It’s an emotionally exhausting experience, with the tiniest mistake likely to seriously impact rankings. Lots can (and does) go wrong, with collapsing chocolate showpieces and splitting ganaches making for compelling viewing.
This year’s theme – Cocoa, Quetzalcoatl’s Gift – was intended to encourage the participants and spectators to consider the origin of cocoa in South America. The Aztecs believed that it was the god Quetzalcoatl who created cocoa as a divine gift to relieve fatigue and provide pleasurable rest.
Showpieces – the one to two-metre-high chocolate statues that are a key part of the competition – were inspired by the mystery surrounding the discovery of cocoa in the rainforest and the numerous legends regarding the gift of Quetzalcoatl to its peoples.
The other elements the contestants made, including an entremet (a very complicated cake), a plated chocolate dessert and moulded and dipped pralines, also linked back to the theme, using the colours, flavours and textures associated with the early history of cocoa in South America.
Looking up at the towering monoliths created by the chocolatiers, it’s natural to question the competition’s relevance to the average restaurant kitchen. But Simon Harris, western Europe customer marketing manager at Barry Callebaut, says the competition is highly significant for anyone who works with chocolate.
“This is the cutting edge of chocolate – it is where you’ll see new developments. Over the past two or three days I’ve seen several entirely new techniques. You could draw an analogy with high-end fashion shows: what’s going on here will eventually filter down to the wider industry.
“The level of ability has risen considerably in recent years and the standard is now very high.”
After three days’ intense competition among the 19 national Chocolate Masters, Dutchman Frank Haasnoot was crowned the World Chocolate Master 2011 by an international jury composed of 22 pastry and chocolate professionals including the UK’s inimitable James Petrie, head of creative development at The Fat Duck Group.
Haasnoot took home the World Chocolate Masters 2011 trophy specially created by leading Dutch designer Rob Verhoeven, as well as a €25,000 prize package. In second place was Yoshiaki Uezaki from Japan and in third place Palle Sorensen from Denmark.
Haasnoot’s aggressive showpiece cinched the win; the comparatively young chocolatier was also praised for his daring flavour combinations and all-round technical prowess.
In addition to the overall award, Frank Haasnoot won special awards for Best Gastronomic Chocolate Dessert, Best Chocolate Showpiece and the International Press Award.
The jury evaluated all 19 candidates on their technical skills, presentation, the cleanliness of the work areas, and – critically – on innovation and taste.