hat a fantastic way to begin the Christmas season! Despite the unpredictability of December weather, London’s South Bank was alive with chocolate revellers visiting over forty different stalls, selling and sampling chocolate bars, artisan truffles, ganaches, hot chocolate and cakes.
As we tend to relate names with companies, Yael Rose is the face of The Chocolate Festival, an event that has been running for the last three years in December and April. We met each other a few months ago, when she was hosting the Easter event and somebody had mentioned to me that she was Argentine. When I asked her, “hablas español?” she told me she was born in Israel, lived in Argentina, returned to Israel before arriving in London to start her love affair with chocolate.
One day, while watching Channel 4’s Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory - about Willie Harcourt-Cooze and his journey from buying a cacao plantation in Venezuela to becoming a chocolate maker, she became truly inspired.
“That’s when I realised I must organize The Chocolate Festival! I love meeting Britain’s brilliant chocolate-makers and seeing people’s eyes light up when I tell them what I do”, Yael explains. Perhaps the memory of drinking her mother’s hot chocolate as a little girl was a pivotal moment, a premonition of her life in the world of good quality chocolate.
Among the chocolate stalls
As Martin Christy and I are on our way to present our Slow Chocolate talk, I recognise familiar faces and aromas. The chocolate makers and chocolatiers are introducing their new chocolate products to London chocolate aficionados and passers-by.
William Curley indulges us with his sea-salt caramel bars wrapped in an exquisite Japanese-themed packaging.
Duffy tempts us with his UK-produced bars, produced with cacao from Ecuador, Panama and Nicaragua. Damian Allsop intrigues us with his water ganaches, which include the Pure Collection and the Tea Collection. Bill McCarrick of Sir Hans Sloane charms us with his glossy coffee beans. Philipp Kauffman of Original Beans seduces us with his bars from the regions of Piura, Esmeraldas, Virunga and Beni. And Chantal Coady, founder of Rococo, displays more than 50 wonderful chocolate bars. Just to mention a few…
“What I love about the Festival is that it offers a great alternative to faceless supermarket shopping. Increasingly, people want to know where and how their food is produced and who made it. At the Festival you can talk to the producers themselves, or to traders who source direct from the producers, to help you better understand what’s on offer”, explains Yael.
The Chocolate Protagonists
“Chocolate is not one-dimensional. It does not only have the sticker of dark and fair-trade chocolate anymore. It has different nuances”, explains chocolate maker Philipp Kaufmann of Original Beans.
After working for the WWF in Geneva and the UNPD in New York, Philipp founded his chocolate company four years ago. The concept of sustainability is vital for him as he sources his cacao directly from farmers in Bolivia, Congo, Ecuador and Peru.
Under his slogan, “The Planet. Replant It”, he sets out his philosophy. “Replanting is a crucial action. For every bar purchased, local community farmers that we subsidize, plant a tree that supports the forest of origin. Not just rare cacao trees, but a mix of trees necessary for lively biodiversity”, he explains.
Foil from trees
Orginal Beans bars are now wrapped in protective foil made from trees, keeping the flavour safe and another step towards a sustainable chocolate.
Duffy’s British-made chocolate bars
Duffy Sheardown is the face of Duffy’s Chocolate, a small artisan chocolate-making company that produces in Lincolnshire.
An ex-Formula One engineer, he is the one of the two chocolate makers producing single-origin chocolate bars in the UK. “We source the finest beans that we can find, working directly with the cacao farmers or as close as we can get”, explains Duffy.
His bars are made with beans from one harvest, from one region of one country. The taste of each bar will vary year-on-year; as the growing conditions change, so do the flavours.
Duffy’s bars have won chocolate awards and riveting reviews. “With its expressive, dark, treacley boldness, the Chuno bar (from Nicaragua) is about as serious as one can get, and a very masculine chocolate indeed. One to get to be bowled over”, Seventy% chocolate reviewer, Alex Rast, wrote.
The Valrhona’s collection
“Any occasion to talk about chocolate and share our passion with our customers is important. The Chocolate Festival is the best way to meet our retail customers and share our love of chocolate with them”, explains UK Valrhona representative, Marie Vanbranteghem.
While people were tasting the Valrhona Grands Crus bars (Manjari, Guanaja, Jivara), they were curious and asked a lot of questions. “We had some passionate discussions and tasting experiences during the three days. I have been impressed by people’s knowledge of the chocolate. They want to know more about origins and aromatic profile, just like you would taste a good wine, understanding the difference between a blend, a pure origin and a single estate”, says Marie.
Slow Chocolate Talk
“We’ll give you a piece of chocolate, but don’t eat it just yet!”, said Martin. It was a challenging request to the 60 people attending his Slow Chocolate talk at the Cookery Theatre. But the purpose behind this was to experience the feeling of eating chocolate in slow motion.
Under the slogan “melt don’t munch” and through a series of sensory games, the audience discovered the magic of eating chocolate slowly. Easier said than done.
During the talk, the audience tried ‘slow eating’ Valrhona, Pacari Chocolate, Original Beans and a generic supermarket chocolate bar. At the end of the show, chocolatier Damian Allsop prepared his superb water chocolate ganache for the increasingly inquisitive and respondent audience. We won’t give up our crusade for real chocolate, even at Christmas!