Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets – BBC fudge

I’m just watching the first episode of the BBC’s new series Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets. It’s about chocolate. Great.

As usual with most BBC programmes featuring fine chocolate, my hopes of something informative are dashed. The BBC have a misinformed policy of not naming brands in their programmes. (Unless the company is larger enough to turn their products into ‘news’, so Cadburys Creme Eggs are ok to feature in the main evening news, apparently).

This policy is understandable if we’re talking Coke or Nike or Kellogs. It doesn’t make much sense for fine chocolate though. In fact, it completely blurs the message and in this case, the point of the programme.

Take the mousse, the first recipe. Only three ingredients are needed – chocolate, sugar, eggs. Blanc tells us “It is actually the quality of the chocolate that is very, very important … if you have a great chocolate, you have a great chocolate mousse.” I absolutely agree, the difference is enormous.

Does choice of ingredients matter?

Do we get to find out what the chocolate Blanc is using is? No, of course not. (Though the sharp-eyed will have spotted ‘Valrhona’ on some of the blocks – which most of the time are childishly turned upside-down.) Raymond Blanc is clearly a Valrhona man, but we’d never find that out without recognising the chocolate or being very canny with our pause buttons.

Do we get any clue what makes the quality of chocolate or how to choose it? No, of course not. Couldn’t we have at least been told it was French?

If we were being shown a matching wine to go with the mousse, we’d be told the region, vinyard, vintage. Here, nothing. We just get the extremely patronising “There are hundreds of varieties of chocolate on the market, and for Raymond, 100% dark chocolate is irresistible”. Is it? Any 100%? Paste chocolate, as Valrhona would call it, has to be pretty good to be eaten at 100%. Manjari can just about do it. That’s not true of many others.

I feel sorry for Raymond giving his staff Dairy Milk. If you can’t win people over with Manjari 64%, then you’re definitely doing something wrong. Or was that ‘reality’ editing?

We get to the Delice. “For this, Raymond’s using a dark chocolate with seventy per cent cocoa solids” we’re told in the sexiest drama-doc voice possible, as if this is somehow a sign of quality or is going to give viewers any idea of how to create this recipe. Percentage is not a sign of quality in chocolate. (For those who do want to know, the chocolate he used is almost certainly Valrhona Guanaja.)

Brands matter

Fine chocolate IS about the brands, and it’s about the artisans behind those brands. It’s not about random bulk packaged chocolate bought from supermarkets. The taste is completely different.

So a whole programme of chocolate recipes from a great chef, with no hint at all allowed about how to choose the prime ingredient.

We’re told all the time how easy these recipes are. Well, maybe, but they’re sure not going to taste very good if you’ve just popped down to Lidl and spent £0.89p on on 100gs of unbranded 70% ‘dark’ chocolate.

By the end we’re at William Curley’s Richmond shop – great of course to see Raymond and William together. Knowing William, I am pretty sure he will have talked about the quality of chocolate he uses. (William exclusively uses Amedei). Obviously this is edited out.

We have a nice time in William’s kitchen, but no mention at all of ingredient quality, no mention of freshness. These are key to the modern chocolatier, choice of chocolate is king. No clue at all why William is one of the UKs best. Doing it ‘by hand’ is apparently enough according this programme.

It was good to see Blanc in action, but all we got was chocolate fudge.

I would like to be reassured by the BBC that next time I watch a wine programme, they’ll be no mention of the names of any vinyards or companies, no matter how prestigious. Or perhaps we could have a more grown up policy about fine chocolate?

Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets


  1. Bill Trueman February 19, 2010

    Ah yes, so very well written, and so right; and I am delighted to have the gaps (Valhrona Guanaja) filled in here – thank you (albeit a lot of readers here would have realised that it must have been one of only a few chocolates). However, I have to ask myself whether I really want the population as a whole knowing what the chocolate is, and then trying to chase this chocolate and then buying it. If this gets out into the general population as a common knowledge and pursuit then I will find it harder to get hold of, will pay more for it, and it will become less special. I would guess that Raymond Blanc and William Curley probably go along with this thinking too; given that this is how they distinguish (and differentiate) themselves and their wares.

    One could and doubtlessly would if I did not mention it, say that if everyone starts to use more of these chocolates then it will drive a global focus on better beans and production etc. etc . etc. and I would agree, but I think that this is happening already, and probably as fast as the growers can get better at reintroducing the less hardy, harder to propagate varieties and so forth, and causing a stir of this nature might just cause a ‘gold rush’ for these beans, when discrete hunters of the delicious brown stuff (i.e. a lot of the readers here), will lose out – along with Raymond and William.

