Interview – Taylor from Bake Free

What got you interested in baking and free from foods?IMG_1229

I’ve always been interested in cooking, food and flavours but really began baking when I found that I need to follow a gluten free diet. My wife has food allergies and my daughter does too, so this naturally lead to baking free-from recipes and experimenting with creating foods that we were unable to buy elsewhere.

When did you first make your famous brownies?

I think the current recipe is about attempt number 17! I tried a lot of recipes which I found in books and online but wanted to keep pushing to see how rich I could get the chocolate flavour and also pursuing a great texture. Now I make them in a range of flavours but the nutty ones are my favourites – Peanut Butter Swirl and Hazelnut Praline!

How was your first attempt at gluten free baking? 

I actually used to really dislike baking as I didn’t like to follow recipes and measure ingredients. I was a bit of an “experimental” cook! Now that I create my own recipes and transform traditional recipes into free-from bakes, I enjoy the baking a lot more. I enjoy having the freedom to create.

How and from where do you source your ingredients?

From a huge range of places! I’m often limited by allergy statements and production methods but make sure that my ingredients are responsibly sourced/produced and I try to have minimal ingredients in recipes and to keep as much of a wholesome approach as baking allows.
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Anything you are particularly proud of about your products? 

I constantly get feedback that nobody would know that my products are free-from and many people prefer them to the so-called “normal” items that they buy.

What’s your best-selling product?

Brownies, both at events where I trade and I also wholesale locally too.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Taking the step to begin my own business and I hope that this will be a good example for my daughter to not follow the beaten track.

IMG_1281What are your ambitions for the future?

I’d like to have a small cafe or deli one day.

What’s your mission statement?

Just to make food that people enjoy. My favourite is when people get tippy-tappy feet when they eat something good.

What’s your favourite type of chocolate?

I’m a dark chocolate fan, particularly 85% and upwards. Combination-wise, I enjoy chocolate with nuts, ginger and coffee.

You will be able to get your hands on Bake Free’s yummy gluten-free goodies at the Exeter Chocolate Festival! If you would like to find them before then you can visit their facebook page for details of other local events.

Interview – James from J.Cocoa

What got you interested in chocolate? IMG_0653-38

I have always loved food, cooking and eating, and I have always been interested in how foods are produced and their origins etc, and who doesn’t also enjoy a bit of chocolate? But it wasn’t until I was at a chocolate demonstration at a food festival that I really got drawn down the rabbit hole. It was a demo on how to flavour chocolate, fill chocolates and whatnot, but at the end of the demo someone asked ‘but how do you make the chocolate?’ to which the exhibitor had to admit that she just buys it all in ready made, so this got me thinking, how many companies actually do make their own chocolate? And to my surprise, very very few do. So in my over casual manner I stupidly thought ‘well how hard could it be?’ and so it began…

When did you first make chocolate?

The curiosity all started in 2015, but depends what you mean by chocolate, as my early attempts certainly didn’t replicate any chocolate I had ever seen before. The appearance, taste and texture should probably be described as ‘rough’. It is safe to say making chocolate proved more difficult and complex than I had ever imagined, but I was now hooked and driven to make something at least edible.

chuno milk miniHow was your first attempt at making chocolate?

As mentioned it wasn’t exactly plain sailing and to be fair I had no idea what I was really doing. There was no one that I knew of who actually made chocolate from bean to bar to ask for help or tips so everything has been done with in depth research online, reading history of food books and a significant amount of good old trial and error, with mostly errors, but they say you learn from your mistakes and that I certainly did. My first attempt was made up of unintentionally burning the cocoa beans to a brittle horrid flavoured mess followed by cracking them with a rolling pin, de-shelling with a hairdryer (what a mess that made) and grinding them up in a blender. If I part any wisdom on future makers, do not do the last part. It took me to blow up two blenders to realise that making chocolate in a blender doesn’t work.

How and from where do you source your ingredients?

I start by working directly with the growers or co-operatives to ethically source the highest quality cocoa beans paying a premium of over 5 times the Fairtrade rate. This means that finally the farmers are getting greater recognition, and a true price for the demanding work and time that goes into growing and cultivating the cocoa, enabling farmers to actually make a living from their cocoa instead of just surviving. They can keep their children in schools and re-invest to grow their businesses instead of being forced into selling their cocoa to large confectionery companies at ridiculously low prices. Only Organic ingredients where possible are added to my chocolate, with only 2-3 ingredients in my dark chocolate bars. I never use emulsifiers, strongly believing that for great chocolate, Less Is More.

Is there anything you are particularly proud of about your products?

I am immensely proud that my chocolate has come a long way in the 4 years since seeing that demonstration and its very humble, chaotic beginnings. What started as curiosity, turned into a hobby and became a full business. My bean to bar chocolates are internationally award winning, collecting an award for every bar created and entered so far. Including winning Gold at the 2018 international chocolate awards.

