Chocolate is not just a tasty treat: it can also be used to create art. Koo Ka-chun, executive chef of Vero Chocolates, and a master chocolate sculptor, is exhibiting some of his artistic creations made from the treat.
Koo's Chocolate Art Museum exhibition is on display from now until February 21 at Gallery by the Harbour in Harbour City. It features 14 sculptures, including a two-metre statue of the deity Guan Gong, which is made from more than 700kg of chocolate.
Koo, who began his career as a chef at 18, has worked on chocolate creations for more than 13 years. 'I was very lucky to be able to begin my pastry chef career at a five-star hotel where I met the person who introduced me to chocolate artwork, Yves Matthay,' he says.
But merely being a great pastry chef is not enough to create good chocolate sculptures. Koo's appreciation of and interest in art provide him with the inspiration to create breathtaking sculptures. 'I love to look at paintings and sculptures,' he says. 'I visit galleries and art exhibitions during my free time to find inspiration.'
Koo says the actual sculpting process can be extremely tedious and time-consuming.
Before starting a sculpture, he has to check out where it will be displayed, and make a detailed plan for transporting it from his workshop. He has to take into consideration whether the sculptures will fit into the lifts, and if the doorways are high enough to take his planned works.
Chocolate sculptures are very delicate and have to be handled with care.
Koo says: 'When transporting the sculptures, I have to make use of what I call the 'human shock absorber'. I carry smaller sculptures by hand all the way from my workshop to the exhibition area.
'For larger sculptures such as the Guan Gong statue, four colleagues carry them into the truck, and hold them steady during the whole journey.'
To preserve the beautiful sculptures, the exhibition area has to stay below 23 degrees Celsius, with humidity at about 50 to 60 per cent. "The sculptures must be kept away from direct sunlight; the exhibition room in Harbour City has big windows and is subjected to sunlight, so all the windows are covered with thick white curtains to protect the chocolate."
To make the sculptures as real as possible, Koo does a lot of research. 'I look at photos of what I am basing the structure on to try to understand its shape and proportion,' he says.
'Then I draw up a full-scale draft of the figure to give myself a clear picture of what I am going to do.'
As delicious as these massive pieces of art may appear, Koo says: 'Chocolate sculptures are a treat for the eyes only. They are edible but I would not advise anybody to eat them, as they are coated with a layer of lacquer to make them shiny. You wouldn't be poisoned, but they definitely wouldn't taste very good.'