Barry Johnson has a special fridge at home just for chocolate.
There’s enough confectionary in there to feed a school for a week. His fiancee, Sarah, though, somehow manages to resist the temptation to raid it.
He has stack of chocolate creations stored at his home in Balham, because he has spent up to 50 hours a week for the past six months preparing for the UK and Irish national selection of the World Chocolate Masters competition. And he won it – watched by a million people on Facebook. Not surprisingly, when he tells people what he does for a living, they become a lot more friendly.
“It always gets a good reaction,” said the chocolatier. “People seem to want to become your friend. “And then they ask if I have any with me. “Sarah has not gorged on my experiments – though it does tend to be women who are the main customers. “I still have my show pieces but they will probably be broken up and used for other creations.”
Barry is a lecturer in chocolate, as part of the bakery management course at London South Bank University, Elephant & Castle – which must be one of the world’s best jobs. He now goes forward to the World Final in Paris in October next year. There, 21 countries will be represented by their most talented chocolatiers competing in a three-day final that will push them to the limits of their culinary creativity. But the chef has done the hard miles to get this far.
He was a pastry chef for Raymond Blanc at the Connaught in Mayfair and then head chocolatier at artisan company Rococo Chocolatiers, which has several outlets and a base in Martell Road, West Norwood. He has also helped master patissier Claire Clark open Wolsley in Picadilly, one of the industry’s meccas.
His mission to make the world a little bit tastier began when he travelled the world for more than two years a decade ago, visiting a coco plantation in Papua New Guinea and working in chocolate shops in Australia and New Zealand.
The competition involved creating a showpiece, a patisserie item and a snack-to-go. But he would never get bored of the dark confection. “I still find chocolate fascinating,” he said. “But I don’t tend to guzzle it. I can’t remember the last time I bought any in a shop. “I don’t think I am missing out. Unfortunately, prices have gone up and quality has gone down in recent years. “I prefer dark chocolate with a fruity tinge – but that has to have it as a natural part of the product. “I am a bit of a hoarder – hence the stash at home, which is in a converted wine fridge. “I want to thank the university and the lecturers, especially my course director Elaine Thomson, who has been very supportive on the emotional roller-coaster of this competition. “My fiancee has been a tower of strength, too. And she doesn’t have an ulterior motive,” he joked. “The hosts called her up on the stage when they announced the result, which was a great touch. “My creations had to be planned with military precision, because there were three different parts to be completed over eight hours. “It was a surprise to win. I had invested a lot of time, but no more than all the other competitors. “I was also shocked at the numbers of people who watched on Facebook.”
The jury praised him for his high standards, outstanding sense of balanced flavours and his imaginative interpretation of the ‘futropolis’ theme of the showpiece. This year’s theme challenged contestants to think about the future of chocolate delights – specifically how the cities of the future will influence the way we live, eat and enjoy the exquisite delights of chocolate.
The judging panel were looking for new chocolate taste combinations, forward-thinking textures and a design language that will define tomorrow’s commercial patisserie and chocolaterie presentation. Barry’s unflinching passion convinced the jury to send him to the World Chocolate Masters finals, where he will represent the UK and Ireland. Thomson said: “We’re so thrilled with Barry for representing LSBU and making us proud by winning the World Chocolate Masters in style. “He gave such an assured and confident performance under pressure and it’s great to see that the judges have recognised his creativity as a master chocolatier.” Jury president Gary Hunter said: “Barry maintained a consistently high standard throughout the competition, showing great analysis of the ‘futropolis’ concept he captured the imagination of all of the judges.” Robert Harrison, Cacao Barry Sales Director for Northern Europe said: “It was a fantastic competition with incredibly high standards and immense personal challenges. Barry emerged a worthy winner and we look forward to his presence at the final.”