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What’s your best-selling product?

My hand painted giant Easter eggs. They are all individually decorated in different colours and slightly different designs so that every one sold is unique to that person enjoying it, packaged in my zero waste own design boxes. However that’s only seasonal, in general the best selling chocolate variety is the new coffee milk chocolate. This is the one that collected gold in 2018 and flies out as soon as I make a batch. It is enjoyed by cafes, restaurants and bar customers alike for its truly natural and subtly blended flavour.

What achievement are you most proud of?

One of my greatest achievements is not only ethically sourcing ingredients but also sustainably producing and packaging my chocolate. At J.Cocoa I make a specific pledge to the environment to protect our planet, after all, this is the only planet with chocolate on it! I have reduced the businesses waste to an absolute minimum. Any packaging from deliveries either gets reused, repurposed or recycled. Nothing gets wasted throughout production, and I have designed most of my machines and equipment which have then been built here in the UK from recycled stainless steel, and everything is either powered manually or by electricity.

Packaging is the biggest issue when it comes to waste, particularly plastics. So I set about designing my own zero waste chocolate packaging that was still functional, hygienic and protected my bean to bar chocolate. It took me the best part of a year, but it eventually all came together. My single origin bars are packaged in fully compostable starch-based wrap, inside a totally glueless recyclable acid free card box, all of which is produced here in the UK minimising fuel usage. My hot chocolate stand up pouches are re-sealable and also fully compostable. My shipping boxes are custom fit to the bars minimising movement and the need for excessive protective packaging. Though in circumstances where this is needed I either use paper, compostable pellets, or simply re-use protective packaging from deliveries I have received. The boxes are then secured with fully recyclable tape.

I am most proud of persevering with making chocolate too. It has brought many highs bars twistand lows and it is no easy product to produce. It is a very complex time-consuming process, and by changing one small aspect within it will yield a completely different end product, which at times has been a nightmare. But I do it because I love it, and I want others to enjoy what I make.

I am proud to use the chocolate as an avenue to implement real change particularly in cocoa growing countries which also happen to be some of the poorest regions on earth and historically taken advantage of.

What are your ambitions for the future?

Looking to the future I want to carry on making chocolate, sounds obvious but it is a tough path to walk. I also want to continue increasing the range of chocolates I make, working with more amazing growers and invest in fully renewable energy sources such as solar panels, rain water storage with purifier and wind generators etc to eventually become totally sustainable and continue to form a business and product that creates a big taste impression whilst leaving no imprint on the planet.

What’s your mission statement?

To produce the most delicious bean to bar chocolate in a fully ethical and sustainable manner, to use the chocolate as an avenue to implement real change economically and environmentally. To enjoy making something that brings joy to others.

What’s your favourite type of chocolate?

Very difficult, I love so many different chocolates dark, milk, white, filled, bars etc. There’s so many really amazing chocolate makers and chocolatiers. Some of my favourite go-to chocolates are basically anything from Zara’s chocolates, Eponine and Fifth Dimension, the triple chocolate truffle from JK chocolates is incredible! Chocolarder’s Sambriano Dark bar is one of my all time favourites and bars from Dormouse and Solkiki are too brilliant to name just one. And that’s to name just a few!

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You will be able to try James’s award-winning chocolate at the Exeter Chocolate Festival! But if you can’t wait until then, you can order direct from the website by clicking here.

Interview – Samuel Brook

What got you interested in chocolate?fullsizeoutput_d24

I’ve always had an affinity for pastry work and chocolate, whether it’s been making things with it, cooking or eating. As my career has developed and I have learnt more about chocolate, the different types there are and the different flavour profiles that they have, my appreciation and enjoyment for chocolate work has only increased.

When did you first make chocolate?

I have not made bean to bar chocolate yet. But making individual handmade chocolates with different and intricate designs is fast becoming one of my favourite things. The phrase I hear most often is ‘they look like marbles or shells’ or ‘they look too good to eat’.

How was your first attempt at making chocolate? 

The first attempt went well, but then it’s easy when someone is teaching and helping you. Since then it has taken a lot of practice to get to the stage where I’m happy with the way that my chocolates look and taste.

CW0fbgO4Sl2EDh748hyULAHow and from where do you source your ingredients?

I use Valrhona chocolate, because there is no comparison. There are so many different types and flavour profiles, which then offers me so many options when it comes to making chocolate and truffles. Matching the chocolate to the correct flavour enhances the end result which makes the chocolate more enjoyable.

What achievement are you most proud of?

