Damian Allsop shares his secret of his success by combining water with chocolate to create a sophisticated ganache.
evolutionary. Bold. Humble. Damian Allsop still remembers the first chocolate ganache he made with his mentor Robert Mey in 1986. “I was an apprentice at the Hyatt Carlton Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge (now Jumeirah).
Robert trained me in classic French pastry. It was very modern for its time and was the place to be if you were a pastry chef”, explains Damian.
The British chocolate scene has changed dramatically since then. Maybe it doesn’t quite have the same quantity of chocolatiers found in France but it has become a pioneer of revolutionary and constantly evolving ideas.
After years of specialised training and work, Damian now belongs to a generation of British avant-garde chocolatiers, whose creations are sold at Michelin-starred restaurants across the UK and exquisite stores such as Liberty of London and Le Fromagerie. His contribution to this cutting-edge group is a formula of chocolate water ganache.
So, how did this happen? “Whilst working for Giorgio Locatelli, I was invited to Amedei and I’d never tasted this chocolate before. So I was amazed at the complexity and flavour of the Chuao and when I got home, I made a mousse with it and was shocked that it didn’t taste the same as the raw chocolate. I realized that the flavour of the cream and egg yolks was altering the taste of the chocolate. I needed to use a non-flavoured liquid…water”, elaborates Damian.
“Who would have thought that by removing the cream and butter from the classic ganache recipe and replacing it with locally sourced spring water, you could taste the exact flavour of the chocolate used. The flavour delivery is more exciting and intense, the mouth-feel is smooth and leaves a clean, fresh sensation. The big difference here is that everyone uses cream as their liquid. I use spring water”, continues Damian.
His latest creation is the Pure Collection, a celebration of some of the best-known chocolate varieties in the world, launched in October. Valrhona, Pacari, Amano and Original Beans are part of this. “It is a complete vanity project. It is a loss-maker but I love it so much I have to do it”, he says.
He needed to demonstrate the amazing and varied characters that dark chocolate can give. To achieve this, the chocolates needed to be worked together.
A key input to his success comes as a result of working together with partner Ana Hernandez Piferre as a team. “For the last 5 years, 7 days a week, we have been making chocolates in our kitchen in Kent, designing boxes, creating a concept. Without her, none of this would be possible!”
So, was it Damian Allsop’s dream to become a master chocolatier? I doubt it. He believes he is only a pastry chef, who is “bloody good” at making chocolates.
Martin Christy reviews the Pure Collection, 2011
With the second Damian Allsop Pure collection, we see Damian branching out from the previous Valrhona only offering.
This year, we have a mix of some of established and ‘new wave’ chocolate makers, plus Original Beans, whose chocolate is made for them by Swiss couverture producer Felchlin. Original Beans source their own cacao though and theirs is some of the best Felchlin-made chocolate.
Tasting the Pure collection is almost a must for connoisseurs wishing to educate their palate. Here we find an extended and fuller expression of the flavour notes of each chocolate, a sensory experience that compliments and enhances the tasting of the actual chocolate.
Because of this, these reviews are almost like straight chocolate bar reviews, rather than the regular filled chocolate approach. We’re also really getting into the nuances of batch variation here, a problem for consistency for those expecting the same flavour each time, but surely part of the real origin experience.
Pacari – Raw 70%
Here the water ganache brings out a surprising strong vinegar note, hints perhaps of the very minimal fermentation that goes on in Pacari Raw (which only takes place while the pulp and beans from open pods are carried to the drying centre.) There’s no roasting at all here though, so every detail of the cacao is exposed – the slightest hint of mould or poor drying would show up instantly.
On the tongue we get a full burst of green cacao flavour. If you’ve been to a cacao farm or collection centre, you’ll recognise at once the fresh flavours of good drying cacao – a certain wild, farmey flavour that suggests the pungent smell of cacao fermentation near by. If you haven’t been lucky enough to make such a visit yet, this is a pretty good substitute for the experience.
Following this comes a certain ‘biscuity-ness’, then finishing with hints of the famous but elusive Nacional ‘floral’ flavour, with a backbone of a little ginger, ending on something I can only describe as ‘egg yolk’ – but green plantain would also be pretty close. Lightly tannic at the end, but in a very pleasant ‘green tea’ way.
Original Beans – Piura
This year’s batch of Piura bars are distinctively more on the acid side than we saw in last year’s excellent fruity balance. In the ganache, the first hit on the tongue is fruity toffee, moving to the slight bitterness of grapefruit, followed by a good chocolatey base. The after taste is clean fruit though, moving closer to the plum/citrus we expect from the origin.
Amano – Morobe
A challenging origin from Amano, really exploring the boundaries of flavour. Damian’s ganache strinkingly brings out the intense grapefruit/pineapple zing, while moderating the leather/smoke note that’s almost inevitable with Papua New Guinean cacao.
The balance here is even better than in the straight chocolate, with the two fruit/leather extremes running side by side. You might also find cherry, raisin and cheesy hints – signs perhaps of imperfect fermentation, but part of an interesting, complex whole. Would sit very nicely alongside a nicely aged Italian grappa.
Original Beans – Virunga
Distinctive smell of butter, which comes about from the non-fruity African genetics and Felchlin’s distinctive chocolat style. Flavour is full toffee, raisin, rum, a little earthiness and a touch bitter. Could be buttered prunes, if such an idea existed. End is tannic, but this is balanced by the butter and dark fruits, leaving an effect like light lemon.
As a chocolate, Virunga has really come on since the first production, which was interesting rather than eye-catching. Here Damian brings out the full subtleties, showing the potential of this surprising African origin.
Valrhona – Manjari 68%
A boosted percentage version of Valrhona’s classic Madagascar. As we saw in Pacari Raw, Damian’s water-based technique can tend to emphasise the acid notes in a chocolate. Madagascan’s have a flavour profile that is naturally towards fruity/citrus/acid, with Manjari famous for it’s orange/cherry notes.
The water ganache has moved the flavour across to raspberry balsamic, losing a little lightness in the process. I normally lean towards higher percentages, but in this case the extra sweetness of the standard 64% Manjari might have helped to keep the balance more central. A nice eat, but perhaps the least interesting of the collection.
Amano Madagascar 70%
A little stronger than the 68% of Manjari, but we can instantly see the lighter Amano roast by the lighter colour. (The cacao genetics in both these Madagascan’s will be more or less the same, considering the limited number of sources of Madagascan criollo).
Given the flavour expression that follows, the aroma is surprisingly light, with very light raisin and a touch of grass.
On the tongue we get fudge, then cream, cream, cream, fruit ginger pudding, a raspberry coulis zing, finishing with liquorice and a toffee length. It’s really hard to keep up with the evolving flavour journey. Sublime.
A nerds delight
Damian’s achieved something remarkable here. His presence in the collection is almost invisible, transparently delivering flavour and enhancing the sensory experience and profile of each. Many have said it, but the star here really is the chocolate.
If nothing else, ‘Pure collection’ is a must for budding and accomplished connoisseurs as an educational palate experience. Ideally, Damian would make a collection containing all known origin bars, just as a review aid. Nerds aside, its’s also a very pleasurable boxed set and a great Christmas gift. Hard to recommend it highly enough.
Price: £18.95 – buy online direct from Damian here.