A Reflection on the Junior Chocolate Masters & Why I think Ireland needs to Engage in More Competitions

By Erik Van der Veken posted 08-01-2017 07:56

  

As a Pastry chef who works closely with Cacao Barry (one of the most well known high-quality chocolate brands for the artisan industry and organiser of the most prestigious chocolate competition in the world, the World Chocolate Masters) one of the things that came up during meetings with the colleagues from abroad is that Ireland is rarely involved at the sharp end of pastry competitions.

So when the Junior Chocolate Masters - probably one of the most intense chocolate/pastry competitions around for chefs under 25 - came around again, I was determined to get an Irish entry.

In the end, I managed to get not one but two pastry chefs selected to take part in the competition. Taking into account that only the six best applications from fifteen in total were allowed to compete on the day is a hopeful sign for the Irish industry, especially as the level of competition this year was unbelievable! There is no doubt in my mind that each of the 6 contestants, including, with a little more training, our own Irish representatives, could be worthy competitors at competitions like the Coupe Du Monde and the World Chocolate Masters.

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Above: Daniel Linehan hard at work at the competition

People often argue that successful competition chefs aren’t necessarily successful in a real working environment, but I would argue that I do not know a single chef who was worse off after competing at the sharp end of the industry.

With my own eyes I have seen the growth of Rachel Parker, commis chef at Ashford Castle and Daniel Linehan, Pastry Chef de Partie at Campagne in Kilkenny and the drive to succeed, hunger for learning new techniques, need to work super efficiently to complete all tasks in the allowed time frame and I can guarantee you that they are not the same pastry chefs now compared to three months ago.

For fast growth, there is probably no better way than challenging yourself by taking part in competitions. There are also advantages competitions have for the industry as a whole. I remember well the time I was going through my culinary training in Belgium, you’d find Japanese chefs working in every renowned pastry and chocolate kitchen around the country. At the time Japan wasn’t exactly well known for their high standard of patisserie, but they came to learn from the European Masters, took the knowledge back home, developed it further and gave it their own oriental flavour twists, then entered competitions worldwide, won everything that was there to be won, pushing the usual talent to raise the bar as well.


Now when you speak about pastry, everyone who knows the industry will probably rate Japan up there with the more usual suspects such as course France, Belgium and Spain. The UK has put a lot of time and effort in competing, with Martin Chiffers being a key driving force and now they are becoming a country recognised among the Pastry top in the world. Wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing if Ireland can establish itself among the culinary top? With all the benefits for the whole industry that come with it? It will, however, require a long-term vision, dedicated people to lead the charge, and support by a platform such as Chef Network.

unnamed-1.jpg Above: Rachel Parker putting the final touches on her competition creation

Daniel and Rachel competed in the event on 8th July in Banbury. For the Junior Chocolate Masters the competitors had 7 hours to produce a chocolate showpiece from scratch, a chocolate bar and a dessert on the go.The competition was deservedly won by Gabriella Cugno, an experienced competitor despite her young age who currently holds the title of Chef de Partie at the Ritz in London. Congratulations to Daniel and Rachel for proudly representing Ireland at this year's event - hopefully we will see more Irish chefs at competitions in the future.

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