My life in….Chocolate

 

 

My first confectionery job was working for Dr Adrian Dodson in the confectionery section of Leatherhead Food Research. Between 1978 and 1984, Adrian and I dismantled washing machines in order to speed up Mint Imperial production and demonstrated why trying to make the coating around choc-ices even cheaper was a really bad idea.

 

Fast forward to 1991. As Technical Director of Whole Earth Foods I was responsible for developing new organic foods. Our French contact, the late André Deberdt, had sent me a parcel of organic ingredients from Togo, in West Africa. Buried at the bottom of the box was a single bar of chocolate, another of André’s mad projects. I tried it and thought it the best chocolate I had ever eaten. Straight away I rushed upstairs to the office of Whole Earth supremo Craig Sams. He agreed it tasted fantastic, but had I noted that Whole Earth had been militantly anti-sugar since its formation in 1977?

 

Eventually it was decided that a new company would be set up to market the chocolate. Wanting to sound like a Jermyn Street shirt-maker, we settled on the brand name Green & Black’s – Green because we were using organic cocoa, Black because at 70% cocoa solids this was the darkest bar on the UK market by some distance. We hit the market at exactly the right time and – aided significantly by the money, drive and contacts of Craig’s partner Jo Fairley – Green & Black’s was away. What happened next is recounted in Craig and Jo’s book Sweet Dreams.

 

I left Green & Black’s to launch OF+ in 1995. By 2009 the successful launch of Divine Chocolate was behind me (see My life in…Fairtrade) and I was talking to my friend Dave Alexander from Global Organics in Boston as he was passing through London. Global represented an Italian chocolate manufacturer called ICAM, which Dave felt could do with some support in the UK market. I arranged to meet Carla Baroni from ICAM for lunch at Casa di Lucia, a wonderful Slow Food restaurant located in the hills above the company’s headquarters in Lecco, near Milan. I was hired as a consultant and became the firm’s UK representative in 2011.

 

I was deeply impressed by ICAM. Founded in 1946, it was a family-owned business, deeply committed both to supporting its cocoa farmers and making high quality bean-to-bar chocolate. The new factory in Orsenigo was state of the art, and everyone I met from the management team was highly professional and welcoming. And so it remains. We have managed to gain and retain significant private-label business in the UK, thanks to ICAM’s considerable expertise in sourcing fine cocoa (single origin, Fairtrade, organic and more) and turning it into great chocolate.

 

To keep myself up to date with the dynamic UK chocolate scene, I joined the Academy of Chocolate, where I now serve on the committee and help with planning its prestigious awards. I also chair the London Chocolate Forum and am an enthusiastic supporter of the London Chocolate Show.

 

Chocolate remains a source of fascination to me – there is always more to learn. The more I work with chocolate, the more respect I have for the farmers who grow the cocoa. I have visited the Conacado co-op in the Dominican Republic, and hope one day to make it to Peru or even Madagascar. And do I still love eating it? Absolutely – Vanini 49% milk with sea salt please…