INTERVIEW by KATHERINE SACKS | PHOTOGRAPHY by PETER STAES
Frank Haasnoot may have had early childhood dreams of becoming an architect, but today he uses his creative eye and building genius to create award-winning sculptures in chocolate. As Executive Pastry Chef of Dobla, a Netherlands-based high-end chocolate decoration manufacturer, Haasnoot designs and creates new garnishes for bakers, product developers, other chefs, and the like. And his skills—gleaned from years working in European and U.S. restaurants, hotels, and patisseries—have finally received their due recognition. In October, Haasnoot was crowned victor at the intense World Chocolate Masters in Paris, where he unveiled his sculpture, “Warrior.” Haasnoot took a moment away from his chocolate bowl to discuss his rigid competition preparations, what he’d like to do when he gets a moment to breathe, and the best chocolate money can buy.
Being a chocolatier is very specialized. What got you interested in working with chocolate?
I always knew I wanted to do something creative. I wanted to be a carpenter or design furniture, because I’m pretty good at drawing. Originally I thought of being an architect, but then I realized it would be more mathematics. My family has a history in bakeries in Holland, and I started working in my uncle’s kitchen. Right away I got hooked to this job – being around ambitious people that were passionate about food.
From an early age I knew I wanted to be great. I was always reading pastry magazines — seeing famous chefs making very artistic showpieces and pastries — and I had the drive to be part of that. So I started working pastry positions in restaurants, hotels, and catering jobs, trying to learn all the aspects and widen my knowledge of pastry.
You just won the 2011 World Chocolate Masters in October. What was the experience like?
Competing at the World Chocolate Masters is very thrilling. I’ve been training for over a year, and in that year you try to put all your creativity, experience, and energy in the products that you have to make. And then it comes down to a few days in Paris, and you see that all that intensive training has been worth it. The moment I heard that I was number one… it was just an explosion of emotions!
It took you a year to perfect your showpiece, and you made almost twenty different versions before you got it right. Would you call yourself a perfectionist?
Yeah, I think so. You have to improve every time you work on something. The showpiece that made me world champion weighed around forty pounds. In total I made around twenty versions, so that’s a lot of chocolate. You start with a design, it’s more in your head, and then you start thinking about techniques, start drawing, and show the drawings to other chefs. Once you’ve made the molds, you have to make it in real chocolate. It takes more than a week, two weeks to make a showpiece. Then you have to think about how you’re going to improve it, because the first one is good but not good enough to win a competition. I made twenty but half broke, because the balance was off, or it was too thin. You have to devote quite some time to get it right.
The winning showpiece and dessert “Warrior” for the World Chocolate Masters 2011
How do you plan on using the €75,000 winnings from the World Chocolate Masters?
The total prize package was €75,000 of money and machinery, but it has to be shared with the top three competitors, so in the end there is not a lot left. And what’s left over I will spend on a good holiday next year. But it’s not about the money, it’s about recognition!
After spending a year training, and winning, will you compete again?
Not for the first year or two I think. I want to focus on other things. I have a private life and I think it’s important to have balance. I need to get some energy again, to go on vacation and take it easy for a while.
I love snowboarding, so I will probably be off for a few weeks of snowboarding. And I’m hoping to go visit the [new Dobla] factory in Asia and take a vacation there as well.
Surprisingly, many pastry chefs don’t actually like sweets. Do you like to eat chocolate?
I like to eat chocolate, but only when it’s from a good patisserie or chocolatier; when I go out to a restaurant I normally don’t eat dessert. Most of the time it’s a waste of money, and I don’t like to eat something I don’t like. But I’d rather eat dessert than savory, because I’m interested in the plating and presentation. I love to eat chocolate and macaron, but only when it’s a good shop. I love the way the chocolates of Norman Love look. And I loved the texture and the flavor of the chocolates of Jean-Marie Auboine. But the best chocolate shop is, of course, our own Dobla store that’s based in Holland, Alkmaar.
What can Daily BR!NK readers do to contribute to your success?
Keep on checking the updates on my Facebook, follow me, and like me.