Getting Fresh—Oct. 2008

Next Generation Chocolatiers arriving in style, panache

I’m sure a few of you were able to attend the Chocolate Show in New York City last week, which in addition to its fabulous opening night Chocolate Fashion show, featured a broad range of activities as well as leading chocolate manufacturers from all over the world.

This year, Barry Callebaut, together with the French Culinary Institute in New York City, hosted the competition for the American representative that will compete in the World Chocolate Masters showdown in Paris next year.

Lionel Clement, the chef chocolatier at the Wynn Hotel, walked away with the U.S. National Chocolate Master title after putting together an impressive chocolate sculpture displaying the silhouette of a woman’s face, accompanied by flowing hair and an elaborate hat, all of which symbolized the “Haut Couture” theme deliciously.

As a result, Clement will be the one wearing the Stars and Stripes patch on his whites and traveling to Paris for the 2009 World Chocolate Masters competition that will take place Oct. 14-16 at the Salon du Chocolat Professionnel.

Clement, who completed the Les Sorbets school in France and spent five years working at Lenotre in Paris, obviously represents the pinnacle of chocolate artistry. We’ll be keeping our eyes on Clement, wishing him the same success in Paris as in New York, while he works his magic alongside 19 other world-class chocolatiers.

At the same time, there was another competition -- held just before the opening of the Chocolate Show -- that I believe warrants our attention, as well.

The Next Generation Chocolatier Competition, which is managed by Vreeland & Associates and held every two years, focuses on up-and-coming U.S.-based chocolatiers who use artisan methods in their chocolate making.

This year’s theme, “Salty Sweets,” accented the growing popularity of adding salt to extend the flavor and texture of chocolate confections. Awards are given for the Best Bar, the Best Bonbon, Rising Star (student or chocolatier in the business less than five years or under 30 years of age) and People’s Choice (chocolatier selected by attendees at the awards reception after tasting samples).

Although I wasn’t able to attend the Next Generation Chocolatier Competition Awards ceremony, host Curtis Vreeland provided me with not only a list of those who garnered the awards -- as well as a description of their entries -- but also a compilation of judges’ comments.

Head judge Clay Gordon, author and chocolate connoisseur, summed up the competition best by saying he was personally impressed “by the seriousness with which the chocolatiers paid attention to the theme,” but also “by the playfulness of many of the flavor combinations and forms.”

Certainly, the descriptions of the winning entries reinforce that observation. For example, Gail Ambrosius of Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier in Madison, Wis., took Best Bar honors with her 3 Hot Nuts Bar. This beauty features toasted pine nuts, pepitas and pistachios tossed with chipotle powder, cayenne and smoked paprika, then sprinkled on a wafer thin bar of 70% dark Columbian chocolate and finished with Chile Verde salt.

As Gordon explained, “Gail Ambrosius' 3 Hot Nuts Bar did well, in part, because of its unusual presentation for a bar -- a sort of modern mendiant [Classic French bark containing dried fruits and nuts.]. The judges really liked its size and thinness, very unusual for a bar presentation. The judges also felt that the balance of textures between the chocolate and the nuts was complemented by the combination of chili heat accented by the salt. I think that this piece has the potential to influence other chocolatiers' perceptions of what a chocolate 'bar' is.”

The Best Bonbon title went to Stephanie Marcon of Coco-Luxe Confections in San Francisco for her Molasses Shoo-Fly Caramel, a black strap molasses-based caramel blended with spices, covered in Venezuelan dark chocolate and accented with Salish Northwest Alderwood smoked sea salt.

As Gordon noted in his comments, this was a “love it/hate it” entry for the judging panel. Nevertheless, the bonbon has the potential “to develop a cult-like following,” which always is a good thing.

Bill Brown of William Dean Chocolates in Largo, Florida won the People’s Choice Awards with his Mexican Mango piece, which replicates the Mexican custom of “eating fresh fruit and squeezing fresh lime juice on it and then sprinkling on salt and chili powder,” the chocolatier explained. The mango bonbon uses Valrhona Caraibe 66% for enrobing, Valrhona Jivara Lactee milk chocolate for the ganache, Boiron mange fruit puree and Saltworks’ Green Chile Fusion salt.

The Rising Star award went to Sara Hart of Alma Chocolate in Portland, whose Salty Nutty Toffee Bar and Satay Peanut Butter Cup inspired the panel to acknowledge her efforts.

As Gordon pointed out, “The judges felt that the Satay piece has a lot of promise in its mix of ginger/lime/peanut/spice but felt that the balance between the center and the shell still needed some work. The judges also liked the taste and the texture of the toffee with the chocolate and nuts and felt that it was one of the more interesting combinations of toffee, chocolate and nuts that they'd ever tasted.”

Honorable Mentions were presented to Joanne Hansen of Bon Bon Bakery & Chocolates in San Diego and Maria Valente of Chocolations in Mamaroneck, N.Y. for their respective Mayan bonbon and Dark Chocolate, Dried Blueberry and Salty Almond bar entries.

Just to give you an idea of how creative these chocolatiers can be, Joanne Hansen used sweet corn in her bonbon. As Gordon himself remarked, the judges didn’t really know what to expect when they heard sweet corn was an ingredient.

But as the head judge affirmed, “While a traditional element of Mayan cacao-based beverages, corn is not a common ingredient in modern confections. The overall balance between the mould, the decoration, the filling, and the way the salt enhanced the other flavors was what delighted the judges. It's not often the case that non-traditional ingredients and flavors come together in a piece that could become a standard, but this may be one of those pieces.”

And that’s what I especially like about the Next Generation Chocolatier competition. With these young chocolatiers to be, the sky’s the limit. And more often than not it works. Consider the list of winners from 2006, and you’ll realize that these artisans have already made names for themselves:  Michael Krug and L. Burdick of L.A. Burdick, Andrew Shotts of Garrison Confections, Christopher Elbow of Christopher Elbow Artisan Chocolates, Kee Ling Tong of Kee's Chocolates, and Kristy Choo of Jin Patisserie.

So congrats to the winners and their creative concoctions. Sweet corn and chocolate … who would have thought!

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