Chocolate Takes Center Stage at the Valrhona C3 Competition

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C3 contestants

On Monday, October 28, 2019, six hopeful competitors took the stage at the 14th Annual StarChefs International Chefs Congress in Brooklyn to participate in the Valrhona C3 North American Final. The competition spanned five hours, in which the chefs had to complete ten petits fours and ten plated desserts by their scheduled time slot, no premade ingredients allowed. This year’s theme was centered around the Bahibé 46% Milk Chocolate, a Valrhona couverture chocolate from the Dominican Republic.  Each entry not only had to incorporate this particular chocolate but was also judged on how it was featured.

The six candidates who were selected to compete were Desarea Bittle of The Greenbriar in West Virginia, Kevin Clemenceau of And Sons in Los Angeles, Takunori Hirayama of Duo Patisserie in Ontario, Eunji Lee of Jungsik in New York, Jim Hutchinson of Winvian Farm in Connecticut, and Weilu Wang of Eleven Madison Park in New York.

Valrhona’s tasting notes on Bahibé describe it having “nutty hues, fruity acidity and a slightly bitter edge,” and many of the dishes presented highlighted those flavor profiles, especially the use of citrus and tropical fruits. Chef Bittle’s plated dessert featured a pop of finger lime in her foam as well as poached pineapple. Chef Wang’s petits fours inspired by The Little Prince also featured pineapple, while Chef Hirayama chose passion fruit. Most importantly though, highlighting the chocolate itself was essential to each dish. Emcee Keegan Gerhard quoted Chef Hirayama during the competition, noting “if we could not get chocolate, I would lose my job, people would be sad, and no one could make people smile with chocolate anymore.” The audience and judging panel laughed and nodded in agreement.  Why else would everyone be there, if not for the chocolate?

The distinguished tasting jury included French superstar Pierre Hermé, James Beard Award Winners Kelly Fields, Ghaya Oliveira and Belinda Leong, Montreal based Chef Patrice Demers and 2017 C3 North American winner Mina Pizzarro. Executive Pastry Chefs Lincoln Carson and Kamel Guechida served as the working judges, who presided over the contestants from start to finish, watching their timing, organization and cleanliness. Chef Fields, who had previously judged the competition in 2017, noted that the selection this year was “pretty well balanced and thoughtful.” And Chef Carson added that in the end, points for organization could make or break who wins the competition.

Though the competition was tight this year, winners were eventually chosen. The press jury prize of $1,000 was awarded to Chef Hutchinson, whose plated dessert was inspired by Bali, using banana flour as one of the ingredients and was entirely gluten-free. Runner-up for the tasting jury and winner of $2,000 was Chef Lee, who created a custom mold shaped like a chestnut to enhance the trompe l’oeil effect of her petits fours. Chef Kevin Clemenceau walked away with the grand prize of $5,000. His surprising use of tonka beans in a stunning vertical tower plated dessert, well-organized station, and overall execution using the Bahibé ultimately sent him over the top. He will move on to represent North America in the International C3 Competition Final against seven other regional winners in March 2020 in Singapore.