Sylvain Bortolini, assistant executive pastry chef at Bellagio Las Vegas, earned the top prize as National Chocolate Master during the World Chocolate Masters U.S. national competition held Sept. 27-28 during the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) at Las Vegas.

Finishing second in the U.S. national competition was Frederic Loraschi, chocolatier and owner of Chocolat Frederic Loraschi LLC in Hummelstown, PA.

Placing third was Stephen Durfee, pastry chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, CA.

Following completion next spring of all national selections throughout the world, 18 chefs will advance to the World Chocolate Masters Finals set for Oct. 17-20 in Paris, France.

The World Chocolate Masters is a top level competition for chocolate craftsmen from all over the world, organized by Barry Callebaut – producers of professional gourmet chocolate brands Callebaut, Cacao Barry, and Carma. The competition is designed to offer chocolate artisans and pastry chefs – some of the best in their industry -- a forum to showcase their skills in designing chocolate sculptures and showpieces, as well as creating chocolate entremets, pralines and desserts.

The World Chocolate Masters has a rich history stretching back over a quarter of a century. It was created in 2005 from a merger of “Le Grand Prix International de la Chocolaterie,” organized in France by the Cacao Barry brand, and the “International Belgium Chocolate Award” organized by Callebaut.

Contestants from the United States have performed strongly in previous World Chocolate Masters competitions. Most recently, Lionel Clement, former chef chocolatier at Wynn Las Vegas, was the 2008 U.S. national chocolate master and 2009 World Chocolate Master runner-up. 

At the 2010 U.S. national competition at IBIE, the contestants had 15 hours over the course of two days to complete all of the required creations, which include a chocolate showpiece, dipped praline, moulded praline, chocolate entremet, and plated chocolate dessert. 

Spectators enjoyed the visual experience the origin of cocoa through the history of the ancient Aztec civilization, based on the theme of “Quetzalcoatl’s Gift.”

The Aztecs believed that it was the god Quetzalcoatl who created cocoa as a divine gift to relieve fatigue and provide pleasurable rest.  While the contestants are tight-lipped about the details of their designs, the showpieces will be inspired by the mystery surrounding the discovery of cocoa in the South American rain forest and the legends surrounding the gift of Quetzalcoatl to its peoples.  Beyond the showpiece, other applications should also reflect the atmosphere, flavor and tastes connected with the early history of cocoa in South America. 

George Duran, chef, cookbook author and host of the television show “Ultimate Cake Off” on the TLC network, served as master of ceremonies for the event. TLC filmed the competition for a future airing on television.