Experiences of An Apprentice Chocolatier

My boss Jane Williams and I often joke about the fact that my job title, Apprentice Chocolatier, solicits more “oohs” and “aahs” than her job title of Head Chocolatier. I would love to tell you that it had been my lifelong dream to be a chocolatier, but in reality it took a degree, a sudden, germinating interest in food and a great deal of soul-searching in the South of France to draw the conclusion that I was destined for a career in the food industry. Moving back home to Newcastle after a year in Lyon aged 24, I was convinced that any chance I had of finding viable work opportunities would mean relocating to London. Newcastle, however, is a small city, and through hearsay I found out that North-East based Davenport’s Chocolates were looking for an apprentice.

I had no idea what to expect from the apprenticeship, and to be honest I still couldn’t tell you what an average day involves, as every day is completely different from the one before.

Everyone seems to envisage my life as a Juliette Binoche type figure, living in a haze of chocolate tasting while dressed in Chanel. Yes, I do get to do chocolate tasting and testing, and I am permitted to consume as much chocolate as I please. But the fact is, I can equally be making sugar flowers for three hours, or psyching myself up to do some sales calls to delicatessens in the office.

Chocolate making is not a clean activity, so the clothes I am normally wearing at work are leggings and a hoodie – it is not stylish.  If you work for a small company this means adapting to whatever the needs of the business are, and in the beginning  that means a great deal of box folding, chocolate packing and laying chocolates. However, I am a relatively fast learner, and having a boss who is so welcoming in sharing business knowledge with you allows you to progress quickly.

Within a few months, I was making the centres that fill the chocolates and learning to temper the chocolate itself. None of this was without a few glitches. I have the strength of a sparrow, thus there is always a degree of risk whenever brawn is required. There have been a few sticky moments involving copper pans of molten caramel, metal crates of melted chocolate and elbows buckling under funnels of heavy fondant. I had to do a fair bit of negotiation when spreading fudge, and my boss had to draw me a diagram {I am 26 years old} to illustrate how to tie ribbon round the boxes correctly.

After working part-time for eight months, I was offered a full-time position, and this marked a new wave of involvement. My boss Jane now wanted to get me more involved in the press, PR and marketing side of the business. Promoting your product is so much easier if you have made it yourself, and for that reason, if I owned a food production business, I would always ask someone to work on the factory floor for a little while before encountering any other side of the business. I know the product inside and out, and I would hope that the care that I put into my craft would always be evident to anyone who was interested in purchasing the chocolates.

The creative side is a contender for the most exciting part of the job. Early this year, we developed our newest range, which is the Vintage Collection. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the addition of the coffee creams wasn’t motivated by my long-standing mourning of their discontinuation from Quality Street boxes. It’s a perk of the job creating chocolates that you yourself want to eat. As my boss is not keen on them, I was responsible for taste testing the new chocolates with a coffee barista. I can therefore take full responsibility for our beautifully boozy rum and raisin truffle. The triumph of perfecting the marshmallow, after several enrobing calamities, gave us all deep joy. The first reveal of the flock wallpaper designed for the boxes was also a high moment.

All of these building blocks in creating a new range have been so wonderful. Equally, a job where sales are so centred around the act of celebration brings something new with each season: the build up to Christmas is hand-rolled limited edition truffles, and the spring time and daffodils are symbolised with towers of chocolate eggs (and a slight strain in my left hand from cradling the moulds, admittedly).

The word ‘apprenticeship’ holds vocational connotations, maybe referring to manual work positions taken immediately after school and as an alternative to university. So often the foodie success stories stem from the experiences of people in their 30s and 40s who have broken away from the city rat race and decided to pursue a career in, say, baking. With such a fantastically diverse British food culture, I do wonder why graduates do not consider the food industry as a career path in itself. Working hard and not being well paid are small sacrifices when you are producing something which you are very proud of. This point seems even more pertinent if we shine a light on the internship culture, frequently unpaid and exploitative. One of the advantages of the credit crunch is that people are having to look to alternative industries for career opportunities, and though I don’t need a degree to do my job, it was spending time abroad for my French degree which engaged my interest in food originally. But aside from that, the amount that I have learned has been invaluable: invoicing, social media, customer service, trade shows, press releases, sales and promotion are all interesting components to my varied job.

Food is an exciting industry to be working in in the UK. Like fashion, it moves quickly and frequently. Anyone interested in the arts, food, administration or sales could do my job and reap the benefits. But for a chocolate lover, this is job heaven.

Further Information

Davenports Chocolates: www.davenportschocolates.co.uk

Follow the team on Twitter: @DavenportsChocs

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