How Erik Van der Veken challenged the Irish palates at Catex


Erik Van der Veken obviously enjoys his creative talent, pushing himself to try out unusual flavour combinations which may be quite challenging for some people. He was stimulating the Irish palates at Catex, Ireland’s largest foodservice and hospitality show, presenting his new collection of bonbons.


This year you were with Redmond Fine Foods taking part at Catex and presented some lovely creations.

Yes, we wanted to give a boost to our “pastry” segment of products, meaning the focus was on Cacao Barry, Sosa ingredients and Capfruit fruit purees.

What I did for the event was create a line of chocolates that included a variety of Cacao Barry origins, Capfruit purees, SOSA ingredients but also other products we sell at Redmond Fine Foods, for example I created a white chocolate bonbon that was served with caviar and a chocolate with Yuzu Kosho to promote our Japanese range of products etc.

The idea was to create some quirky flavors to show chefs what is possible in terms of flavour combinations.

What were the flavour combinations in the chocolates?

Zephyr bonbon with a cognac ganache, served with fresh Caviar.
Mojito bonbons (made with Cacao Barry Madirofolo couverture chocolate)
Goat’s cheese, paprika and honey roasted pecans (with Cacao Barry Zéphyr white chocolate)
Piedmonte hazelnuts and Ponzu vinegar (with Cacao Barry Alunga milk chocolate)
Ras el Hanout & Mandarin (with Cacao Barry Alunga)
Irish Bushmills whiskey & Cacao Barry Papouasie milk chocolate
Yuzu Kosho, Soya and caramelized sesame (with Cacao Barry Alto el Sol couverture chocolate)

Which bonbons were best loved by the guests and which was your own favourite?

Different audiences have different preferences. Among the chefs the Yuzu Kosho and caviar bonbons stood out as favorites, for the more mainstream audience the favourites were the whiskey and hazelnuts/ponzu vinegar bonbons.

Female tasters seemed very enthusiastic about the goat’s cheese bonbons.

My favorite was definitely the Yuzu Kosho bonbon which was the most challenging to create. It hits all the taste buds with a bit of heat, acidity, saltiness, sweetness, bitterness and umami; It’s the kind of bonbon that makes people go “what on earth am I tasting??” I enjoy seeing those facial expressions.

What was most challenging in this project?

I would say the fact that I have a limited access to the test kitchen, so I essentially only had a few opportunities to run trials.

You also created a showpiece …

Yes -  it was my interpretation of the World Chocolate Masters theme, futropolis.  I originally wanted to enter the competition and saw it as a good opportunity to create a first draft of what I wanted to bring to the competition. However, due to an extremely busy schedule and limited access to a kitchen to practice, I have decided to postpone my candidacy until the next edition hoping to be in a better position to practice at that time.

The concept behind the piece is how I see the future: a clash between nature and civilization (hence the brick base overgrown by the tree) which would in the end result in a new balance between man and nature (which the girl represents). In the end I did run out of time a little so the overgrown tree part wasn’t quite finished.

The whole piece was carved and sculpted?

Yes, using techniques I learnt at Martin Chiffers’ master class a while back. I’m trying to perfect them now as much as I can. Only for the hands and facial features I used alginate moulds.

As a technical adviser you are working a lot with Irish pastry chefs, how is pastry evolving in Ireland?

Pastry is unfortunately often still treated as the stepchild of the kitchen here but slowly I see this changing. There is a great interest in raising the bar of the dessert and petit-four offering at restaurants.

I’m hoping to get some young Irish chefs involved in the UK junior chocolate masters this year too, which I think would be great for the industry here.

Are you happy with the event?

Yes, overall it went great!

What was best about it and what would you now do different if you could?

I think it was quite innovative to try and capture a whole line of ingredients for chefs into a selection of chocolates. If I were to do it again I’d probably try and push the boundaries a little bit more ☺

Based on reactions of guests, what did you learn?

Well a lot of Irish people had warned me that the Irish palate is rather classical and wouldn’t necessarily appreciate what I was trying to do, but I would say now to those people that they are wrong, people really enjoyed tasting chocolate in a slightly different way.