People’s reaction when they taste some of my patisseries is something to be really proud of and happy with, and is without doubt the most rewarding part of my job. Achieving 2AA rosettes with my first review when I was in my first head chef job. I am yet to put forward my chocolates or patisseries for any awards.

What’s your best-selling product?

Chocolates and Macarons – gift boxes and wedding favours

What are your ambitions for the future?fullsizeoutput_d62

My goal is to open a patisserie shop, a real French style patisserie. Hopefully in Exeter, where I would serve brunch, afternoon tea and sell chocolates, macarons, patisseries and if the time allows, real viennoiserie, made and baked everyday.

What’s your favourite type of chocolate?

Valrhona Bahibe 46%. It is a milk chocolate with a slightly increased amount of cocoa and it has a brilliant balance between the two profile of milk and dark. It is also the chocolate that I use for Millionaire’s Shortbread, which is the reason I am where I am and where my career began.

You can find out more about Samuel and his business ‘Pretty Little Pastries’ here.

 

Interview – Seed Chocolate

What got you interested in chocolate?SEED LOGOS White on Blue

I have always had an avid interest in chocolate from the very moment I trained as a pastry chef in my teens.  It wasn’t until recently, that I started to really think how chocolate was made, from the raw ingredients & the chemistry within cocoa.  This has guided me to become a bean to bar chocolate maker.

When did you first make chocolate?

Just under three years ago.

How was your first attempt at making chocolate? 

It actually went really well.  We haven’t hit too many hurdles luckily.  Our biggest challenge was the heat of the summer of 2018, damn that was a learning curve!
It’s all down to the preparation of your ingredients & sourcing the right equipment.

seed1How and from where do you source your beans?

We currently source our variety of cacao from Peru.  We have a great relationship with the smallholder supplier.  We are very proud to source our cacao directly from these small farms & cooperatives.
We get sent samples from all around the equator.  It’s a real privilege to us that they believe we can make a great end product with their harvest.
We are looking into new origins from Central America & Asia for future cacao varieties.

Anything you are particularly proud of about your products?

We are very proud that in our first full year (2018), we received five awards for three of our chocolate bars from The Academy of Chocolate & Guild of Fine Food.  We were also awarded Specialist Food & Drink Retailer 2018 by The Taste of Staffordshire.

What’s your best-selling product?

Our Toasted White Chocolate bar always sells out.  This is more than likely because it has been ranked top four (in the white chocolate category) in the world, by The Academy of Chocolate.  It’s is the only non-vegan bar we create regularly due to demand.

What achievement are you most proud of?seed2

I am just happy we have grown organically whilst keeping our identity & ethos of creating great single origin chocolate from the finest ingredients we can get our hands on.  It’s hard as I have a fractured spine.  But the rewards do push me forward.  We have met so many lovely people on our adventure so far in the chocolate making world.

What are your ambitions for the future?

We have a few secrets up our sleeve for the future, but our main objective is to get our packaging onto the next level.  We aim to have all of our packaging home compostable by 2020.

What’s your favourite type of chocolate?

Dark chocolate all day long!  The flavour notes you get from different varieties is mind blowing. And unroasted cacao is a great snack food.
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I can vouch for their toasted white chocolate being absolutely delicious! If you want to get hold of some before November, you can visit their website by clicking here.

Interview – Solkiki Chocolatemaker

What was the point of starting your own chocolate label?

In 2007 we were looking for a decent dairy-free white chocolate, but there were very few options and none were delicious, so we started experimenting. That same year, we sampled fine flavour dark chocolate in San Francisco and were excited by the flavours and nutrition but also the ethics behind the fine flavour movement.  The point? Deliver exploitation-free chocolate that tastes great and protects everyone in our chain; from the creatures and trees in the rainforests, to the farmers and our customers. Consuming fine-flavour chocolate really makes a positive difference, and we want to be part of that change and make good decisions easy for people to make!IMG_2803

Is chocolate a luxury item?

What is a luxury item?  Something you don’t really need.  Because of its high nutrition we think fine flavour, low processed chocolate is a necessity, like apples and broccoli – only more powerful and beneficial!  Is ultra-processed industrial chocolate a luxury? Absolutely.  The planet would be better off without industrial chocolate.

How did you go about starting the company?

We started with a very basic shoestring budget. We invested in simple equipment and wanted to recoup some of the costs so we tested selling online as a hobby and found there was a demand for our product. Some of the most important steps were; finding great farmers, finding reliable sources of great cacao, finding the route to market, gathering equipment and obtaining government approval to import, make and sell.

What were some of the biggest challenges?

Finding affordable space in which to build our workshop.  We found a very old building to renovate in the rural countryside and it took a long time to make it ready for 

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production.  As well as an international relocation and raising a young family, it was a true challenge to get Solkiki off the ground.

Did you find any aspect of setting up the company to actually be fun?

