Australian conquers world of Belgian chocolate

Thu Nov 22, 2012 11:07am EST
 
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By Madeline O'Leary

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - It's fair to say that pastry chef Ryan Stevenson was not received warmly by Belgium's chocolate community after he won the national chocolate contest and in quick succession the praline award at the prestigious World Chocolate Masters.

Stevenson crafted his pralines - chocolate shells with soft centers - by lacing the chocolate with exotic fruit flavors. He won a Renault Kangoo award with "Belgian Chocolate Master" written on the side and was featured on Belgian television.

But he soon heard that a lot of chocolatiers thought his victory had been beginner's luck. And there was another problem.

"Firstly, I'm not a chocolatier," said Stevenson, a tall skinny red-head, with a self-effacing smile, before adding: "I'm also Australian."

He set out to prove his doubters wrong.

An Aussie representing Belgium in chocolate was an assault to Belgian national pride, which is based largely on prowess in making chocolate, brewing beer and delivering fattening foods such as fries and waffles.

The Belgian love of chocolate goes back to the 19th century, when they shipped cocoa from Congo, their new African colony. Brussels cemented its position as world chocolate capital in 1912, when Jean Neuhaus created the first praline there.

Stevenson, 36, came from a different world: Brisbane, on Australia's east coast, and the math's faculty of a university, where he studied in the hope of becoming an actuary, a specialized statistician who figures out insurance premiums.   Continued...