19 Chocolatiers Compete For $100K
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Lionel Clement's training regimen for a scrumdidlyumptious showdown in Paris with 18 other chocolate chefs would make Willy Wonka himself proud.
Clement, a French-born chocolatier representing the United States at the World Chocolate Masters competition, has spent four months tinkering with his flavors, another four months designing and developing his show pieces and four months practicing to get it all done within 11½ hours at the biennial culinary competition that starts Oct. 14.
"You have to make sure that you don't screw up. I'm proud to do what I'm going to do for this country," he said.
Clement, 30, is the head chocolatier for the Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino, where he creates thousands of handmade confections each day.
Clement topped four other pastry chefs at a daylong competition in New York last November when he used several layers of chocolate to produce a silhouette of a woman's face, with long hair and a fancy hat.
That won him the chance to compete in the world competition. He will face chocolatiers who won national competitions in 12 European countries, China, Japan, Thailand, Russia, Canada and Mexico. A Lebanese chef also was scheduled to attend but canceled, citing instability in Lebanon, competition officials said.
Pol Deschepper of Belgium won the inaugural competition in 2005; Japan's Naomi Mizuno won in 2007.
Clement said he has spent the last year working four to six hours a day in preparing to entice the panel of 21 judges. They will judge competitors on a roughly 25-pound showpiece, as well as two identical layered cakes to serve eight people, a gastronomic chocolate dessert, two different pralines and a decorated haute couture chocolate hat.
"It has to be unbelievable, and at the same time you've got to be able to make it because otherwise it's not going to work," Clement said. "It's not only how to make and build master showpieces, it's also about flavor."
"You've got to be the best for everything you're going to make over there," he said.
The competition is serious even if its participants wield only sweets; a prize pool worth roughly euro75,000 ($109,000) is on the line including a euro20,000 package (roughly $29,000) for the winner.
A spokeswoman for Barry Callebaut, the Switzerland-based cocoa and chocolate manufacturer organizing the competition, said a winner will have mastered the flavors of chocolate and deliver their desserts in a visually appealing and inventive way.
"This requires real craftsmanship," spokeswoman Gaby Tschofen said. And the professional skill to execute with limited time.
The chocolatiers will have 11½ hours over two days to finish their desserts, including three hours to set up their large showpiece, which has to be made almost entirely of chocolate or cocoa-derived products, according to competition rules.
The pieces stay together with cocoa butter or melted chocolate as an adhesive, Tschofen said.
"If you melt it too much, well then there's the risk of the whole thing falling apart," she said. "You really need to know how you should work with chocolate in the first place."
Competitors work alone in hauling and assembling their piece, and will be judged on how clean their workspace is 45 minutes after they're done, the rules say.
"During the whole competition, it's only you and yourself — that's it," said Clement, who spent five years at the Lenotre chocolate store in Paris before joining Wynn three years ago. "You've got to show them that you can handle it."
He said he doesn't know his competition very well — except that the Chinese chocolatier Lei Fu Veng works at the Wynn Macau, a sister hotel to the Wynn Las Vegas — but he's more concerned about executing on the desserts he's designed.
"When you start to do something, you don't give up. You go through all the issues you can have and after that, you do your job," he said. "And if you're the best one, great, good for you. If you're not ... it's fair."