This is how masters Enric Rovira, one of the best chocolatiers in the world, and Lluc Crusellas, winner of the World Chocolate Masters competition, make the sweets
Last October, in Paris, a young Catalan chocolatier, Lluc Crusellas, prevailed over very high-level opponents and lifted the cup that accredits him as the World’s Best Master Chocolatier. The most spectacular test, and certainly the most difficult of the six they had to overcome, was that of the chocolate figure.
He presented an elephant weighing 170 kilos. It had to be mounted there, competition rule. Bringing the five pieces that made it up to Paris was quite a challenge in which technical knowledge also plays a role so that it does not break or explode during the journey. And everything arrived in condition to be able to reproduce the figure.
Lluc and his team had to work for years in the workshop in Vic to get what they wanted. A real sculpture. And a cute one! It’s what we have in Catalonia, the birthplace of worldwide artistic chocolate, that when we have a chocolate figure we call it “cute”.
I confess that when I saw the elephant in the media, regarding the Paris contest, what crossed my mind was that it would not be easy to fit it in the Chocolate Museum in Barcelona, the mausoleum of some historical monkeys that sleep waiting that scoundrels from everywhere visit them, while they fight against their status as organic matter.
Let’s talk about techniques
Luckily, when we went to Lluc’s workshop, they still had one of the nine test elephant heads, with its huge trunk and tusk, with which he was able to explain to us how they had reproduced the animal so accurately.
First, it was necessary to make the molds of different parts of the body, with the help of a 3D printer. The skin texture was achieved by coating the body in chocolate mud. Then, as in a sculpture, they sculpted it. With a knife, by hand, the lines that make the skin of the pachyderm so characteristic were drawn.
The final color plays an important role. It is achieved with paints of different shades of gray based on active carbon. And the most curious of all: it was edible. The trunk alone weighed 40 kilos. All chocolate, from the coverage of a major Swiss house. 60% cocoa, a small amount of soy lecithin, sugar, and cocoa butter.
In the pastry shop
Lluc Crusellas and the company where he works have not wanted to miss the opportunity to take advantage of the fame he has achieved. This year they hope to sell around 3,500 dolls, of which 400 will be small replicas of the elephant. Also, these little elephants have to be welded by hand the different pieces.
The commercial version of this doll, of course, is much simpler, but it also has to be painted with a spray gun in a booth with extractor fans, because the paint is very volatile.
The Virtues of the Craftsman
Lluc Crusellas defines himself as a pastry chef-chocolatier. He trained at renowned schools in Barcelona, such as Hofmann and Espai Sucre, and later at the Chocolat Academy in Gurb. There is no lack of knowledge!
So what should a good chocolatier have? Lluc has the speech learned, after so many interviews:
“There is an artistic side, of sensitivity, but the knowledge of the technique is very important.”
We have seen him working in the Vic workshop. We take sensitivity for granted, but the ability to organize and mental control attract attention. These virtues must also have influenced him to rise, at the age of 27, with such an important award, because the pressure of the live show is no small thing. From the hand of success, he says:
“Catalan pastries must be shown to the world as the kitchen has done”.
Among his references, are the indisputable Ramón Morató, a teacher at the Chocolat Academy, and Enric Rovira. The level of professionals in the country is extraordinary, and it was not just two days ago.
Enric Rovira, the “design” with chocolate
“The first tool to make an artistic chocolate figure is the pencil.”
That’s how clear – and today is no exception – Enric Rovira has it. We visit him at the workshop in Castellbell and Vilar where he works to serve orders all over the world. Like a Christmas tree that is showing off in the lobby of a hotel in Tokyo. Before he gives it a go he will also have to do a lot of testing.
If you go to museums and then pass by the store in the exhibition center, you will surely have seen Enric Rovira’s chocolates. Its packaging is distinctive and elegant, like the chocolates it wraps.
That the tiles of Enric Rovira, who does not have a physical store, are in museums makes a lot of sense. Again, with the conviction of someone who walks with very clear steps, he recommends to future professionals that if they want to make artistic pieces, they must visit museums to load the box of ideas with references. But he doesn’t consider himself an artist. It feels closer to the professional profile of a craftsman, or a designer.
Enric Rovira is the author, among many other chocolate creations of the tile, of the characteristic panots of the Barcelona sidewalks. A delicate tribute to his city that he started making in 1995. He has it registered and yet it is one of his most copied designs. He explains it to me with resignation, tired of being so enraged.
The control of the technique
Working alongside his father, a pastry chef in Barcelona, marked him, but he presents himself as a chocolatier. This branch of confectionery, which combines creativity and technical know-how, has made a name for itself around the world.
It is not for nothing that Enric Rovira was one of the professionals called by the Alicia Foundation to explain the physical-chemical behavior of cocoa at Harvard University, between 2010 and 2014, based on his creative universe.
The winemaker chocolatier
Valuing the quality of the cocoa of origin is the ABC of a good chocolatier. Enric Rovira adds the role of the specialist who, like the winemaker does with wines, is able to make the best “blends”, the best blends, from different origins.
With more acidic profiles, as Enric likes them, or more bitter, which persist and may evoke. It’s about finding a personal bouquet.
Chocolate is a universe with many nuances, and not everyone can boast of mastering alchemy to have their own style.
Read also: She’s been growing tomatoes from the same seed for 58 years: “They’re the most delicious”
A story that comes from afar
In Castellbell we found Enric drawing patterns as if he were a tailor. From these drawings he built the figures, cutting chocolate plates of different varieties.
Then he gives them volume and thus builds the dolls that bear his stamp:
“You can make a Micky Mouse from a mold, or you can create your own Micky, your own version of the drawing.”
Some on top will be painted with a gun. And, if the figure cools before painting, the dress that remains will be velvet. The technique is from 1963 and has the signature of Joan Giner, who at the time worked at Pastisseria Mora in Barcelona.
The pride of a unique and little-known legacy
As he does with the velveting technique, Enric paints with a gun using patterns and egg molds. And, if necessary, he will draw chocolate on the figure, with the help of the cornet. Everything will have its own style, as every good creator has. His balance-challenging egg sculptures are world-renowned and imitated.
Style is personal. But the method is learned. And he, so copied, is the first to claim the role of his predecessors. Names that invented all these methods that are still used in every workshop in the world. Remember Lluís Santapau, Joan Giner, Jaume Sàbat and Antoni Escribà. Then add the names of Rafael Tugues and Lluís Muixí. And Balcells, and Comas, and Pallarès… The history of figuration in chocolate in Catalonia is already more than a century old.
Enric Rovira is documenting this story, as exciting as it is little known, for a book. And, even less, recognized. It all started with the shapes that were made from crocant in Catalonia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Following this tradition, it was seen that chocolate made it very easy to work with shapes.
And from here the techniques evolved. The whereabouts of Catalan pastry shops were already featured in NO-DO, the Francoist film newsreel. Enric shows us photographic evidence. We forgot about it.
It is not the first time that speaking of this unjust loss of memory, I think of France or Italy, countries that would not let pass the authorship of such a legacy to claim it with pride. And at the top proclaiming it to all the winds, so that there was no doubt about it, to assert himself and continue doing school.
It’s never officially been said, but it has a name. It is the Catalan School of Barcelona. Many were officiated in their localities of origin, but their place of learning was in workshops such as Prats and Fatjó, El Forn del Cigne, or Mora, in Barcelona.
I am aware that the Chocolate Museum, which depends on the Barcelona Confectionery Guild, wants to honor this historic legacy with rooms in excellent condition, such as the one that should have been explained. It would be justice.