It takes a lot to make one quality piece of chocolate. Somewhere far away, most likely in Ghana or the Ivory Coast, farmers labor relentlessly on the cocoa plantations, eyebrows sweating under the asphyxiating heat, machetes in hand to cut and set aside the precious cocoa harvest. Once fermented and dried, the cocoa beans are acquired by intermediaries and are bagged and shipped around the world, in a trade which is as profitable as it is marred by difficulties. What pastry chefs create and what we consume is a labor of love, the work of many hands and minds – all of it for our appreciation and guilt-free delight.
Every two years for the past 10 years, renowned French producer Cacao Barry has organized the World Chocolate Masters competition to highlight the magical world of chocolate and its burgeoning talents. The challenge involves making original chocolate creations on a given theme within a particular time frame. The reward at the end of this grueling competition, with national qualifying rounds held in 20 countries, is the chance to get a spot in the World Final and to be crowned the best chocolate chef in the world. From there, sky is the limit 🙂
The theme tackled by contestants during the 2017-2018 edition of World Chocolate Masters (WCM) is Futropolis: A Quest for Tomorrow’s Chocolate Flavors. I had the opportunity to attend the WCM USA selection, which was held in Chicago recently, and I was in awe of the innovation, attention to detail and utmost dedication to the theme displayed by the finalists.
As emphasized in the Cacao Barry web presentation, by 2025, half of the world’s population will live in megacities, with over 10 million inhabitants. How will these cities define tomorrow’s flavours? How will they influence the next generation of chocolate and pastry products? In a nutshell, how do this competition’s finalists see the future through chocolate? Interesting questions indeed!
The WCM US round finalists included Jove Hubbard, Executive Pastry Chef at Chicago Athletic Association Hotel (Chicago, IL); Devin D. Cowan, Assistant Executive Pastry Chef at The Greenbrier (White Sulphur Springs, WV); Rory Macdonald, Pastry Chef at Patisserie Chanson (New York, NY); and Florent Cheveau, Executive Pastry Chef at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino (Las Vegas, NV). Here are the finalists at the end of the competition, happily posing with the WCM judges:
The winner of the US competition and representing USA at the WCM World Final, to be held in November 2018, was Florent Cheveau. His showpiece (to the left in pic below) had bright, blue hummingbirds gathering nectar from deep-red flowers while floating through the air, while at the base of this playful scene was an enormous white cocoa bean. Nature’s self-sustainable mechanisms were Chef Cheveau’s inspiration in the conceptualization of this piece. After all, Cheveau explained, natural balance is essential to preserving our resources for the future.
What a gorgeous interpretation of the future through chocolate!
After the competition was over, it was time to eat some chocolate 🙂 Four Chicago-based guest pastry chefs (Chris Texeira, Executive Pastry Chef at The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, Scott Green, Executive Pastry Chef at The Langham, Dimitri Fayard, Executive Pastry Chef at The Peninsula Chicago, and Joel Reno, Pastry Chef Instructor at The French Pastry School) provided their own delicious interpretations of the Futropolis theme to mark the occasion and to make the night the sweetest celebration of chocolate ever imagined. So many thought processes involved, so little time!
My favorite by far was the piece below, which was simply – and mysteriously! – called “The triangle.” It was a decadent combination of chocolate layers of various cocoa percentages with an interlude of yuzu cremeux, which delivered seductive notes of citrusy freshness and made the marriage of flavors and textures complete. Stunning look, stunning taste:
Number #2 on my list was the Paris-brest, the classic French dessert made up of choux pastry filled with a praline mousseline cream. The pastry had a delightful cocoa crust, which complemented the crunchiness of the big hazelnut pieces beautifully. The cream inside the pastry defied my preconceptions by being unbelievably light, and not as heavy as I had imagined it to be. I was in love with these delicate pockets of goodness:
A special mention must be made about the chocolate eggs below, which had raspberry chocolate mousse, chocolate sponge cake and raspberry marmalade inside, and were sitting pretty on Linzer cookies. These eggs epitomized the classic flavor marriage between dark chocolate and sharp raspberries and were a very successful interpretation of the WCM theme.
I left the US World Chocolate Masters competition enchanted with the creativity I had encountered and with the four chefs that had envisioned the future of the world through their artisan work with chocolate. It was a night which celebrated craftsmanship at the highest level, and paid homage to chocolate as a work of art. Can’t wait to see what Chef Cheveau will make next year, at the WCM World Final 🙂
*Disclaimer: I was not financially compensated by Cacao Barry for this post. All opinions expressed here are my own.