Ryan Stevenson – Belgian Chocolate Master 2008 & 2010
You go to New York to be on Broadway, to Hollywood to become a movie star, and for Ryan Stevenson–an Aussie from Brisbane–Belgium was the place to be to pursue his dream of being a top chocolatier. After winning the Belgium Chocolate Master competition two years in a row, he’s ready to compete in the World Chocolate Masters Finals competition in Paris this October.
Ryan did not plan on going into chocolate; he stumbled upon it at a pivotal point in his life. Ryan began his university studies in Mathematics while working part time at a bakery. It did not take him long to realize that his true calling was in the culinary arts. Soon his part time job became his new career when Ryan left mathematics and enrolled culinary in school in Brisbane.
In order to pursue his passion for fine pastries, Ryan knew he would have to leave Australia. As Ryan puts it, “Australia is the place for pies and hamburgers, not fine pastries.”
In 2000, Ryan was ready to further his pastry and confection education. His first stop was to study with the acclaimed pastry chef Robert Oppeneder in his Munich Culinary Academy Sweet Art. Ryan went there for a 3-week course and stayed for 3 months to apprentice under Chef Oppeneder.
From Munich, Ryan went to London and worked as a pastry chef at such London 5-star establishments as the Royal Horseguards Hotel and the Lanesborough Hotel.
After 4 years in London Ryan moved to Belgium in 2005 to focus on competitions. He chose Belgium because the Belgium teams were always in the top 3 and he hoped to someday be part of this select group.
In Brussels, he started as a chocolatier at Planete Chocolat but moved over to become the Patissier at the acclaimed Comme Chez Soi in 2005. Working at Comme Chez Soi was great training, but the long days left him little time to prepare for competitions. In 2006, Ryan left Comme Chez Soi to work as the head pastry chef at Le Saint Aulaye in Ixelles where he has the flexibility to focus on competing.
Ryan won the Belgian Chocolate Master titled in 2008 and again in 2010. This is quite a feat for an Australian. In fact, when he first won the Belgian Chocolate Master title in 2008, the Belgian professional chocolate community was not quite sure what to make of this gifted Aussie, but now they have taken him in as one of their own. He appreciates that he can reach out to the Belgian chocolate professional world when he has a question or problem while he is preparing for his competitions.
The national competitions are one year with the corresponding international competition the following year. October 19-21 of this year Ryan will head to Paris to represent Belgium in the World Chocolate Masters Finale, “the world’s premier culinary competition devoted solely to the art of chocolate.” The finale is a 3-day competition with competitors from 20 nations, each competitor having won the World Chocolate Masters competition in their home country. Over the 3 days, competitors will design and produce 6 different creations: a large artistic chocolate showpiece, a hand dipped praline, a chocolate pastry, a gastronomic chocolate dessert, a moulded praline, and in honor of this year’s theme “Cocoa, Quetzalcoatl’s gift,” a chocolate Aztec necklace.
Ryan enjoys competitions because it forces him to really define his taste. As Ryan puts it, “When one works at a pastry store, one is making what the owner wants. But during a competition, every creation represents your culinary and aesthetic tastes.” Ryan also notes that competitions force you to perfect your technique because every step of the creation process is scrutinized.
Another benefit of being a serious competitor in Belgium is that one gets to meet and work with all the great pastry chefs. In fact, that has been one of the most worthwhile benefits of the competitions.
Ryan is very strategic when it comes to his competition creations. Ryan likes all his chocolates to be visibly linked through a connecting motif. This allows the audience and judges to recognize Ryan’s work immediately. In terms of taste, his signature is subtle yet defined flavors such as a passion fruit ganache. Ryan’s creations, from chocolate sculptures to dipped chocolates, use bold lines that seamlessly wed edible shape with an unmistakable “oohlalah” factor. For this Belgian Chocolate Master, every piece of chocolate should be an award winning creation. And with Ryan Stevenson, they are.
What does the future hold for this chocolate master? He hopes to open his own chocolate shop in the next year. With Brussels being the chocolate capital of Europe, there is no better place for a 2-time Belgian chocolate master to settle.