How did you get started in the industry? "When I was young I didn't like to eat vegetables. So, when I decided I wanted to cook and studied for it, I realised I had to prepare things for people that I didn't want to eat myself. I thought it would be better to study pastry, because eating it makes me happy. In my last year of studying pastry and baking in Belgium, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was working in a bakery in the small town where I grew up; I didn't even know there were elite chefs. But I saw a magazine article about a competition [now the World Chocolate Masters] and decided this was what I wanted to do. At the time I had no internet so I didn't have access to a lot of information or pictures, only magazines. I didn't know anyone in the field either, so I had to figure it all out myself."
What do you like about sculpting chocolate? "The more you work with it, the more you can do with it. You have to understand how top chefs make something and then twist and turn that into something new. I like to amaze people with it, but now people have seen so much it's harder to wow them."
How did you prepare for the Belgian Chocolate Mastercompetition? "Most important is to read the rules carefully so you can use them to your benefit. It's important to be organised. Not only did I have to put the showpiece together, but I also made four chocolate items in eight hours. I did time training about five times and put the showpiece together about 10 times. There's a lot of trial and error and thinking about how to do it faster. This was my second time competing in the Belgian Chocolate Masters [his first was in 2007] and I went on to the World Chocolate Masters. [The first time] I was too young and my chocolate showpiece fell down. But I learned a lot and met a lot of people."
Tell us about your winning showpiece, which featured a Kayapo tribesman. "The theme of the competition was nature and I like to incorporate a story into showpieces. In the 1980s, the Kayapo Indians, an indigenous tribe in the Amazon, fought to protect their land because the Brazilian government wanted to build a dam on a river that went through [their territory]. The tribe's leader flew around the world with [singer] Sting to spread awareness about the rainforest. The dam will finally be [opened in 2019], but they are still fighting; they managed to keep 11 million hectares of land protected. I wanted to show the power they have through him holding the bow and arrow. I also added toucans, which are well known and from Brazil, as well as leaves from the rainforest."
Are you competitive by nature? "I've been in the industry for 13 years and have competed 13 times. I even did two competitions in one week - one in France, where I came second, and the other in Belgium that I won. There are some people who come in fourth or fifth and don't want to compete again, claiming the judges were biased; I think it's important to have that experience and try again, to be better.
"I am very competitive. I always have to win even in small things. I just think if you don't care, you will not grow. I'm one of those people who wants to be better than the teacher."
What do you do when you're not making chocolate? "I go out and try different restaurants and watch movies. I wish I was good at sports. When I was a kid I played football but our team always lost so I didn't like it."