    I am happy to stay selfish and let the BBC keep their policy on this occasion, even though you are absolutely right and I agree with you completely in respect of the principles involved here.

  2. Matt Caputo February 19, 2010

    AMEN!!! Thank you Martin for your commentary. I really hope you sent it as a letter to the producers at the BBC.

    Disagree with Bill though. Cacao biodiversity is almost as threatened as ever. Just look to the Nacional of Ecuador and the struggles going on their right now. Increased chocolate connoisseurship is vital to both sustainability and biodiversity.

  3. Alexander Rast February 20, 2010

    This is but one symptom of what I find to be a more fundamental problem with the consumer society we live in.
    Across the board, whether it be chocolate or trousers or cars, the basic factors that make for substantial, rather
    than superficial, differences in product quality, are obscured to, and hence usually unknown by, the consuming
    public. Those elements that are actually central to the quality of the product under discussion are almost always
    the ones never mentioned or described, so that it becomes fantastically difficult to make an informed choice on
    anything. There is in effect a tacit agreement among manufacturers/marketers/retailers that the central attributes
    of a given product are standardised and identical – even when this is manifestly not the case.

    For example, how many people understand that the difference between watches is in the movement – so that the
    reason a real Rolex is more expensive and genuinely better than a cheap Casio is because of the quality and
    workmanship that went into the movement, as opposed to externals like the design/materials in case, dial face, etc?
    Even more unlikely is that more than a handful understand the difference between frequency bands of mobile phone
    providers enough to know that those with low-band (~900 Mhz) transmitters can achieve better coverage (with fewer sites)
    and hence less chance of drop-outs/out of areas. Superficials like add-on services or choice of plan are by contrast
    rather unimportant.

    None of this lack of information is deliberate in a direct sense, but I do suspect that many companies are hesitant
    to talk openly about basics, much less educate their consumers about what is important in the products they’re selling,
    out of a fear that, should the customer be fully educated, they might buy from someone else. That might be the case
    for some – which should be a spur either to improve product quality or to be clear about market position (after all, not
    everyone needs or even wants the Rolex they can’t afford anyway). But just as much, with better education, customers
    will actually be willing to pay *more* for a given product, and be more likely to be loyal as well, because they understand
    what they’re paying for. This is, of course, particularly true for chocolate. With more repeat business paying more it’s a win-win proposition for most companies.

    As it stands, many if not most consumers are inclined to think of products as commodities to a greater or lesser extent:
    essentially the same except for superficials, and therefore not worth more than a commodity (=lowest-cost) price. I’ve had
    a number of people say to me “I don’t like dark chocolate”. I tell them more often than not, it’s because they’ve never had
    *good* dark chocolate. You give them one bar of decent stuff and they’re converted. You can see what’s happening: they’ve previously seen dark chocolate as a commodity, hence if you’ve tried one, you’ve tried them all, and if their first
    experience was negative, then they draw the obvious conclusion.

    It doesn’t help that with chocolate, as with most anything food, people are inclined to imagine that it’s the recipe that
    matters. This is true up to a point; a bad recipe can ruin even the best chocolate, but you can’t make a silk purse out
    of a sow’s ear. Furthermore a lot of people are used to recipes designed principally to make the most of less-than-quality
    ingredients. That could actually be a negative with quality chocolate because such recipes may be poorly formulated or
    may hide the qualities of the chocolate behind other ingredients or heavy-handed processing so that such a recipe made with good chocolate tastes no better than one made with bad. And of course good recipes, that don’t hide the quality of the chocolate, work badly with low-grade chocolate, so that when an unknowledgeable consumer tries such a recipe and gets bad results they quickly conclude that it’s the recipe that’s bad – a fate that may well happen to the featured Blanc recipes.
    Or they chalk it up to mysterious and almost magical differences in skill between the pro and themselves. One shouldn’t
    minimise technical ability: yes, a novice won’t be able to get as good results as a pro even with the best recipes, but
    the difference is often less dramatic than people imagine.

    It doesn’t take much to see the underlying reason for the BBC’s policy: fear of legal entanglements. You can (rightly) blame the BBC for this (who should have enough resources to afford effective legal help in case of such trouble), but they are
    as much the victims as the villains – of a system where the ability to win disproportionate damages over trivial or even
    frivolous matters through litigation has reached the point where even honest, reputable firms have to institute policies
    verging on the irrational in order to avoid being destroyed by lawsuits. I believe without comprehensive legal reform
    we can expect a recurrence of such follies as what we are seeing with the BBC.

