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Meet the World's Best Chocolatiers

Feature: Long Read
Words by Emilie Dock

Behind every artisan chocolate, there’s an exceptionally skilled chocolatier who has dedicated much of their life to crafting moments of pure joy. To those cocoa wizards, we lift our hats, for where would we be without the delectable bonbons, mendiants, pralines, palets d’ors and orangettes in The Chocolate Hall? We shudder at the thought.  

What motivates them? What are the latest chocolate innovations? Where do they find inspiration? We speak to World Chocolate Masters Lluc Crusellas (2022 winner), Elias Läderach (2018 winner) and Harrods Senior Head Chef Alistair Birt (UK and Ireland World Chocolate Master 2015), about our favourite cocoa creations.

Best explained as the World Cup for artisan chocolatiers, the World Chocolate Masters is the culmination of a year’s worth of intense competition, finishing with a rigorous three-day event. Across seven pastry and chocolate challenges, 18 finalists show incredible skills and ideas, until one is crowned the best chocolate chef in the world.

With thanks to Cacao Barry, the World Chocolate Master organisers, for sharing photography and video.  

Lluc Crusellas

World Chocolate Master 2022

20 Years of Bean to Bar

“Seeing the joy on someone’s face as they’re eating your chocolate or patisserie – that’s what drives me.”

Pierre Marcolini

 

You became the youngest person to win the World Chocolate Masters in 2022. What does this mean to you?
It means we’re making strides in the industry and that it’s more alive than ever as it’s going to keep growing. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter how old you are, though. It always feels special. 

Who was the first person you called after winning?
My boss; he has supported me from the start. The aim was to win, of course, but also to grow and learn, which we achieved. 

What led you to patisserie and chocolate? 
My family doesn’t come from a pastry or chocolate background; what caught my attention is the creativity required to work in the industry. Ultimately, though there are a thousand ways to make a product, it’s seeing the joy on a person’s face as they eat it that drives me. 

What’s next for you?
It feels like I’m in a dream. I’m very young and I therefore have a lot to learn. The WCM sharpened my skills and knowledge, from the product level, the marketing level, the communication level, and personally. It has opened many doors. 

What do you consider the best chocolate in the world?
I really like Indonesian chocolate. It is a little different from the rest because of the drying process they use, which gives it a unique flavour.  
 

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Elias Läderach

World Chocolate Master 2018 and Head of Innovation at Läderach

Fresh is Best

“We were the first company to really pioneer fresh chocolate (or FrischSchoggi™, as we call it in Switzerland). Our FrischSchoggi™ is hand-crafted and produced daily in Switzerland’s mountainous Glarnerland, and made from Läderach’s carefully selected and ethically sourced cocoa beans.”

Elias Läderach

 

How did you prepare for the World Chocolate Master 2018 and what lessons have you carried forward?
The first five or six months of the preparation year were entirely dedicated to developing with the team, coming up with and changing ideas, while the second half was all about training to make sure I could complete everything in time. During this time, I learned not to be stubborn; if ideas don’t work after the second or third attempt, you have to approach the task from a different angle. We ended up developing a lot of recipes that we now sell in our stores. 

The fresh taste of Läderach chocolate is revered around the world. What makes it so special?
We manage most of our supply chain, from making the chocolate ourselves to distributing it in our stores, which allows us to keep timelines short, and our chocolate deliciously fresh. 

As head of innovation, what do you foresee as ‘the next big thing’ in chocolate? How are people’s tastes and priorities evolving?
One of Lluc’s products that he created for the 2022 final – a snake-inspired dessert using banana peel – was symbolic of a larger movement in chocolate towards recycling or upcycling ingredients. We’re seeing it more and more now. 

Health is also a big concern now. Darker chocolates and vegan products are becoming more popular. But overall, I think the quality and indulgence of chocolate is always going to be key to its enjoyment. 

Do you eat chocolate every day? How much do you think you eat in a week? 
I eat chocolate every day. How much? That’s difficult to say, but I’d say 50g or so. I love to taste different kinds – sometimes I compare dark single-origins, sometimes it’s milk with caramelised hazelnuts. 

Most unusual chocolate flavour you’ve tried?
Bacon-flavoured chocolate from a brand in Austria!

 

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Alistair Birt

Senior Head Pastry Chef at Harrods and UK Chocolate Master 2015

Only at Harrods

“Behind each bonbon, mendiant and bar at The Harrods Chocolaterie is our exclusive courverture, which we blend with other Harrods signatures like our Knightsbridge coffee to bring you fresh, artisanal chocolate you cannot taste elsewhere.”

Alistair Birt

 

You were a judge for the final of the World Chocolate Masters. Talk to us about the quality of the competitors – did it inspire you?
It was a huge honour to be a judge; to have a front-row seat to all the action and taste all the guys’ food. The quality was amazing and I’ve definitely been inspired by their work. You really are there at the zenith of innovation at World Chocolate Masters and it keeps us all pushing in our work. 

Tell us about this new World Chocolate Masters afternoon tea at The Harrods Tea Rooms – what’s the story behind it and what can customers expect? 
I’ve not seen an afternoon tea like this one served in London. We’ve designed a ‘triptych’ of patisseries, three cakes in one, each focussing on a specific ingredient: orange, almond and cacao – all flavours associated with Spain, Lluc’s home country. We were careful to use as much of the ingredients as possible, taking our cues from Lluc’s zero-waste philosophy for the World Chocolate Masters 2022. For instance, the whole orange, first zested then boiled and puréed, plus orange blossom. 

And we’ve tried to minimise food waste. For example, the base of the mini rhubarb tart served alongside the tea is made with leftover pain de mie from the sandwiches. We’re also serving a really cool chocolate tea with it, Elias’ idea, using leftover cacao husks, which we’ve carbonated. 

Where do you find inspiration for the creations at The Harrods Chocolaterie?
We take inspiration from what everyone is doing; from travelling around, Instragram and talents such as Lluc and Elias. But we forge our own path at The Harrods Chocolaterie, always bearing in mind what our customers want. For example, we’re developing recipes that are lower in sugar, vegan and that cater to dietary needs.

What would you describe as luxury chocolate?
It’s chocolate where quality is upheld throughout the whole crafting process – from ethical sourcing and good cocoa fermentation, to tempering the chocolate and creating the final product.

If you had to pick just one type of chocolate to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Not Läderach! Just joking, Elias. I would choose any top-quality chocolate, milk or dark. I’m also very partial to a Lindt ball… 
 

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