The Hunter Valley Gardens transformed into a chocolate lovers paradise in July, with bakers and pastry chefs from around the country showcasing their products, competing and demonstrating the tricks of the trade.
More than 15,000 people came through the gates during the two-day Hunter Valley Gardens Chocolate Festival to taste the industry’s best produce and be entertained by guest chefs, including world champion chocolatier and captain of the Australian Pastry Team Dean Gibson, award-winning baker Brett Noy, director of Savour Chocolate School Kirsten Tibballs and patissier Adriano Zumbo.
Celebrated pastry chefs Anna Polyviou, Deniz Karaca, Paul Kennedy and Yves Scherrer also joined the program for a series of demonstrations that encouraged audience participation and showcased everything from chocolate see-saws to ganache macarons.
Callebaut distributor Gary Willis said the demonstrations, which incorporated djs, giveaways and competitions for children, were not only educational, but also highly entertaining.
“Feedback from visitors confirms pastry chefs now carry an almost celebrity status as the public just loves to meet them and interact with them,” he said.
“Chocolate lovers not only love chocolate, they love the chocolate experts and the chance to be a part of the process.
“For the industry, this type of interaction builds awareness for pastry chefs, it supports them and promotes creativity in the industry.”
For those in the industry, the Callebaut-sponsored competitions – the biggest of their type in the country – was a highlight.
The Chocolate Showpiece judging team – Dean Gibson, Paul Kennedy and Pascal Janvier – awarded top gong to Epicure Group’s third year apprentice Emily Petrelli. Working under the general theme of cooking, Pascal said Emily’s cleanliness set her showpiece apart from other entries.
“Many pieces were very nice with great attention to detail, but Emily’s had a great edge on skills. There was absolutely no apparent point of sticking, where you glue two pieces of chocolate together,” he said.
“Her cooking theme was very well interpreted in the showpiece, while some of the other contestants seemed to focus on just baking and pastry.”
After being encouraged by her boss – Epicure Group head pastry chef Deniz Karaca – since her first year as an apprentice, Emily’s first attempt at the Hunter Valley incorporated an Italian-inspired take on the theme, with salt and pepper shakers, plates, pots and even an lobster expertly crafted out of chocolate.
“I probably put around 130 hours of preparation into it, with about four or five initial sketches. It evolved as I went and as I put my initial ideas into practice,” Emily said.
“Although I was very intimidated at the start of the competition, I’m happy I entered. I learnt such a variety of different skills throughout the process, from moulding to tempering. And I got the opportunity to network and make friends with other pastry chefs and apprentices, which was great.”
As part of her prize, Emily will travel to the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Belgium next year to take part in practical and theoretical courses in a range of chocolate techniques and applications, from tempering, molding, enrobing and sculpting, to decorations and flavourings.
On the entremets front, Adriano Zumbo, Anna Polyviou, Jeremie Mantelin and Pascal Janvier judged entries from 35 pastry chefs and apprentices, including first, second, third and fourth year apprentices, and certificate III and IV students.
Krista Corbett, one of Adriano Zumbo’s Melbourne patissiers, won the competition, with Pascal saying she thought outside the box.
“From the first bite, Krista’s cake was different. She worked with three ingredients that are not necessarily easy to marry, but still came up with a great flavour combination and taste. Most cakes had the same ingredients; coconut, passion fruit, mango and so on,” he said.
“The other winning element was the composition. Each layer was so straight and very precisely positioned inside the cake. Finally, the overall look of the cake was stunning, simple and elegant with a beautiful glaze and discrete details.”
Garry said the calibre of the entrants was exceptionally high, and any one of this year’s entremets could have come close to first in years gone by.
“The consistently high quality right across all entries is a first this year. At past festivals there has been quite a gap between the lower end and the winners, but this year was a very different result,” he said.
“One area future competitors needs to consider is complexity in flavour. The chocolate needs to be perfect, as if it isn’t , the result can be quite negative. As is often the case, a perfectly executed cake with minimal variety in flavour will rank higher than a cake that has multiple flavours that clash.”