Barry Johnson, the winner of the UK & Ireland WCM

Barry Johnson, Chocolate Lecturer at The National Bakery School of London South Bank University, has won the UK & Ireland preselection for WCM. The jury was impressed by his high standards, explosive flavour combinations and well-thought-out designs. The chef’s unflinching attitude completely convinced the jury to send him to the World Chocolate Masters finals in Paris.

Congratulations, Barry, for winning the competition! Did you expect to win?

I think everyone who was at Westminster College or watching the live stream on Facebook would have witnessed my surprise at winning the UK selection. It was a very intense lead up and I was so focused on doing my best on the day, I hadn’t given much thought to winning or how I would react – my response was genuine, spontaneous and heartfelt.

How do you feel now?

Now that I’ve had some time for the news to sink in I’m very excited about the year ahead. There is a lot of work to do to compete on the world stage, but I’m looking forward to building a talented team of new and existing contacts; and finding inspiration from new partnerships.

How have your colleagues and family reacted? Who was most excited about it?

My family are extremely proud, especially my niece who was the most excited. They are already planning their trip to Paris next year. My students and colleagues at the National Bakery School at London South Bank University were also excited and presented me with a bunch of balloons, cards and bubbly the day after the preselection.

Have you already started preparing yourself for the WCM in Paris?

I have started planning the next 12 months to ensure I can dedicate as much time as possible to my preparations. My mind is spinning with ideas and nerves, but I’m looking forward to getting stuck into developing and practicing the elements.   

Let’s go back to the national competition: how was the experience for you?

My experience on the day was really positive. Having competed in timed events throughout my career, the muscle memory kicked in and despite a couple of minor mishaps everything went pretty much to plan. I did run out of time at the end to finish the showpiece which was a shame.

Was the competition very strong? Did competitors support each other?

The competition was very good natured with all competitors showing focus, skill and determination. I knew most of the other entrants professionally and we all respected each other in the lead-up and during the competition. We also made sure we had a laugh along the way to relieve some of the inevitable tension!

What was for you most challenging at the competition?

The scrutiny from the judges on the day was something you can’t prepare for. I tried to remain articulate when answering their questions whilst keeping focused on my schedule.

What did you learn from it?

I learn different skills from every competition I take part in. The more competitions you do, the more you become accustomed to the attention from judges, cameras and interviewers. It’s part and parcel of the competitive process; but I know if I’m confident in my ideas and concepts, and thoroughly practiced, this won’t be a problem in the World Final.

You have been working with Cacao Barry products. Which are your favourites and why?

I enjoyed using the Haiti Chocolate. It’s an excellent product and brilliantly showcases the excellent cacao found in the region. I enjoyed pairing this with fresh and fruity flavours in my patisserie item in the preselection.

How will you approach preparations for the competition in Paris?

Creating a robust schedule with strong milestones is key. With more elements to make and potentially 2 days of competition there’s a lot more development to do. I plan to put together an eclectic team from different disciplines to help keep my inspiration and morale high.

What about the theme itself - Futropolis - will you continue with what you started at the national competition or have you got some new ideas that you want to develop for the finals?

I’ve enjoyed the theme from the get-go but I want to make my concepts stronger and more coherent throughout all my items. I’m looking forward to developing some ideas I didn’t use in the preselection as well as creating some new ones.

Which trends for the future are exciting you?

I love the fact that the consumer is now so much more interested in the provenance of the food they eat and how products are best eaten and enjoyed. This opens the communication channels between the chef and the customer which is exciting as it allows us to talk about origins, tasting notes and pairings. It’s a great time to be a chocolatier and pastry chef.

How is your vision of the future and how do you see it will apply to pastry?

Food intolerances and allergies are rising, and this seems likely to be the case for many years to come. The pastry chef’s staples of eggs, butter, sugar and wheat top many hit-lists, and whilst this can be frustrating as we all love using these familiar ingredients, it can also open interesting, and potentially lucrative opportunities. Using an alternative ingredient can sometimes make a final product even better which is fascinating. I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with alternatives and have been genuinely surprised by the outcomes.

What are you looking forward to most - regarding the competition in Paris?

I’m looking forward to representing the United Kingdom and Ireland, and lining up with some of the best chocolatiers in the world. I’m also excited about meeting lots of new people and leaving Paris with a new group of friends for life.

At the competition you will meet the winning pastry chefs from all over the world and if they are reading this, what message do you have for them?

I’m a chocolatier, pastry chef, lecturer, budding entrepreneur and husband in training! I’m passionate about learning and inspiring the next generation of chefs.

To my fellow competitors: Do yourself and your country proud and I look forward to meeting you on the journey along the way!