Food & Drink

Chantal Coady at Rococo

Behind the scenes with a 'scientist of chocolate'.

Chantal Coady’s passion for chocolate drove her to open Rococo, London’s first French boutique de chocolat in King’s Road. This was way back in 1983 and as the business celebrates its twentieth birthday, there is much to sing about. With plans afoot to purchase new premises for the preparation of Rococo’s chocolate, she hopes too to open a school so that we can all become experts in this demanding discipline.

Meanwhile, Rococo is a temple of delight: sugar candied coloured walls and the heady aroma of dark chocolate. For those who have the pleasure of driving past the shop, the window displays offer great opulence. To watch children walk past the shop is a treat, especially at Easter time. Who says that the arrival of Nintendo and computer games has all but killed children's imagination? For here at Rococo, they will find chocolate hens a-laying and families of chocolate rabbits.

Talking to Chantal Coady is not dissimilar to talking to a great Master of Wine. Chocolate is spoken about in revered tones and a tutored tasting is an eye opener. Once you begin to understand chocolate, confectionery takes on a very disappointing aspect and is almost reviling. Asked if she belongs to a grand order of chocolatiers of which an association exists in France, she insists, ‘I’m an anarchist. Absolutely not!’

The approach to chocolate manufacture is on several levels. Chantal says that ‘Firstly, you must consider it a science.’ You have to learn the processes and its temperament and success should follow (after much practice of course). Secondly, an injection of artistry goes a long way (especially so at Rococo, which makes it one of the leaders) and finally a passion (Chantal has this by the bucketful). Since she opened Rococo in 1983, Chantal has made her mark on her part of the King’s Road. Let’s face it, who hasn’t heard of Rococo?

Chantal quickly learned the ropes and was able to find chocolates from European artisan makers to fill Rococo. Trips to chocolate fairs brought her into contact with new colleagues, all willing to share information. 1994 was a turning point when Chantal decided to make her own chocolate. She learnt the basic principles of tempering on a two-day course at Valhrona, makers of Grand Cru chocolate and it was in a small kitchen at home that saw the real genesis of Rococo chocolates.

The Chocolate Society
In 1990, Chantal and Nicola Porter launched The Chocolate Society to trumpet real chocolate and stir up a backlash against chocolate confectionery. Chantal continually advocates chocolate’s beneficial properties. It is full of vitamins and iron in particular where 93% is useable by the body. The real stuff is low in sugar and the serotonin boosts energy levels and mental alertness, as well as imparting a sense of well being. A small piece of chocolate instead of pudding or cheese can even lead to weigh loss.

Bean to bar
Chantal says ‘It is a myth that chocolatiers go out to plantations to buy beans on the hoof.’ She buys blocks of the raw material from three different sources, made from different beans. Criollo is the finest bean and its scarcity accounts for less than five per cent of the world’s production.

Chocolate in its raw state is volatile; the acetic acid needs to evaporate. The fermentation process, which allows the fruit to break down, is very important in developing flavour. Beans are then dried in the sun and bagged up. On arrival at the factory, beans are checked before roasting to bring out the full flavour. The winnowing machine removes the husk. The conching process now begins and with commercial chocolate, this process takes just six hours while Valhrona’s chocolate is conched for up to a week. This prolonged process allows more acetic acid to evaporate, resulting in a mellower chocolate.

Value added extras
Extra cocoa butter is added to provide a smoother and quicker melt in the mouth. Cocoa butter is made up of six to seven different crystals and it is the most important component of chocolate giving it they body. It is also the most expensive component as it has a rival demand from the pharmaceutical industry, where it is used in cosmetic production.

Fast chocolate substitutes cocoa butter with nut fats or shea butter, which are less expensive and needless to say, the end product is dramatically different. It also results in a higher melting point than cocoa butter, which helps to stabilize chocolate in warm conditions. It was in 1986 that the EU was campaigning for this type of chocolate confectionery to be renamed vegelate. Chantal found this an apt description for something far removed from real chocolate.

Sugar is added to chocolate at this stage and in a good dark chocolate, you would expect to find sugar content at about thirty per cent. Fast chocolate has around eighty per cent. Milk chocolate has either milk ‘crumb’ or condensed milk added to it. The crumb makes it taste slightly cheesy whilst the condensed milk (invented by Mr. Nestlé) makes for a creamy texture. White chocolate is simply cocoa butter, milk and sugar, with no dry cocoa matter content.

Tempering is multifunctional: it gives chocolate its gloss, the snap when you break a piece, helps it shrink away from moulds if you are making something fancy, gives it stability and prevents blooming (when sugar crystals come to the surface after a temperature change – from cold to warm). At Rococo, Chantal tempers ten kilos of chocolate at a time.

You can do it at home on a much smaller scale and all you need is a marble slab. Melt the chocolate correctly and learn to understand how chocolate behaves and once you have achieved that, tempering looks to be enormously therapeutic although potentially traumatic with temperatures playing a huge part between success and failure. All this is described in Chantal’s book; she has even taught five year olds how to do this but it looks to be a messy job so you must be prepared for the consequences. The tempered chocolate can then be used for all manner of things – leaves, curls, dipping fruit and truffles, pouring into moulds.

What to look for
If you use something between fifty and seventy per cent, you are on the right track. What gives a chocolate its quality is the percentage of cocoa butter but sadly this is not listed separately. Chantal sells a criollo bean single estate chocolate with a sixty-four per cent cocoa solid content and it is sublime. The taste bursts on your tongue as it melts with a deliciously rich and full after taste.

What’s new at Rococo
Always on the lookout for new ideas, Chantal is putting together a new collection of water based flavoured chocolates made with violet and lime and a new venture with a flavouring house in the USA will see basil flavoured chocolate added to the Rococo range. The best sellers continue to be wafers, artisan bars, truffles, olives, in other words just about everything.

If you have the pleasure of eating a Rococo bar of chocolate, remember this.

If you’ve got melted chocolate all over your hands, you’re eating it too slowly. But Chantal Coady would have words to say on that: savour it lovingly.

To read the GWG review of Real Chocolate, click here

Read the GWG review of Rococo's website by clicking here

To visit Rococo's website, click here.