A Tribute to Jean-Pierre Wybauw, ‘Mr. Chocolate’

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Jean-Pierre Wybauw, the Belgian chocolatier and teacher known worldwide as ‘Mr. Chocolate’, died on June 19, 2018 from ALS disease. Chef Wybauw dedicated his career to chocolate, traveling the world teaching others the techniques he had developed over years of experimentation and, as he called it, a disciplined program of “self-education.”

Chef Wybauw started his chocolate journey at 17, when he enrolled in a four-year program at a culinary school in Brussels. He studied bakery, pastry, sugar and chocolate, but it was the last two subjects that captivated his attention and won his heart. Upon graduation, he worked at some of the finest pastry and chocolate shops in Belgium, including L. Willems and Del Rey in Antwerp. It was at L. Willems that he met his wife, Nelly, and the couple opened a chocolate shop in Antwerp specializing in bonbons. It was during this time that Chef Wybauw developed a technique that would revolutionize decoration for the chocolate industry. He was decorating a huge chocolate egg for Easter, and wanted to minimize the risk of marring a piece that had taken so much time and labor to produce. So instead of painting cocoa butter directly onto the egg, he created a drawing of the decoration, placed a piece of cellophane on top of it, and painted the design on the cellophane. He then inverted the design onto the top of the egg and allowed the cocoa butter to harden. Once it was set, he peeled off the cellophane to reveal a perfectly executed decoration. Wybauw had developed the first cocoa butter transfer sheet.

The Wybauw’s chocolate shop was a great success, but fate had another calling in mind for the great chocolatier: teacher. A culinary school in Anderlecht offered him a position teaching chocolate and sugar work, and he accepted. He stayed at the school for seven years, after which he joined Barry Callebaut, now the world’s leading producer of chocolate. Wybauw’s position was technical advisor and instructor to professionals, and he would stay with the company for 37 years.

It was in 2004 that Chef Wybauw published his first book, Fine Chocolates: Great Experience, Vol. 1. The book was an overwhelming success, garnering both peer acclaim and awards, and Wybauw went on the write several more highly successful books, including Fine Chocolates: Great Experience, Vol. 2; Chocolate Decorations; Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate; and Fine Chocolates: Gold.

Below are some reflections and memories of the great Jean-Pierre Wybauw from teaching colleagues and friends:

“Throughout our careers, Sebastien and I have had the chance to meet some of the greatest chefs in the world. Only a few of these chefs leave a strong, lasting impression. Chef Jean-Pierre Wybauw belongs in this category. Sebastien and I rarely use this term, but we place him in the category of legends in our field.  

The French Pastry School has worked with Jean-Pierre for more than 25 years. Jean-Pierre was a walking bible and an open book at the same time. Whenever we had a question related to sugar or chocolate confectioneries, Jean-Pierre was the person we called and he responded to a simple question with a detailed 20-minute answer. He inspired generations of chefs through his generosity and with his knowledge, which he imparted personally as well as through classes and books. Great confectionery books are very rare. Jean- Pierre not only filled this gap, but he also redefined the way a confectioner manufactures candies.  

Jean-Pierre was extremely humble and he never claimed to be the best, even though he was the best. In this day and age, chefs around the world should learn from the tremendous work he left behind. Jean-Pierre left us too soon, but his legacy lives on forever, and we thank him for that.” –Jacquy Pfeiffer, Co-founder of The French Pastry School, Chicago, IL

“Even more than his artistry and mastery of the chocolate medium, I see Jean-Pierre Wybauw’s impact on the craft of confections as largely a scientific one — inspiring chocolatiers to better understand the composition and underlying complexities of our ingredients. As a craftsman and educator in pursuit of refinement, his influence will continue on for generations to come.” – Michael Laiskonis, The Chocolate Lab, Institute of Culinary Education, New York, NY

“Reflecting on Jean-Pierre, I could write about the loss of a master chocolatier or a skilled teacher or discuss my admiration of his unrelenting work ethic, but that would be too easy, low-hanging fruit. I find it more rewarding to write about how he made me feel when he entered the room or how he smiled at me after getting off a long flight from Europe. The first time I met JP was at the CIA in the late 90’s. He would come to Hyde Park periodically to guest-chef and spend several days at a time in the confections class with Chef Peter Greweling and his students. Students were drawn in by his mannerisms. He was a gentle, kind and precise teacher. I’ll never forget the late nights at my farmhouse by the wood-fired bread oven, sharing a bottle wine as he proudly told me about his family back in Belgium. I had the opportunity to write the forward for his first book, which is one of my proudest moments. I will miss his soft eyes and open heart. Rest in peace JP, you have left a void in the universe.”Tom Gumpel, culinary entrepreneur

“Jean-Pierre Wybauw was the pioneer for the growth of the artisanal chocolate industry in the USA. So many of my students have either attended one of his demonstrations or purchased one of his books. It is a huge loss to the industry, but his creativity and recipes will live on and impact the culinary world for decades to come.” — Jerome Landrieu, Cacao Barry Chef and Head of the Chicago CHOCOLATE ACADEMY™ Center/Americas

“Jean-Pierre was one of the first great chocolate chefs in the world, and one who was always willing to share his knowledge with everybody. He was universally loved, and always had a kind word for everyone. 50 years of experience is a lot – that’s why he was one of the most in-demand chocolate chefs for training. He was constantly traveling around the globe to teach, consult or demonstrate the craft of chocolate. He was also the author of many chocolate books, with information suitable for beginners as well as professionals. I guess that’s why every chocolate chef in the world probably has at least one of his books on the shelf. After retiring from Callebaut, Jean-Pierre continued his career, consulting on chocolate all around the globe and continuing to write more books. This man was and still is chocolate — chocolate was in his veins.” –Jurgen Koens, http://jurgenkoens.nl, http://pastryclub.nl

Pastry Arts Magazine would like to thank writer Lindsay Koriath and the French Pastry School for publishing the article “Mr. Chocolate” Reflects on his Career in 2010. Much of the information published above is based on Lindsay’s excellent interview: http://www.frenchpastryschool.com/blog/jean-pierre-wybauw-%E2%80%94-fine-chocolatier-great-teacher