Some of Australia’s most talented pastry chefs put together an incredible chocolate display at the recently held Hunter Valley Chocolate Festival in New South Wales.
The hardest part about being a pastry chef isn’t the long hours, nor the many social events that we miss out on, such as Christmas, weddings and parties. It’s not the whole, ‘You work too much, we need to reassess our relationship’ conversation with your ex-partner. The worst part about being a pastry chef is the kilograms that show up unexpectedly during summer when the swimmers come out. It’s when the clothes start getting just a little tighter and you begin creating new forms of muffin tops other than the sweet ones you serve with coffee.
Adding to the physical punishment every year is the Hunter Valley Chocolate Festival at the Hunter Valley Gardens, held on the first weekend in August. Tasting 30 gateauxs, drinking wines, eating cheeses and the chocolate degustation of about eight courses can take their toll on your body. Sponsored by Callebaut/Cacao Barry and run by the mastermind Gary Willis from FMayer imports, the event is always a huge success.
In 2007 I entered the Hunter Valley Gardens chocolate dessert competition and won best dessert, earning a trip to the Chicago Callebeut chocolate school. Since then I’ve been asked to be a guest judge at the competition, first for chocolate desserts and this year for gateauxs. It takes a lot of skill and sacrifice to be a judge.
It’s about being nauseous, dealing with hot sweats and headaches, buttons pop out and the buckets are brought over.
But on a more serious note, it’s great fun and educational seeing new talent, networking and mentoring the young and up-and-coming talents. While we do feel a little sick from the sugar intake, I love the way pastry chefs get excited and the creative ideas that pour out is incredible. I’m still trying to get my hands on some of the recipes and really was impressed with the work that came up.
There was so much on at the Hunter Valley, with demonstrations by Brett Noy, Adriano Zumbo, Fast Ed, Barry Jones, Kirsten Tibbles, Dean Gibson and the Australian pastry team. Such a great bunch of talent. There were chocolate stores, tastings, competitions, wines and cheeses and even face painting. But best of all, it was about being in the company of talented pastry chefs.
This year I was asked to do an eight-course chocolate dessert degustation with Cacao Barry products alongside Hunter Valley Gardens executive chef, Nick Vivan. I started with an apple tarte tartin as well as a caramelised velvet créma with lime sherbet. For an entrée I made quail with labna, cauliflower puree Blanc Satin and orange vinaigrette. Next was a caramelised white chocolate crème, apple jelly, sweet and sour apples, vanilla crumble, a baby apple tart tartin, a teaspoon quenelle of ripple vanilla ice cream and apple sorbet with baby micro herbs. The palette cleanser got everyone talking or, should I say, texting. In a test tube I made lime sherbet that fizzed in the mouth. It was a lot of work but people were raving on about it and I believe it was everyone’s favourite dish.
The main course saw a cheese course with hazelnut dacquise, feullettine crunch, milk chocolate and hazelnut chantilly. In brick pastry I piped in white mould cheese, placing it on a fig and walnut soil with caramel pear.
Pre-dessert was a banana jam and candied popcorn ice-cream bar. It was presented on platters. The main dessert was my signature dish, a milk chocolate crème, a passionfruit curd insert, a basil foam, passionfruit sorbet and in a pepper mill that I placed cocoa nibs. The waiter walked around and cracked cocoa nibs on top of dishes. For the petit fours I made salted caramel chocolate bars, nougat and also peanut butter and jelly dipped chocolates.
What a crazy evening – a huge success at the front of house but a stressful one at the back! Being a pastry chef isn’t so bad, especially when you do get to do such exciting events as the Hunter Valley Chocolate Festival, even though a few kilos do add on. So it’s about indulging in moderation, creating, getting excited and showcasing skills with a touch of show-off in it. Sometimes being a pastry chef isn’t a job, but rather a hobby.