Although he’s been sculpting sugar and chocolate since 1971, chef Ewald Notter is constantly finding new inspiration for his work — in nature, in art and often in his surroundings.
So it’s probably no surprise that when he gave a chocolate demonstration in Copley Township on Monday, he found his inspiration in Northeast Ohio — the heart of rock ’n’ roll.
Notter spent about two hours demonstrating chocolate techniques for the Akron Canton Area Cooks and Chefs Association, the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation.
The result was a sculpture of a chocolate guitar, complete with a red heart.
The sculpture was dramatic and vivid with shades of bright green, red and yellow, made from tinted white chocolate pieces.
Working on thin sheets of clear plastic, Notter took a small spatula and made rows of simple swaths of white chocolate. Setting up on curved racks, the hardened chocolate turned into individual “petals” that he used to create a flower to adorn the base of the sculpture.
He carefully pieced the flower together petal by petal, using more white chocolate as the glue to hold each in place, before finishing it off by airbrushing it with cocoa butter tinted in shades of yellow and red.
When creating a chocolate work, it’s important to mix textures, shapes and colors, he explained.
Notter, 58, began his craft in his native Switzerland and moved to the United States in 1992, making his home in Orlando. He is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on confectionery arts and is a renowned competitor in sugar arts, having won more than 15 gold medals as well as being named Pastry Chef of the Year.
Notter was the first pastry professional inducted into the Pastry Art and Design Hall of Fame, and is the author of several books on his craft, including The Art of the Chocolatier (Wiley, 2011) and The Art of the Confectioner: Sugarwork and Pastillage (Wiley, 2012).
While he dazzled a crowd of professional chefs and students with his skill and artistry, Notter’s advice on working with chocolate was basic: patience, humility, persistence in the face of failure.
Notter worked mostly in spun sugar for many years and later switched to chocolate. “Working with chocolate was a humbling experience,” he said. “Working with chocolate, you need patience.”
Sculptures will break, but they can be repaired, he said. And as if on cue, a chocolate heart fell off of his design, damaging the petals on his handmade flower.
“Don’t freak out about everything,” he said, repairing the flower petals.
Chocolate, he said, has four enemies: temperature, light, humidity (or water) and odor. Because of its fat content, chocolate will absorb the flavors of everything around it so it must be refrigerated with care, he said.
Practicing with chocolate over time is the only way to learn the craft, he said.
Although Notter’s presentation was geared toward student and professional chefs, his advice for the home cook who wants to work with chocolate is the same: “Don’t be afraid. Just keep practicing and practicing and you are going to get better,” he said.
With Easter coming, a popular time for chocolate-making, Notter said home cooks can start out by using inexpensive molds that can be found at craft stores. “You don’t have to be a pastry chef,” he added.
Notter spends a lot of time on the road teaching and giving demonstrations when he’s not competing. In 2001, at the Coupe du Monde in Lyon, France, Notter received the highest score ever recorded in sugar work — 699 out of 700 points, helping the U.S. Team win its first-ever gold medal. In 2003, the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences awarded Notter its Five Star Diamond Award as one of the finest confectionery chefs of the world.
Notter said audiences are much more familiar with the confectionery arts these days due in large part to food television, which has showcased the competitions.
Trends, like working with colored chocolate, come and go, he noted. America is very open-minded when it comes to accepting colored chocolate, compared with some European countries, where traditional white, milk and dark are favored in competitions, he said.
White chocolate is not as frowned upon as it once was, because it now requires enough cocoa butter to actually be considered a chocolate, he said. Since 2004, the FDA has required that to be labeled white chocolate, the product must be at least 20 percent cocoa butter, which sets white chocolate apart from imitation white candy coatings.
Notter said he prefers working with a chocolate that is about 60 percent cacao, and noted that a dark chocolate is always stronger than white chocolate for structures.
When he is competing, Notter said he will keep a closer eye on trends, but when he is creating outside of the arena, everyday experiences as mundane as a trip to the market can provide a fresh idea.
“Everything inspires me,” Notter said.