The UK’s contestant talks technique, authentic flavours and offers advice on how others can get into advanced chocolate work.
How do your view your performance atthis year’s competition?:
I felt I could have done better, but I think all the entrants are probably thinking that too, apart from [this year’s winner] Frank Haasnoot.
I was happy with what I did and stand by the elements I produced. I wouldn’t change the styles and flavours I created if I were able to do the competition again. Some things went wrong on the day, which I’m a bit gutted about, but I can’t change that.
What went wrong?
A fairly minor mistake tempering chocolate set me back by about 20 minutes, affecting the quality of my entremet, which is usually one of my strongest preparations as my day job is in a high-end cake business. I didn’t produce it to the same quality achieved in the many dry runs I did ahead of the competition; the sides were very messy.
Which pieces were you most pleased with?
On the day I felt that my moulded and dipped pralines turned out best. The execution was spot-on and I was particularly happy with the flavour. Everything I made was linked to the theme – I carried out a lot of research on the origins of chocolate and only chose flavours that went together. I didn’t want to do anything that was too off-the-wall Apricot,raspberry, passion fruit and a tequila and salted lime caramel were the key tastes.
What was the overall standard like this year?
It was very high, but coming where I did [16th] I would say that! Only a few showpieces fell this year. People haven’t been less risky; if anything they’ve taken more risks, which shows that the skill level is higher. I was a bit dejected when I found out where I’d been placed, but now I’ve had time to reflect I’m happy I competed. I learnt a huge amount during in the competition and of course the 12 months I spent preparing for it.
Have you been to the event before?
This is the third time I’ve attended. You’ve got to go a couple of times before competing to get an idea of the standard and what’s expected of you. I’ve gone to a lot of other major chocolate competitions to observe and in some cases to compete as well.
How do you find time to fit it round your day job?
It’s dominated my life for the last year. I practised in the evenings and at weekends, seven days a week. My employer Park Cakes [in Manchester] has been great, giving me space, helping me out with ingredients and even allowing me time off to practise. I’m enjoying a more relaxed schedule now – last weekend was the first in a long time that I haven’t spent doing things with chocolate, and I’m spending more time with my family. The competition is a big commitment, financially, physically and mentally.
How relevant is the competition to pastry chefs?
It’s a very good way of growing your skills and getting experience. You get to spend time with people who are trying new things and pushing boundaries. Clearly, not all the techniques are applicable to everyday workplace scenarios, but some elements of them are. I’m in a job where I don’t necessarily use certain disciplines so the competition gave me a chance to practise them.
Does the event have enough profile in the UK?
Not really – it’s a much bigger deal in other countries. Most European countries have a lot more people looking to compete and consequently more pre-selections. There aren’t enough people competing or considering doing it in the UK. For any chefs looking to get into advanced chocolate work and competitions I’d recommend getting in touch with people that compete and offering to help out for free. Most will happily mentor people; it’s a very friendly industry.