The multilayered cake is a hidden surprise, but the real treasure is the hinged chest made entirely from chocolate, lock and all.
I gobbled every Italian meringue the Great British Bake Off threw my way, devoured season after season of Top Chef and slurped up Crazy Delicious. But a new Netflix TV series, School of Chocolate, serves up a bold twist on competitive cooking shows by turning the competition on its head.
It simply eliminates the elimination. In the opposite of cutthroat competition, everybody gets to stay in the tent. Nobody is asked to pack their whisks and go.
Hosted by Swiss-born chef Amaury Guichon, whose TikTok videos of amazingly intricate and realistic chocolate creations garner millions of views, School of Chocolate is a masterclass in technique that eight professional pastry chefs — and all of us — get to see firsthand. Chocolate sculpture with interactive hinges. A chocolate octopus that looks impossibly real (see below). Edible surprises layered within clever cakes that are both instantly mouthwatering and too gorgeous to eat.
Keeping every chef in the kitchen makes the show richer, more impressive and somehow more compelling than watching contestants get picked off one by one — which, if you think about it, is actually pretty boring compared to seeing devastatingly beautiful chocolate art unfold (although the people who spent literal billions of hours watching Squid Game may disagree). More on my theory in a moment.
This sculpture made from pure chocolate is ferociously delicious.
As with actual school, the School of Chocolate cohort remains intact throughout the entire competition, shedding tears, getting catty, jockeying for position — and a $50,000 cash prize — and creating piece after piece of astounding, towering, gravity-defying show art out of pure chocolate and pastry that at times makes me gasp in awe.
The point of it all is for contestants to learn advanced techniques and improve over challenges that push their skills to the brink and reveal the breakout chocolatiers we can’t help but elevate to star status.
Netflix may call the show “feel-good,” but that doesn’t mean it’s all fondant and buttercream in School.
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The tone is a squeeze sharper than the good natured, sometimes frothy and saccharine Great British Bake Off. There’s deep tension from the start of the eight-episode season and the stakes feel surprisingly real. Poor performers are forced to sit out rounds and only the top two vie for the final challenge. Amidst grudging pats on the back, gamesmanship rears its head.
But while the cream quickly rises to the top, keeping the class together gives viewers who care more about the jaw-dropping creations and less about the backstabbing a wonderful gift: more.
Rather than eject skilled professionals who had a bad day or didn’t quite master an architectural challenge mere cake-baking mortals would be hard-pressed to attempt, we lovers of food art witness even underdogs create feats of incredible culinary imagination (including an astonishing salmon roe “nigiri” you have to see to believe).
A 100% chocolate showpiece from Netflix’s School of Chocolate.
School of Chocolate isn’t perfect by any means. Favored contestants were too obvious and one episode literally divided the group’s strongest and “weakest” players — remember, these are all skilled professionals — into two glaringly unequal assignments. By retaining many of the usual competitive elements and structure, more time than I would like is spent on character triumphs and angst, with less time on the whizzbang confections I came here to lap up.
That said, the decision to preserve more contestants in the total mix ultimately treats viewers to more cakes and chocolate overall, not less. That opens the way for soaring creativity, daring to imagine chocolate as not simply a momentary treat but a deeply challenging medium for artistic expression, one that engages the eyes and mind as well as the tongue. Technical, temperamental and ultimately, ephemeral.
I’m ready for a second helping.