October 25, 2018
I hopped on the Eurostar to help reigning UK Chocolate Master Barry as he prepares for next week's World Chocolate Masters bid.
Good friend: “Would you come to Paris for the day with me to taste chocolate?” My answer: Well, what do you think my answer was!
In this instance the good friend was none other than Barry Johnson, current reigning UK and Ireland Chocolate Master. And the trip had to do with his bid for the World Chocolate Masters title. The World Chocolate Masters, a competition that pits the regional masters from 20 countries against one another, is held every three years at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris. Barry will be competing this year in Paris at the end of October. The competition is only held every three years, because that is truly how long it takes to select each regional competitor and for them each to prepare their work for the big day. That is to say nothing of the years that go into becoming a regional competitor worthy of winning.
A week today Barry will be carrying our hopes as the competition begins alongside the Professional Salon du Chocolat. Suffice to say that we have a very exciting competitor fighting for the UK, and must cheer him every step of the way!
The competitors have a series of challenges, such as the creation of a pièce montée (chocolate sculpture), snack on the go, bonbons etc. These all centre on a theme. The 2018 theme is Futuropolis. Make of that what you will! Certainly the chosen 20 will be coming at it from all sides.
One of the tasks this year is to create a brand new chocolate, which will be presented to the judges plain, as a specially designed pistole for tasting, and as a flavoured bar. The Paris trip was Barry’s chance to visit the Or Noir lab to create his chocolate.
On Valentines day we were all up at sparrow’s fart to catch the first Eurostar, before a one-hour taxi ride to Moulan, home to the Barry Callebaut HQ. Barry Callebaut sponsor the World Chocolate Masters. Cacao Barry is the Callebaut range aimed at chefs, the top of the range, including single origin chocolates and the like. Or Noir is the bespoke Cacao Barry top of the top, a lab where chefs can mix their own blend from the complete range of couvertures and cocoa mass. It is housed in a fine old building within the Callebaut complex, and is wonderfully sleek and high tech.
I can’t give away any of what we actually chose. But I can tell you a little about the process.
Amélie Allemand, the superbly chic and efficient chocolate maker handling all the World Chocolate Masters Or Noir creations, greeted us on arrival. Over a water (no coffee before chocolate tasting of course!) and gateau de voyage late breakfast we discussed what Barry was thinking of, what he wanted from his new bespoke chocolate. Then we settled at the tasting table to begin to build flavour.
We worked through a variety of chocolates, available to taste both as couverture and unsweetened cocoa mass. Each was labelled to indicate flavour characteristics and their intensity, such a fruity, aromatic, smoky etc. After tasting through almost all that was there we started to consider what the recipe might be.
It was such an interesting and delicious challenge, to work with their palette of possibilities. We were given every imaginable origin, and a great breadth of options within those allowed by the sheer size of the brand. The only limitations were those of the style of the house. Any house will have its quirks, its strengths, its weaknesses, its character. Our aim was to create something new, striking, world beating. Something that would work alone, a great eating chocolate, and would also work paired with other flavours, would be successful enhanced by whatever Barry is inspired to create with it. I was there to help Barry unearth the possibilities. That was the challenge, and I wanted my friend to smash it!
With the utmost experience, and an extraordinary James Bond style computer to aide the recipe creation and breakdown, Amélie set about making our first couple of choices, and then our third, and fourth. Each time Barry tempered and moulded, turned the results out for us to taste, scratched his head, consulted me, Sarah (his business partner and fiancé) and Amélie.
By number five we were out of steam, out of time, and pretty darn certain we had worked magic. If only our palates had been as fresh as they had been at the start of the day Barry might have been able to say so definitively. But they weren’t, and we had trains to catch. But Barry had time, and slick boxes with his hand tempered inventions to take with him, to sleep on it, re-taste when fresh, and confirm his thoughts.
Arriving home, the lane as pitch-black as when I left it, the day’s events fading into exhaustion, I thought of those glossy chocolate discs, conjured up with that alchemy of taste and science. We did good Barry, and I’ll be cheering all the way!