There I was, in November, sitting at my desk at my office job, bored, surfing the net and lo and behold there it was, EXACTLY what I have been looking for...an Artistic Showpiece Course in chocolate in Chicago. I have wanted to learn how to make a showpiece out of chocolate for years, now was my chance. A few financial calculations, some surfing for hotels, clear off the credit card, book the flight on Porter Airlines and I was going to Chicago in February!
Speed ahead 3 months and I'm sitting in the lounge in the Island Airport, shitting bricks wondering what the hell I was doing going to a prestigious chocolate academy in Chicago. A course taught by the head technical advisor of Barry Callebaut (world chocolate supplier)...my stomach turning, and not from the turbulence of the flight to Chicago.
We checked into our hotel around dinner time Sunday night and headed out to find some grub. Chicago is a wonderful city as far as cities go and the choice of restaurants is amazing!
Monday morning came way too fast. Paul walked me to school and there it was...The Academy on the 8th floor, my name on the wall welcoming me and 6 other students to the Artistic Showpiece class with Chef Jerome. After putting on my chef uniform I sat in the kitchen tightly holding my morning coffee, scarfing down a croissant and hearing how the others were shitting bricks too!
The first day was all about introductions, the equipment in the lab we would be using and engineering a showpiece so it wouldn't fall over and keeping your work station and your nice, new white apron gleaming white for the next four days...
5 minutes into pouring chocolate into a mold, my apron came undone and the ends, well they were in the mold that I had just filled with dark chocolate...so much for my gleaming white apron...
The first day was spent making support structures, talking about techniques and building the body of a crane that would tower up to 4 feet high when completed.
Day 2 was spent finishing the structure of the crane's body, making the base for the showpiece and adding the wings and feathers - all chocolate!
Day 3, we built the base up to place a large chocolate sphere in the middle where the crane was going to stand. A hole had to be melted into the top of the sphere, a cylinder of chocolate 'glued' into the sphere then the bird body balanced on top. One of the students, while sweating profusely and said "Day 3 - spinchter factor was at an all time high". Chef Jerome helped me 'glue' my crane onto the sphere but said it need some support as a lot of the weight was on one front support - I quickly went to work.
Day 4 - the crane was still standing the next morning. I went to work, we had 2 hours to finish the crane's feathers, head and beak! I was putting on the top combing of the crane, up on a ladder, ready to put on my piece of chocolate, cold spray it into place and then there was no artistic showpiece left - it had crumbled to the floor beneath me. Note to self: read some engineering/gravity books... yes, it was in pieces on the floor - 30 hours of work back in the melter...
All was not lost, one of the students was ill so I was able to use his partially finished piece. I still had only 1 hour to finish the head, beak and feathers, I missed coffee break that morning. The rest of that day was spent making flowers, making beautiful long tendrils of chocolate that snaked around the piece. Then we went to work spraying the bird with chocolate, added the beautiful flower.
Chef Jerome finished his bird by spraying the flower with coloured cocoa butter and highlighting parts of the crane with some beautiful oranges and dark blue cocoa butter. We had a plane to catch and were already into the champagne so I didn't have time to finish with the colouring...but I did get my certificate and the t-shirt.
Chef Jerome's finished piece!
Me and Chef Jerome! YEAH! (Yes I have chef hat head...after 40 hours...)
I had a few embarrassing moments like a piping bag full of chocolate exploding on my nice white apron and the cup off the air brush, that was filled with cocoa butter and dark chocolate, spill down into the sleeve of my chef jacket - but all in all I learned an amazing amount and had an amazing time. I can hardly wait to go back to The Chocolate Academy and do it all over again!