Chef Alain Roby stretches for another world record with the longest candy cane
Mix one part Santa’s workshop with two parts Willy Wonka’s candy factory, and you might have a sense of what downtown Geneva will look like this Saturday. Resident Alain Roby, a renowned pastry chef and proprietor of the All Chocolate Kitchen, will forgo his favorite food substance to work with hard candy instead—forging and twisting what he believes will be the world’s longest candy cane. With an intended length of 45 feet, the enormous holiday confection will stretch down Third Street, from the west-surburban town's courthouse to the intersection near his bakery.
A native of Mulhouse, France, Chef Roby had cooking in his blood, although he didn’t decide to follow his passion until adulthood. When the time came, he studied at Paris’s famous Lenôtre, “the top of the top” for learning the art of French cooking, especially pastries. After working around the world—everywhere from Japan to Iran to England—he settled in the United States and worked for a major hotel chain for more than 20 years.
About ten years ago, Roby, his wife and two sons moved to west-suburban Geneva. In early 2011, the chef opened his All Chocolate Kitchen, a family business that employs both of his sons (one also studies culinary arts at Kendall College). Meanwhile, Roby has carved—or, more accurately, molded and baked—his own niche by creating enormous edible confections, two of which hold Guinness Book World Records: World's Tallest Cooked Sugar Building (12 feet, 10 inches) and World's Tallest Chocolate Building (20 feet, 8 inches). On Saturday, he plans to threepeat when he puts the finishing touches on the candy cane, which he’s already been working on for a few weeks, building its various segments. We checked in with him this week to get all the sticky details.
When did you know you were passionate about food?
Actually, I started pretty late. My grandma and my aunt were always so much with the cooking; that’s why I was always passionate about it. And the love of cooking took over my studies in law school. I went to study pastries in Paris. Usually apprentices are 15, 16 years old, but I was much older.
How did you become a go-to guy for creating enormous confection?
You know, with pastry chefs, each one has his niche: One is famous for chocolate, one is famous for this, one is famous for that. I wanted to find my niche, my little spot somewhere. ... I really wanted to make an impact as a chef. A two- or three-feet centerpiece doesn’t really create the wow I’m looking for. So I came up with the life-size things. The first piece I built was a life-size chocolate astronaut of Neil Armstrong. Life-size! Astronaut! With the helmet and the whole thing, on a moon landscape. And I got the “oh wow!” from people, and I said, “That’s it. I got it! I will create things out of the ordinary, things people are really going to enjoy.” And since then, I can’t stop. Oh boy!
Are these creations truly edible, or do you have to add some sort of preservatives or stabilizers to the food?
Well, when you do a big centerpiece like a chocolate astronaut, you use chocolate that is going to hold for a long time. It’s not edible, but it is real chocolate. It is on display now at the All Chocolate Kitchen, and we have another one on display, a life-size chocolate Blackhawk [hockey player]. The most amazing thing that happened recently: When Neil Armstrong passed away, somebody came to the store to visit the chocolate statue and they left a bouquet of roses at the base.
Explain it to us pastry novices: How do you make the world’s largest candy cane?
I wanted to do something for the holiday, something fun for kids and families, and really make something cool. This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I saw a sugar cane, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do that for 40 or 50 feet?” So I approached the city and the chamber [of commerce], it’s become such a big event. It was a dream that just came true a few months ago. We’re going to build it right on Third Street.
So what will people see if they come to Geneva Saturday?
Some segments [of the candy cane] are already made. Some are ten feet, some are eight feet. It’s going to be welded on Saturday. It’s going to become one cane, altogether—welded, twisted altogether, right there, for the people. Plus, I’m going to decorate it very festive with green sugar and icing and everything. That’s going to be made right in front of the people. When it’s finished, we’re going to document and film everything to show the length and show the thickness.
Then I thought, what am I going to do with this enormous sugar cane in the middle of the street in Geneva? I cannot bring it home with me! So I decided, after the ceremony, we’re going to break it with a hammer, shatter it into a thousand pieces and give it to people in plastic bags. And if it’s raining, it’s going to be a bummer, but I’m not going to stop. I’m going to put this thing together!
Chef Roby's All Chocolate Kitchen, 33 S Third St, Geneva (630-232-2395) will be open Saturday 9am—10pm. The finishing touches on the candy cane and the following ceremony happens at 7pm.