Alistair Birt, head chocolatier at William Curley, has won the UK and Ireland pre-selection for the World Chocolate Masters 2015.
The 2013 Acorn Award winner will now go on to compete for the title of World Chocolate Master 2015 at the contest's International Final in Paris in October at the Salon du Chocolat Professionel.
Birt was handed the award by honorary president of the jury, chef Michel Roux Jr.
He takes the crown from the 2013 UK Chocolate Master Ruth Hinks (who came fifth in the 2013 final), and was also awarded the best showpiece prize, along with the best overall patisserie accolade. His pieces, which featured motifs such as deer, were inspired by Richmond Park in Surrey.
Richie Heppell, chef and chocolatier at the Royal Air Force, won overall runner-up, while Norma Kelly, a lecturer in pastry at the Dublin Institute of Technology, was awarded the best praline trophy.
The other contestant was Mary Reid, lecturer in pastry at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.
The judging panel was made up of the three technical judges â' comprising previous UK winners Hinks (2013), Mark Tilling (2006), and John Costello (2010) â' and the tasting judges, who included names such as Sara Jayne Stanes (Academy of Chocolate), Sarah Hartnett (Sheraton Park Lane), Joanne Todd (Browns Hotel), Rachel Humphrey (Le Gavroche) and Hideko Kawa (pastry consultant).
President of the Jury was Gary Hunter, head of faculty for hospitality and culinary arts at Westminster Kingsway, who also judged as part of the tasting panel.
Hunter was optimistic about the UK's chances in the final, saying that the standard had increased this year, and that there was no reason why the UK could not do well and reach the top podium in October, building on Hinks' fifth place in 2013.
He said: "The big test comes between now and October, in how much we learn, how much we can support [Birt] to reach the top podium. It's really feasible this time. We have some great techniques here, and it's literally the next step."
Tilling also congratulated Birt on his win, saying that it would be a big boost to his CV, and open many doors. Speaking about Birt's work, he said: "He worked very cleanly, and everything was very presentable. I really liked his theme, as there was a bit of story there with his showpiece, it was about where he lives [near Richmond]. I think that worked well. He thought about everything a bit more deeply, and could explain it all really well, and that took him just ahead of the others. He's done very well - now he can join the [Chocolate Masters'] gang!"
Tilling also wanted to congratulate Kelly's work, explaining: "She had a lot of problems throughout the day; you never know what is going to happen on the day, but she worked really well, and just got through it."
Hinks spoke about the pressure the contestants were under and her feelings at giving up the 2013 crown. She also said that the judges were mainly looking for innovative techniques, and that taste was the most important element.
She said: "It's been a great two years, but it's really good to see someone else go in and take it, and see what they can do. They just have to do the best they can do on the day. As a judge, you know what to look for, you know the mistakes you made, and you know the skills you learned that you can pass on."
Immediately after his win, Birt said: "I feel good to be joining this elite group. It's a recognition among my peers, for the judges to say that I did well is really nice. It's a career goal I've always wanted to achieve. For the final I've got some big boots to fill. It will be tough, but if I can do as well as Hinks, I would be chuffed."
The contest was sponsored by Cacao Barry, Callebaut and Carma.
The UK joins 11 other countries to have selected their final contestant for Paris, including the USA (Dan Forgey), Japan (Hisashi Onobayashi), France (Vincent Vallée), Italy (Massimo Carnio) and Brazil (Diego Lozano). Eight more countries still have to hold their pre-selection rounds, including Germany, Poland and Russia. The final pre-selection will be Canada, on April 16-17.
The 2013 winner was Davide Comaschi, from Italy.