocolate showpieces. On day two of the competition, competitors have to make pralines, pastries and desserts, and on the final day, they have to come up with a ‘revisited classic’ – their own interpretation of a classic chocolate creation.
That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for one of the UK finalists, Alastair Birt. He’s head chocolatier at William Curley where they’re quite well known for their interpretations of retro classics.
We also had the chance to meet two of the other finalists, Conor McAlonan of Liberty Boy Confections and Ruth Hinks, owner of CocoaBlack. They’ll be competing with Simon Woods, patisserie lecturer at Westminster Kingsway College and Richie Heppell, head chef at the Royal Air Force Officers Mess at RAF Leuchars.
All the finalists were relaxed about the prospect of three intense days of chocolate competition, but admitted that the creation of the showpiece was the most stressful part. Not only will they have to come up with a uniquely creative sculpture that fits the ‘architecture’ theme, but they have to make sure it stays in one piece long enough to be judged. In the heat of a competition kitchen, the showpieces are often the first casualties.
It’s fair to say that sponsors Callebaut have a mixed reputation in the chocolate industry. They are after all, the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer, and at Chocablog we’re much more comfortable telling you about the small artisan chocolate producers. It’s these tiny companies working with individual cocoa farmers who are driving current trends in the chocolate industry.
Callebaut were keen to talk about their own commitment to making all their chocolate sustainable, but I’m still not sure that such a large company can have the one-on-one relationship with farmers that helps make some of the small artisan bean-to-bar chocolate the best in the world.
The chocolate market is evolving rapidly and supporting events like the World Chocolate Masters is a way for Callebaut to keep up with current trends. They even showed a video of what they think the top five chocolate trends are at the moment and sustainability played a big part. I do hope they can commit to this. It’s a really exciting time to be involved in the world of chocolate, but that might not be how the average African cocoa farmer feels when they see little, if any, of the profits.
The World Chocolate Masters is a great way to showcase the most talented chocolatiers in the world, but all chocolate lovers need to be celebrating and supporting the people who actually grow the stuff a lot more. That said, there’s probably no company better placed to start making that difference than Callebaut.
I’m really looking forward to seeing the UK finals at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair next month and can’t wait to see what they come up with for their architectural chocolate showpieces. An the subject of architecture, if you’re ever lucky enough to be invited to the top of The Gherkin, don’t miss it. The views of London are spectacular – and the window cleaners are daredevils…