Art in Such Good Taste: Escribā the Chocolate Sculptor

The Guardian  London, 1991, 1,300 words; extracts  

I met Escribā by chance while I was doing a travel piece for Insight Guides. His talent was blinding and I returned to Barcelona to interview him for this piece. Ferran Adriā was to call him "the first avant-garde figure in modern Spanish cookery". Today, by the way, his shop still ticks over as a wonderful family business run by his three sons.

Also see: La Duquesita, The Sweet Life / Chocolateros, Spainīs Chocolate Maestros

"The world needs revolutionaries," says Antoni Escribā in a matter-of-fact way. "Good things begin when someone asks questions about preconceived ideas."

Escribā has been asking questions about chocolate since the late 1950s. His fame spread from his native Barcelona after he demonstrated his new chocolate sculpting techniques in Switzerland. His unorthodox methods, literally bending the chocolate on paper, left his colleagues from other countries open-mouthed, as did his modernist style and speed. After three hours he had turned 60 kilos of chocolate into a dozen or so abstract compositions, caricatures, and miniature scenarios.

His unorthodox methods, literally bending the chocolate on paper, left his colleagues from other countries open-mouthed, as did his modernist style and speed.

"The Swiss were a bit sceptical at first," he says, grinning behind his moustache. "You can understand it. Imagine if they had come to Spain with revolutionary bullfighting theories."

Escribā's apparently simple bending technique relied on an extremely precise tempering process: that is, heating and cooling the chocolate through a controlled temperature curve to alter the crystalline structure of the five oily molecules in cocoa butter. This leaves the chocolate temporarily malleable while it hardens.

SCIENCE, CRAFT, ART

"To be frank with you, I worked it out very quickly with a geologist friend and from then on it was just a matter of practice."

Thirty-five years later, Escribā is acknowledged as one of the world’s masters of the craft. He has sculpted everything from a full-size Michelangelo's David to miniatures of Gaudi's buildings in chocolate. He has worked in marzipan, bread and ice. He has undertaken commissions for the Pope and Picasso, who sent back a painting as a thank you. Along the way, he has also written a book, won numerous awards, taught in three continents and seen his techniques adopted around the world. These days the Swiss pay him $5,000 per demonstration.

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