Students and professionals compete in the first ever Cacao Barry L'art du Chocolatier Challenge.

As Sean Pera combined a chocolate concoction in a mixer on the counter of a sterile workstation, four people closed in on him and studied his technique with intensity.  

Pera was one of six participants competing in the student round of the first-ever Cacao Barry L’art du Chocolatier Challenge held at the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Chicago, Ill. During the Food-Network-style competition, the scent of chocolate and sugar filled the room while the chefs created their desserts under time pressure.  

With the deadline looming, the anxiety of the situation finally showed on Pera, whose hands shook during the last 30 minutes as he plated his complex creation, “Chocolate in Organics.”  

“That was the fastest three hours of my life,” he said afterward.

Sean Pera works on his dessert "Chocolate in Organics," which won him $3,000 in the Barry L'art du Chocolatier Challenge

A few hours later, all the stress and anxiety turned out to be worth it though - Pera won.   

While the first day of the challenge was for students - they had to make a plated chocolate dessert within three and a half hours - the second day was for the professionals - each had to make a tart, a verrine and a plated dessert.  

Abigail Dahan, pastry supervisor at the Park Hyatt Chicago, took home the top prize in the professionals category, which included $10,000. Pera, of the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N.Y., won $3,000 in cash as part of his prize.  

As the awards were handed out during the student round, Parveen Werner, gourmet marketing director of the Americas for Barry Callebaut, congratulated the contestants on the accomplishment of making it to the competition.  

“Each and every one of you has done something amazing,” she said.