A lot of people think my job is all Willy Wonka style madness but being a chocolatier actually means working very hard, and sometimes quite repetitively.
That being said, we do get to eat a lot of chocolate.
As the kitchen development manager for Paul A. Young, I co-manage and train our brilliant team of chocolatiers and I also work on developing new products and ranges for our shops and customers.
My day starts around eight in the morning. I’ll get the job lists and production plans set up for the team then I’ll crack on with some production.
We make everything by hand, whether it’s fresh ganache and caramels made in small batches to fill truffles, or tempering (an essential process to get a good set and shine, and the right texture and flavour in your chocolate) using up to 10 kilos of the finest quality chocolate at a time.
I’ll also spend part of the day developing new products. The creative aspect of my job is something I really love and am motivated by.
I take inspiration from all over the place to feed into new projects – whether it’s something I’ve eaten, an experience I’ve had or a memory.
I recently developed a chip shop caramel truffle inspired by the British seaside, taking all my memories of salty, vinegary chippy teas at the coast and translating those flavours into a truffle using wakame seaweed and tenkasu tempura bits that I experienced more recently in Japan.
I’ve lost a sense of what’s unusual; when Marmite truffles are an everyday concept, it takes lots to surprise me. Our beef dripping caramel stands out for me; it was so delicious and worked so well, but shocked a fair few customers.
A good palate is essential to my job – as is being able to distinguish between ‘not good’ and ‘not to my taste’.
I have to be aware of anything that might be altering how I taste something (like having started the day with a strong coffee) and also what preferences of mine might slip through into a recipe.
I have a slight reputation in the kitchen for liking a stiff drink so I try to develop recipes a teeny bit less boozy than I’d automatically go for.
The most unusual project I’ve been involved with was a client’s request to make a chocolate that was edible, but purposefully unpleasant. Though we’re more than used to unusual flavours, dried fish and painfully spicy chillies were still odd to be working with!
Some of our more unusual projects come from bespoke customer orders. This year alone I’ve been tasked with using chocolate to create tiny relief images of furniture on a box of truffles, and making a very special chocolate plaque for a proposal – thankfully the person it was for said yes, otherwise I’d have been worried that it was because the chocolate wasn’t up to scratch!
Easter and Christmas are particularly busy times as you can probably imagine. We end up making tens of thousands of Christmas truffles, and thousands of Easter eggs – each egg is cast with a double layer of chocolate to make sure its satisfyingly chunky, then joined and decorated – all with no mechanical existence.
But with teamwork and a great playlist, we got the production line working smoothly.
People are definitely more focused than ever before on the provenance and sustainability of their chocolate and how ethically it has been farmed and produced.
With ever more awareness of the damage that poor farming practices can do, it is great to see a reaction in customers looking for chocolate that hasn’t caused any harm on its way to us.
On a personal level, I feel that any impact I can have is the least I can do to try and tackle this huge issue.
In the future I expect we’ll see a continuation in the current trend towards chocolate with a lower sugar content that delivers in the same ways as we are used to.
There is also growing demand for more bitter flavours; with less bitterness you need less sugar to counteract it, and I expect that will play a part in chocolate trends to come.
I think luxury chocolate will always be popular. I always say chocolate is like wine, in that there’s a massive difference in what you’re looking for, depending on whether you are splashing out and treating yourself or a loved one or it’s a casual, after work indulgence, for which a basic supermarket option will do the job.
As much incredible fine chocolate as we encounter and enjoy at work, I still love Maltesers.
There are times when you just need some comfort food and a sugar rush. My mum still buys me a Dairy Milk advent calendar at Christmas.
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