After three hours of intense, precise work, Jove Hubbard sat bleary-eyed in the lobby of the Chicago Chocolate Academy.
Hubbard, executive pastry chef at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, had just completed the showpiece portion of the U.S. selection event for the World Chocolate Masters, a competition hosted by Cacao Barry, a French premium brand of chocolate and cocoa products.
Held just six times before, the competition pits the best pastry chefs and chocolatiers from 20 countries and regions against each other. All seek professional development and international acclaim.
Having spent likely hundreds of hours preparing for the event — and balancing it with his regular job responsibilities — Hubbard was understandably tired after the showpiece round, held April 28. His passion, however, had not waned.
“I love this competition,” he said. “For me, it just causes me to push myself more than normal. I feel like I’m able to grow as a chef, as a professional after doing something this.”
That’s the point, says Karl Helfrich, senior marketing manager for Cacao Barry. Drawing recommendations from a network of Cacao Barry sales personnel and customers, chefs are invited to compete for a shot at representing the United States at the World Chocolate Masters final. Very few are eligible from time and talent standpoints, Helfrich says.
“It really moves you closer to where you think you should be,” he says. “It shows their dedication to the craft, their durability and their talent. You can’t get to this echelon without having real talent.”
Though it’s a grueling process, winning the competition — and even competing — provides the chefs with new opportunities and recognition.
“Doors open for you,” Helfrich says.
The level of competition became clear immediately. I couldn’t tell if it was the academy’s chilled kitchen or watching the significance of the event unfold, but I had goosebumps.
The chefs, four in all, quickly and precisely assembled all-chocolate showpieces representing the theme “Futropolis,” which encouraged the participants to visualize how they see the future through chocolate. Their showpieces had to highlight at least four different techniques such as moulding, sculpting, painting and 3-D printing.
Hubbard created a gray, Escher-esque tower with nearly neon cocoa pods and foliage extending from it.
“The idea is more or less is that buildings and things that are man-made are kind of cold and lifeless,” Hubbard said. “The cocoa pods, the leaves and the stems are really vibrant, just with the message of we have to find ways to integrate agriculture and more biology into our everyday lives.”
For the second part of the competition — held April 29 — the chefs were tasked with creating a fresh patisserie with at least three different textures and an on-the-go chocolate snacking component. Both had to include flavors, textures and shapes that explored the Futropolis theme.
Hubbard’s patisserie featured tonka and banana flavors in addition to chocolate. His on-the-go snack featured hazelnut, yuzu, marshmallow and paper packaging he created himself.
“That one’s cool,” he says.
Hubbard wasn’t named the U.S. National Chocolate Master (Florent Cheveau, executive pastry chef at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, took that honor), but the process probably left Hubbard — not unlike his ingredients — transformed.