    One final comment – on Bill Trueman’s remarks. I can’t agree with his view. To keep good chocolate the exclusive preserve of a few “cognoscenti” I think limits rather than increases availability as well as price. Greater awareness would
    create a larger market and hence the availability of quality chocolate would go up, price down, even if the benefit of
    a greater number of people getting more enjoyment out of better products weren’t enough in its own right. Even though
    supply is obviously limited, the risk of availability evaporating because of some mass stampede into buying good chocolate, I think, is microscopic – although it should be said there is one slight possibility, for a *very* small sector of the market – that a particular chocolate or region or brand should become a status symbol and attract a group of determined
    buyers willing to pay any amount including the unjustifiable in order to get exclusive access. There is an interesting echo
    of what I’ve said earlier regarding companies’ reluctance to explain the meaningful differences in products in his
    conjecture that William Curley or Raymond Blanc might be reluctant to have a wider audience be more aware. Such an
    attitude might happen in more commodity-market producers but I think the reverse is true of either Curley or Blanc. Both
    are consummate experts with complete confidence in their abilities. I think both are only too happy to have the public be
    well educated because this would indeed increase the ability of customers to appreciate their skills. In my own case I am a fairly comprehensive expert on chocolate, and this serves rather to heighten my appreciation for William Curley and to frequent his shop more, rather than less. The likelihood that a new competitor would be able to equal or exceed him in quality is remote indeed. Meanwhile, I think Raymond would have been reluctant to put on a show talking about chocolate if he weren’t interested in educating the public, and I suspect it saddens him to have that effort be so strongly muted by
    the BBC’s overly timid editing.

  4. Forest February 21, 2010

    While I can ‘sort of’ see what you mean about the quality of chocolate used I would have thought more people would have tuned in to watch some of Raymond’s techniques or secrets, after all the program is called ‘Raymond Blancs Kitchen Secrets.

    “Melt the chocolate to 55 degrees C”….

    Dearie me.

    Pre-crystallisation had a brief mention which I suppose is better than 99% of the books and programs you see on the subject.

    I was very surprised by Curley’s dipping technique…was the guy in a rush or something?

    Lastly, I wasn’t surprised at all by the office staff picking out CDM. In real life that’s what the majority of people prefer and can afford.

  5. Simon in Easton February 27, 2010

    I was disappointed by Kitchen Secrets, aptly titled, for “secrets” they remain…
    I’m about to have a go at the choccy mousse, and I’m none the wiser about which choc. to use 🙁

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  7. Steampunkjewelrydesigner March 18, 2010

    Yeah, it is nice if they would tell you and take the guess work out of it but I do not think they are trying to keep secrets or cheat anyone out of being able to make a dish as well as they can.

    A “Minimum 60 per cent cocoa solids” is what you need to know for the recipe to come out with the proper consistency and texture.

    Different brands of chocolate certainly can be a world apart…in both quality and price…BUT of course which tastes the best is subjective and with quality vs. cost there is always a point of diminishing returns…
    Why not buy several brands and try them before making your mousse and use the one YOU like best.. Then it will be YOUR signature chocolate mousse, the way you like it and not Raymond Blanc’s.

  8. Sandy March 15, 2011

    I find the product placement exactly very “smart” and obvious. If he’d been showing the package openly, people would have straight away understood the French chocolate manufacturer in question is sponsoring Mr.Blanc. Now, it’s subtle, but doesn’t miss its point especially as he is hammering so much on the importance of the quality of the chocolate used so everyone is trying to find out which make he is using.

    Only thing a non-French might be tempted to argue that, as by accident, the best chocolate has to be French off course (forget he poor buggers living North or East of them), just as anything that comes from France obviously is best… which probably is why Mr. Blanc lives in the UK … 😉

    Anyway, whereas I agree with two of his statements, i.e. that the quality of the chocolate makes the chocolate mousse and that a higher % of cacao does not mean better quality chocolate, I’d challenge his recipe. Instead of adding sugar, I use two grades of chocolate (from the same (non French) manufacturer), both high quality but one more of a milk chocolate, hence bringing sweetness into the mix.

    As why not to use whipping cream of egg-yolks is obviously a matter of taste.

  9. Anne March 20, 2011

    Obvously Valrhona,or can you possibly imagine a french chef using anything other than a french chocolate?

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