It wasn't until in 2008 when I came across a very inspiring and admirable fellow in the pastry industry who carried a bag of new tricks.
Kevin Curry, an American pastry chef whose name conjured up awe and anticipation in the baking scene in central Beijing during my post there, was solicited for his exquisite patisserie talent while I was putting together an act in our newly opened hotel, the Westin Beijing Chaoyang.
This mammoth of a hotel was to house different high profile individuals from all over the world. And being the second Westin brand to be opened in the same city, the bar can only be set either at par or higher than current standards.
While working with Kevin, I had seen how ordinary equipment and materials could turn simple things into awe-inspiring creations. For example, he used a powerful air compressor to allow colored cocoa butter to be sprayed onto a chocolate mould. The result was a multi-toned chocolate shell! He also used brushes and gold leaf to create a stunning "clothing" for the various signature truffles developed. My personal favorite were the Swiss alps-shaped chocolate shells (pictured above, first row from the top). Up to this day, I thought nothing can beat its sexy and refined appearance.
As beauty couldn't just be superficial, Kevin had also introduced unique recipes to my team. He had chocolate truffles that contained pop rocks (those little candies that pop in your mouth), olive oil and beer. I thought he was a true genius!
The meaning of artisan chocolates took to the skies. Later on, I was propelled to study chocolaterie at the French Culinary Institute in New York to learn a bag of new tricks.
With so many resources on hand, I devised several ways of rightfully presenting the bevy of novel recipes, including the artisan chocolates Kevin helped my team produce.
I was particularly good at creating chocolate centerpieces and "paintings", such as the one pictured above.
Year on year, new chocolate-making implements and ingredients spring up giving chefs many reasons to push their boundaries. If I had to attend another chocolate class this year, I am very certain I will stumble on several unheard of terms and methods.
Nevertheless, the skills required are the same - being able to properly temper couverture chocolate from white, milk to dark. And, as well, knowing how to finish the shells to showcase the inner Picasso, Van Gogh or Monet in you. Better yet, blaze your own trail!