As Chocolate Week (14-20th Oct) gets underway, we catch up with Chantal Coady of Rococo Chocolates as she celebrates 30 years in the industry.
As Chocolate Week (14-20th October) kicked off, we caught up with this pioneer of chocolate to find out more about her extraordinary three decades in the industry.
Starting a chocolate business was a childhood fantasy of mine... It came about after reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Most people would probably have grown out of that by the age of 23, but for me, it didn’t go away.
The fantasy was revived when… I was an art student and working in Harrods as a Saturday girl selling chocolate. I thought chocolate was such a magical thing and that it was being sold in such a pedestrian way. I had a gut feeling that there was room to do something where you could really engage people and tap into the emotional, sensual and magical side of chocolate.
Starting the business aged 23 was pretty scary... My mother guaranteed the loan from the bank, which meant that our whole family house was riding on the venture, so I had a massive responsibility. That first decade was pretty tough as we had a major recession, but we were also having quite a lot of fun, building up our support base and learning.
Over the last thirty years, the industry has changed enormously... Thirty years ago, it was not common to make your own chocolate and the base level of chocolate then was complete industrial confectionary.
In those days, the absolute epitome of luxury was… a box of Thorntons Continental or those seashell chocolates. They were both thought of as being extremely high end.
What makes good chocolate is highly subjective… Like wine, there are a lot of complicated processes that you have to go through to achieve an amazing end result.
My favourite chocolate is… a really good square of plain dark chocolate, probably something from Grenada. We do our own little single estate bar, which is called the Gru Grococo. Other than that, we have what we call the Rococo Couture range, which comprises very freshly made chocolates. I love the fruity soft caramels, which are very tangy.
The French have fairly bland, traditional taste when it comes to chocolate… They go for what I think are really boring chocolates, like pralines made with ground nuts. The British are much more adventurous and will try anything once.
Going to Grenada for the first time in 2004 and partnering with The Grenada Chocolate Company was… a stand out moment for me. Suddenly, I realised that there was so much more to chocolate than just selling it in a shop: the human aspect; the sustainability; the fact that it takes a whole village to make a bar of chocolate; and then this amazing cross-pollination of ideas and knowledge.
One of my most memorable days at Rococo was… when our friend, Mott Green, one of the founders of The Grenada Chocolate Company, put several tons of chocolate on board this beautiful old sailing ship and brought it from Grenada to Europe with literally no engine at all. We jumped on board at Cowes on the Isle of Wight and sailed the rest of the trip back to Portsmouth. That was an amazing day, particularly as, two weeks later, Mott was killed in a terrible accident when re-wiring a fuse box.
Chocolate is good for you, but not milk chocolate… Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is full of anti-oxidants, acts as an anti-depressent, is very rich in nutrients, minerals and trace elements and helps to lower cholestoral and make your blood vessels more flexible. This has all been proven scientifically – it’s not just chocolate makers saying it!
Tempering can be done at home… but you need to understand exactly what it means and it takes a lot of practice. In my book ‘Rococo: Mastering the Art of Chocolate’ I cover exactly how to do this. It’s totally essential for every type of chocolate making.
There have been many challenges over the years… Money is always tough. Finding a work/life balance with two small children is not easy. I think as business grows, it’s about putting the right systems and structures into place and then finding the right people for the right roles. And you have to learn to say ‘no’ sometimes – that’s a challenge.
The chocolate revolution in Britain has been brewing for a long time… particularly in the last ten years. It’s a new century and lots more people are interested in setting up on their own, particularly pastry chefs, who are used to very anti-social working hours. Most of the new chocolate makers are from that background.
If I could turn back time, I would say to my 23 old self that… over the years, I will learn a huge amount of resilience. For every disaster, there will be something positive to come out of it and that this will make me stronger.
I never expected to still be here thirty years later… I thought I would do it for a few years and then do something else.
If I had done something else… it would almost certainly have been in the design industry, perhaps graphic design or packaging, or furniture may be.
My advice to other entrepreneurs just starting out would be to… pluck up some courage to contact people whom you really like and respect and ask if they have time to have a coffee with you. If you get on well with them, ask them if they’d be prepared to meet you on a slightly more regular basis as a mentor. Most people who are good at what they do are pretty generous with their time.
I admire many people in the industry for different reasons… Mott Green of the Grenada Chocolate Company for his purity of vision; William Curley who is incredibly skillful; Paul Young for his crazy flavours; Angus Thirlwell from Hotel Chocolat for his amazing marketing ability, and many others.
Britain and particularly London is now recognised as… one of the most exciting places for chocolate in the world. I would like to establish Rococo as being a leader of that field and a global brand. That will take quite a lot of work.
Left alone with a box of chocolates… I would probably have one or maybe two, then I might not eat another for a week. One of the perks of being surrounded by chocolate all the time is that you tend to be quite restrained, but when it’s really good chocolate, you don’t need much.
Join Chantal Coady for an evening of Rococo History and Chocolate on 15th October at Chocolate Week. Tickets are £15 per person and booking is essential. Please contact Julie on 020 7245 0993 or visit www.rococochocolates.com