The weird and wacky world of chocolate sculptures

Sugar sculpture at 2007 James Beard Awards

I’ve made a few chocolate sculptures. They make me uncomfortable. The entire time that I’m making them, I feel like a fraud. Like someone will come up behind me and whisper, “You don’t know what the hell you’re doing, do you?” And the answer, usually, is no.

Sugar sculpture at 2007 James Beard Awards
What grows from a sugar tree? Candy apples, of course.
James Beard Awards chocolate sculpture and desserts
Those are Valrhona Manjari chocolate domes with raspberry gelee inside and gold leaf on top. And a snarling jungle cat, made of chocolate, to guard the table.

There are some pictures in this post about my time working as a chocolatier. And, in a bit of serendipity, when I googled for an image of “chocolate sculpture,” the first one took me to Rose Levy Berenbaum’s blog post about the 2007 James Beard Awards in New York City. I was at that awards show. I worked with the chefs of Le Cordon Bleu to prepare 1400 plated desserts. And I assisted as they created a candy apple sugar sculpture and the snarling jungle cat chocolate sculpture that is shown on Rose’s blog. It took three of us three days and 36 hours, but we did it.

So I have the utmost respect for people who make gorgeous chocolate sculptures. It’s a delicate balance of artistry and engineering. I think the artistry is pretty self-explanatory, but the engineering might be undervalued by most. Chocolate is heavy, and stacking chocolate on top of chocolate makes for a very heavy (and heavy-looking, as in clumsy) sculpture. At the same time, delicate pieces don’t provide much structural support, so you have to create something that’s still sturdy. Tricky.

Chocolate sculpture at EAT! Vancouver
Chocolate sculpture from Suzannah Yeung of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.

I was fortunate to be a judge at the EAT! Vancouver chocolate competition a while back, and the winning sculpture just blew me away. Created by Suzannah Yeung of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, it was hands-down my favourite of the competition. The entire piece is made of chocolate, without any extra supports. You know that someone has done a good job when you’re so entertained by it you don’t even notice the construction. I loved the level of detail, the execution and the cleanliness of the piece. The playfulness—the lizard’s face and tongue—just made it that much better.

Chocolate sculpture at EAT! Vancouver - lizard closeup
Closeup of Mr. Lizard. Look at the detail on his face and hands.
Chocolate sculpture at EAT! Vancouver - flower closeup
These are chocolate flowers. Usually you need pastillage to get this level of detail.
Chocolate sculpture at EAT! Vancouver - back closeup
The back of the sculpture is as clean as the front.

From a technical standpoint, the sculpture was impressive. It was impeccably clean. Despite my eagle eyes looking for any signs of drippy chocolate, I didn’t find any. What I did find was shiny, tempered chocolate, smart use of colour, and a range of impressive techniques. That giant block of would-be granite that’s on the bottom of the piece? That’s not granite. That’s chocolate, all dolled up to look like rocks. The incredibly delicate flowers, so thin that I would have sworn they were made of pastillage? Nope. All chocolate. The air-brushed portrait, right down to the lines on the dragonfly—seriously impressive.

And, finally, I always look at the back of the sculpture. I was told when making a sculpture that it needs to be beautiful from all angles. That means that the back of it needs to be as clean, well-composed and aesthetically pleasing as the front of it.

This is the kind of work that comes from hours and hours of practice, years of experience and a natural knack for the stuff. I’m glad someone knows what they’re doing. I’m happy just to gawk.

Published by: Eagranie

7 years as a chemist + 9 months of culinary school + 2 years as a pastry chef & chocolatier + a lifetime of writing = this blog. This blog won't always be about chocolate, but it will almost certainly be about food. The name of the blog is a triple play on words. 1. It's a nod to my training as a classical pianist. Among other fantastic accomplishments, J.S. Bach combined technical prowess with artistic inspiration and penned the 24 preludes & fugues that make up The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II. 2. In order to behave properly, chocolate needs to be tempered. In a nutshell, tempering prompts the chocolate to assume its most stable crystalline form (beta prime, if you're interested) so that it is shiny, snappy, and as stable as it can be. 3. Depending on my mood and how we meet, you might agree that I'm well-tempered. Or not.

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One thought on “The weird and wacky world of chocolate sculptures”

  1. Absolutely amazing! Makes me feel quite sheepish about the cut and paste projects I am doing at ECUAD.
    Too pretty to eat, was never a truer statement.
    ~Hill

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