Almost everything about it is fun! Coming up with the name and logo, and finding the Solkiki way to do things is great fun. Starting something new, with hopes and experiments and energy… it’s a dream come true. You’ve got one life, so try to enjoy it, right?!  We’re really lucky to have found our passion, and to be rewarded while doing it is something we appreciate every day.

What inspired the company name?

Sol means the Sun, and Kiki comes from a Dutch word (Iris is Dutch) that speaks of nature, all things that grow, live and die. Solkiki – it speaks of all the things we really need. We added ‘Chocolatemaker’ to make the distinction between chocolatiers (remelters who use chocolate made by others to then be made into bonbons etc) and chocolatemakers (who produce the actual chocolate made from the cacao bean).

How do go about developing your recipes?

We feel that every variety of cacao bean that we work with has a right to shine, whether as a single source bar or with an inclusion. We like to find the things that are special about the bean and put it in the spotlight. How we go about it is different per cacao bean. Sometimes it’s in the flavour of the unroasted bean, sometimes in the roasted bean. Other times we find inspiration in something less directly related – a memory of a flavour or perhaps an aspect of a dish we recently tried, etc. We find that when you follow a lead it can bring you to very interesting roads. Many dead ends too! We are not afraid to fail, but persevering sometimes brings you to a very delicious place where the chocolate is just divine and it was well worth meeting the dead ends that came before.

What do you want the buyer to come away with after tasting your creations?

We work to generate a feeling of discovery and excitement for fine-flavour chocolate. We create chocolate that hopefully excites you and makes you feel great – mind AND body!

Who is doing exciting things in the chocolate area, in your opinion?

The Heirloom Cacao Preservation initiative is working hard to find, promote and conserve delicious and especially unique cacao trees.  Their work here is invaluable because if people don’t act immediately then many amazing cacao varieties will be lost forever.

The International Chocolate Awards and the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting are doing an incredible job of promoting fine flavour cacao and chocolate tasting worldwide, and of course the International Chocolate Salon do a great job promoting fine flavour chocolate in North America.

Are there any developments in the field that you find very exciting?

There are more and more chocolatemakers popping up around the UK and also around Europe. There is a steady interest for quality chocolate that is different and new, and we also see a growing interest from the public in understanding and exploring the ethical side of cacao.

Chocolate made without dairy is receiving more interest and we feel this is really motivating because we feel that dairy should not be an automatic ingredient for white and milk chocolate. This might sound strange at first, but we feel one can enjoy an extremely delicious white, milk or dark milk chocolate using other types of milk, like coconut milk for instance. They’re at least equally delicious.

We are also seeing new bean-to-bar specialist shops run by enthusiastic chocolate curators popping up more and more throughout Europe. It’s really great to see more interest in cacao as a food, and people understanding that cacao is a lot like fine wine, not just something to quickly satisfy a craving with (although there is nothing wrong with that too!), but that it can also be a food to savour and enjoy at a deeper level.

Do you have advice for anyone wanting to get in the business?

If you want to learn about chocolate flavours, the best way to learn is eat as much fine flavour chocolate as you can. Pay conscious attention to the chocolate and compare at least two chocolates in any session.  You’ll learn a lot about what you like and dislike and it’ll give you the best possible grounding.  Taste, taste, taste again. The sort of chocolate you should make should be the sort of chocolate you like to eat, you’re the expert when it comes to your taste buds and no one comes close. So, trust your own judgement most.

Any comments on sustainability, the environment, fair trade or other areas of interest?

About sustainability. In a nutshell, cheap industrial chocolate which costs less than 10p/gram retail price does NOT come from a sustainable source. It is driving deforestation and human rights abuse on a huge scale. Industrial chocolate currently employs 2.3 million child workers and a total of 8 million workers earning half of the bottom line for absolute poverty.

We work using direct trade, which means cutting out as many middle men as possible and making sure the farmers are rewarded properly for their work. In return they look after their crops and fermentations well and can supply us with outstanding cacao. We do our best to then work with the cacao beans as best we can, making the best chocolate possible.

We would love to see more chocolatiers switch to buying from chocolatemakers that practice direct trade. The problem with chocolate from more sustainable sources where the cacao was bought through direct trade (not just fair trade) is that the end product is more expensive and not everyone will be happy to pay more for something they’ve always underpaid for.

There are a lot of issues with Fair Trade in chocolate that need to be addressed. Just because there is a Fair Trade stamp on the bar you bought, doesn’t mean it is sustainable. What it means is that only slightly more has been paid for the cacao, but it is not enough to make a difference on the farmers’ lives.

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If you can’t wait until November to get hold of some award-winning Solkiki chocolate, you can order it on their website – www.solkiki.co.uk

Photo credit: Michael Lucky.