Barry Johnson, our Principal Chocolatier, is a man on a mission. He set his sights on the Coupe du Monde, the World Cup of pastry, soon after arriving at Rococo and has been working quite literally day and night to get there.
The final of the UK Pastry Open 2013 took place earlier this month at The Restaurant Show. Barry’s chocolate dessert with elderflower and raspberry won him the ‘Best Taste’ category and helped him towards the highest total score of the competition, meaning that he was also named ‘Overall Winner’.
I found him, not eating grapes on a chaise longue and caressing his trophy as you might expect, but working in the kitchen piping eyes on chocolate ghosts for Halloween ghosts (available in our stores this Friday!).
Congratulations, Barry! Can you tell us a bit about the competition?
The UK Pastry Open 2013 is the British heat of the Coupe du Monde De la Patisserie, the ultimate professional pastry competition. Our brief was to use British ingredients and the theme of musicals. You could work either with sugar or chocolate, and I had to produce a chocolate dessert and a chocolate sculpture.
What did you choose to do and why?
I absolutely love The Lion King. It’s my favourite musical, and I knew that it would work well chocolate because it’s so vibrant and colourful, I could immediately see there was a great sculpture there. I tied the dessert and the sculpture together using a lion’s paw print design, which I imprinted onto the sculpture’s chocolate stand and used to decorate the dessert. The paw is actually from the film rather than the stage show, I was thinking of the moment Simba steps into his father’s paw print.
For the dessert I took inspiration from the rose, raspberry and lychee ganache, which is one of the most popular chocolates we make. Roses and Raspberries are such brilliant British ingredients, and I wanted another summer fruit or flower that complemented their flavours and feels very British. Elderflower was the perfect choice. I also wanted to use Valrhona Manjari Madagascan chocolate in the dessert, both because it’s from Africa and because it’s a really rich, fruity chocolate that’s perfect for raspberries.
The dessert is a small dome of Manjari chocolate mousse. Inside that is a smaller dome of elderflower, lychee and rose, really silky and creamy. That all sits on a raspberry sponge and the whole thing is topped with a raspberry glaze then the chocolate dome with the paw print. Then on the plate there’s crumbly chocolate soil, raspberry granita, elderflower jelly and raspberry spheres that burst when you bite into them. The spheres are raspberry coulis inside, so it’s like having a self-saucing dessert. The whole thing is finished with crystallised rose petals. I love playing with layers of different flavours and textures, and it’s quite a complex dessert so you get a lot of different texture sensations and tastes.
For the sculpture I based the lion’s head on the Mufasa’s mask from the stage musical. Every element represents something in the musical, things like the sun and the savannah grass, which has white chocolate antelope leaping through it.
What was the preparation like?
I started to think about it and plan for 3 or 4 months in advance. We’re very busy in the chocolate kitchen, so I ended up practising when everything was quiet in the evening; there were a few nights near the end where I didn’t finish until 3am.
I only made one complete run-through of the sculpture in advance, but it took a lot of planning and I made all of the components a few times to make sure I could do it perfectly. I did get a few people to test the dessert and make sure it was going in the right direction, but because I was working late at night a lot of the time I had to eat most of the test runs myself. Shame…
We’re sure you were devastated about that. What was it like on the day, were you nervous?
It was pretty nerve-wracking. It’s the biggest competition I’ve been in and the first time the UK Pastry Open has had an audience. I’m never early for anything, but I was so nervous I woke up at 5am and arrived 45 minutes early! I was definitely feeling the pressure.
There were 7 of us competing, and all of the other chefs and judges are people I have a lot of respect for. We only had six hours on the day and these creations take a lot longer than that to put together. So we were able to make some of the dessert elements ahead of time, meaning we were able to showcase the absolute best of what we can do. The chocolate sculptures were made entirely during the competition though. There was a tempering machine for the dark chocolate, and we had to make all of the elements, temper any milk or white chocolates then create and put together all of the pieces of the sculpture, so time was quite tight.
The audience was fantastic, really supportive and it was popular. I think it’s great to hold these competitions with an audience, it gets people interested in more technical aspects of pastry and chocolate. My Mum and Dad were there too, which was lovely as I hadn’t seen them for ages, though I was working too hard to actually see them until it was all over!
Did you have any hairy moments?
Oh, of course, you always do. I whacked my sculpture against a mirror at one point and thought the whole thing would fall apart. One thing the judges look for is how you perform under pressure though and how you react to those situations, whether you can recover and still produce work of the right standard.
So what’s next?
Well I don’t know yet if I’ve made it into the UK Pastry Team for the European Pastry Cup. They’re holding it in Geneva in January, and the UK will be aiming to qualify for the final of the Coupe du Monde De la Patisserie in Lyon in 2015. 3 chefs will be representing Britain in Geneva. We’ll keep the musical theatre theme, and the team will have to produce range of sugar and chocolate pieces and sculptures between them. They’re announcing the team next week, so keep your fingers crossed for me.
At the moment though, I’m working on Chocolate Week and Halloween chocolates for the shops. The sculpture is in the window at our Motcomb Street shop for a couple of weeks so that our customers can see it. I loved making it so I really hope people enjoy it!