BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian chocolatier has been crowned the world's best pastry chef by a jury of independent reporters, helping consolidate Belgium's reputation as a producer of top class chocolate.
Pierre Marcolini was given the award organised by World Pastry Stars, an Italian-based organisation of chefs from traditional pastry and chocolate-making countries such as France and Switzerland, as well as Japan and beyond.
Known for his minimalist style, Marcolini's chocolates have become luxury gifts, with some boxes selling for more than 100 euros ($118.19) as he has sought to give a sophisticated edge to his confectionary, cakes, macaroons and jams.
He has opened shops from Germany to China, which resemble high-end boutiques.
Given the prize this week, Marcolini told Reuters he saw it as vindication of his "crazy project aimed at renovating, transforming, changing, modernising the world of pastry and the world of chocolate."
Marcolini, 56, who was born in Belgium's rust belt city of Charleroi and set up his first business in Brussels 25 years ago, also said he hoped chocolate could comfort people during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are in a gloomy period ... I think the best thing you can do is end up at home with a bar of chocolate, a box of pralines, a box of chocolates," he said.
Belgium is proud of its chocolate mastery, more than a century after Jean Neuhaus invented the hard-shelled, cream-filled chocolate, the praline, in 1912. But it faces competition from foreign producers from Canada to Malaysia who market their produce as "Belgian style" or from a "Belgian recipe".
Belgium boasts more than 200 chocolate firms, over 2,000 chocolate stores and museums, tours and workshops, such as the Brussels museum of cocoa and chocolate.
($1 = 0.8461 euros)
(Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)