2024 March 27Southeast Europe preselection
Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania
Meet the contestants
Pavel Tanev, an Executive Pastry and Chocolatier Chef with 16+ years in the industry, hails from a lineage of pastry chefs. He's instrumental in establishing two hotels and two pastry shops and consults for three businesses in Bulgaria. Continuously seeking excellence, Pavel remains abreast of trends via events and workshops. For him, PLAY! embodies merging ideas for a nostalgic taste. Participating in World Chocolate Masters is a chance to display his skills, network, and innovate. His secret? Meticulous attention and a penchant for unique flavors, enabling him to craft decadent treats that linger in memory.
Sofoklis Andreou, an intrepid explorer since childhood, discovered his passion for confectionery at 12, inspired by his father's chocolate creations. A graduate of the Gourmand Institute, he embarked on a career in the hotel industry across Cyprus and Greece, honing his skills as a chocolatier and chef. Now, he fulfills his dreams: competing in the World Chocolate Master and soon opening his own chocolate shop in Athens. To Sofoklis, PLAY! embodies spontaneity and creativity, essential for breaking free from the constraints of adulthood. His participation is driven by a desire to test his limits, inspire his son, and prove that dreams are achievable with unwavering belief and determination.
Marinel Bejan, an Economics graduate from the University of Craiova, has flourished as a pastry chef since 2010, continually refining his skills in Craiova. He finds the theme PLAY! particularly liberating, allowing him to unleash his creativity with textures, flavors, and ingredients. With a Gastropan 2021 award for Cake of the Year in Romania under his belt, Marinel thrives on challenges and seeks new experiences. His sights are set on the prestigious title of World Chocolate Master, where he aims to shine. Marinel's arsenal includes innovation, adaptability, creativity, and problem-solving, propelling him toward his culinary aspirations.
Based in Ploiesti, Romania, Vlad Niculescu is a dynamic chocolatier with nearly a decade of experience. His culinary journey began after studying Food Engineering, and he continuously pushes industry boundaries as a Pastry Chef and Chocolatier. From Romania to Belgium, he refined his skills at esteemed establishments like The Jane and The Chocolate Line, climbing from dishwasher to production manager. Returning to Romania, he founded his chocolate atelier, introducing innovative flavors such as wine, bee products, and smoke. Vlad excels in competitions, earning recognition for sustainability and unique bonbons. Competing in World Chocolate Masters, he aims to redefine chocolate perceptions, emphasizing the joy of the process, youthful passion, and embracing the unexpected.
Veljko Spasić, an Executive Pastry, Chocolatier, and cake shop proprietor from Niš, Serbia, embarked on his artistic journey in 1999. Since then, he's demonstrated versatility, from designing worker uniforms to haute couture for singers. His expertise spans theatre assistance, representing Turkish brand Polen Foof, and gelato training in Italy. For Veljko, the WCM theme PLAY! is an opportunity to engage with top chocolate players worldwide and create chocolate art. He plans to impress the jury with original ideas showcasing his skills in cake decoration, gelato production, and chocolate artwork, affirming his status as a multifaceted artist in the culinary realm.
Meet the jury
Anna Gerasi, an entrepreneur, Art Teacher, Pastry Chef, and Chocolatier, leads Pasticceria Piccinelli, a historic establishment dating back to 1862 in Brescia. Hailing from a lineage of pastry chefs, her passion for art led her to teach while managing the business with her brother Gianpaolo. Their offerings blend traditional sweets, contemporary pastries, and chocolates, highlighting Anna's commitment to local raw materials and innovative creations. Pasticceria Piccinelli is renowned for bridging traditional and modern culinary experiences. Anna Gerasi represented Italy as a World Finalist in the 2022 World Chocolate Masters, showcasing her expertise and skills on the global stage.
Formerly entrenched in the film industry and design, Dražen Zeljković discovered his true passion in 2018: crafting exquisite chocolates. Transitioning from a decade-long career, he pursued chocolate-making with an insatiable appetite for learning. Dražen's experimentation knows no bounds as he tirelessly refines his craft, drawing inspiration from culinary maestros like Ramon Morato and Jordi Bordas. His dedication paid off with a notable achievement: second place in the 2022 WCM National Selections in Athens. Dražen's commitment to knowledge and innovation shines through in his creations, blending artistry with flavor to deliver visually stunning and delectable products under his chocolate brand.
Krsto Radović is a master pastry chef and co-founder of the Mandarina Cake Shop in Belgrade, Serbia. He holds a Master’s degree in culinary arts from the University of West London, specialising in chocolate, sweet pastries, cakes, and cookies. A second-generation entrepreneur, Krsto's 27 years of professional experience have taken him from Arizona to prestigious London five-star hotels, including Claridge's. In 2014, he earned the title of Callebaut Chocolate Ambassador for South Eastern Europe. His culinary journey reflects his commitment to excellence and innovation, making him a prominent regional figure in the world of pastry and chocolate.
Christos Lambrou, a confectionery virtuoso, ignited his passion for pastry at 14 in an Athenian patisserie. Enrolling at The School of Tourism Professions Anavyssos, he honed his craft in culinary arts, specializing in pastry. With a career spanning luxury hotels like St. George Lycabettus and Astir Palace Resort, Christoph's journey led him to become an Executive Pastry Chef, Technical Advisor, and Trainer at LEDRA Company. As the first Cacao Barry Ambassador in Greece, he's a trailblazer in the industry, shaping trends worldwide. Christoph's accolades include winning prestigious competitions and shaping culinary landscapes through television and magazine ventures, marking him as a luminary in confectionery arts.
With over 15 years as a pastry chef, Nicolas Nikolakopoulos blends science, creativity, and inspiration from his Athens roots into his culinary style. Hailing from Greece's capital, his evolution from French influence to Mediterranean flavors reflects his diverse background. Despite holding a chemistry degree, acquired alongside culinary training at Parisian Ecole Lenotre, Nicolas thrives as a chef and professor at Le Monde Culinary College in Athens. His versatility extends to ambassador roles for international brands and his consulting venture, NZ Pastry. Named Chocolate Master of South East Europe in 2022, he soared to the Top 3 in the WCM World Final, testament to his culinary prowess and innovation.
27 March 2024