From the controversial Marmite chocolate, to the Tabasco and Wasabi and apple flavours from his current collection, the work of chocolatier Paul Young has always been on the cutting edge of innovation. Despite the critique that this sometimes attracts, Paul denies the use of any gimmicks:
“Fun yes, but gimmick no,” he insists. It is true to say that getting people talking about artisanal chocolate can be no bad thing.
The longevity of many of his more unusual creations certainly seems to prove his critics wrong. His Port and Stilton chocolate is a case in point, now embarking on its sixth year as part of his Christmas collection. Paul explains how the seemingly contradictory flavours are actually not so far apart: “Stilton and dark chocolate, especially a rich, smooth 70% type have a very similar flavour profile and your palate picks up the same peaks and troughs between the two. They’re both dairy based and they melt together extremely well”.
He quickly admits to being very sentimental, with nostalgia clearly playing a large part in the conception of new recipes; a key example of this being the recently conceived Soreen truffle which is steeped in memories from his own childhood. It is made from a fruity malt loaf and 66% Caribbean chocolate.
The move to his new Soho shop earlier this year completes his trio of London establishments. There is already one shop in Campden Passage, Islington and a second at The Royal Exchange in Threadneedle Street. The team already feel part of this most bohemian and gastronomic of the capital’s enclaves, the vibrant purple jewel of a shop set in a hard won, prime corner position on bustling Wardour Street. “It feels to me like we’ve always been here,” Paul confesses.
With cafe culture coming into its own over the last few years, the casual dining landscape of London has significantly changed. Going out for a flat white coffee now rivals a trip to the local pub in popularity. This new social scene has seen a noticeable shift from diners taking all three courses in one restaurant to a more casual venue- hopping style, allowing them to cherry pick their options from one establishment to another, food safari style. Paul’s shop fits effortlessly into this unique hipster dining scene, offering an affordable and luxurious sweet fix to both day and evening revellers.
Paul’s artisanal approach dictates that every stage of production is still done by hand:
“My business partner James Cronin and I are purists and ‘handmade’ to me means not putting chocolate in a tempering machine or on an enrobing line”.
This philosophy extends to his use of natural and authentic ingredients, with new collaborations with the Sipsmith gin makers and the micro-brewers at Kernel Brewery. His most recent partnership is with the coffee roastery Caravan on Exmouth Market, which is the cognoscenti’s holy grail pilgrimage with its delicious food and thoughtfully sourced, freshly roasted coffees. Paul explains the collaboration makes sense not least because they share the same ethos of exacting standards of quality and craftsmanship.
Won over by the house espresso, Paul has created the ‘driving home’ truffle and bar; an intoxicating blend of fresh coffee with a hint of cinnamon spice for his Christmas range, whilst also using Caravan’s beans exclusively for all his other coffee lines.
What is interesting about this union is that up until very recently Paul had maintained he’d never do a coffee chocolate, the two flavours famously hard to balance, memories of synthetic supermarket chocolates springing to mind. The trick he says is simple; create the chocolate as though you were making an actual cup of coffee. Starting with fresh beans, he adds water, rather than milk, which is unable to extract the flavours in the same way, then adding additional ingredients to this base as if creating a range of drinks from an espresso.
The beans are not at all cheap, so you can’t ruin them by getting them in here and then treating them badly,” Paul tells me.
In respect of their origins, processing, and flavour profiles, there are a great deal of similarities between coffee and chocolate. At a time when the Antipodean flat white dominates most cafe menus, and filter coffee is starting to become prominent in trendy cafes, the independent coffee scene, currently in its third wave, driven by pioneering coffee shops like Prufrock Coffee, is quietly thriving. The chocolate industry, on the other hand, seems to have maintained its slightly fusty image. Paul wholeheartedly agrees that the industry needs a good shake up, and when I wonder out loud if perhaps British chocolatiers were to work more closely together towards a common goal, in the way that coffee roasters, cafe owners and baristas do, they might be able to push the industry forward.
Paul admits that patissiers and chefs tend to work quite guardedly. The top chocolatiers, who he says he can count on one hand, and whose number tellingly hasn’t increased in the past five years, have their own little distinct and unique niches in London, and he does not believe they are in competition with one another.
He feels the main difference between a cafe and a chocolate shop like his own is the sheer volume and variety of products. Whereas most coffee shops will start off with an espresso, with all other drinks made from this base, Paul will instead have a selection of 80-100 different products in his shop at any one time. Add to this a constantly changing seasonal range and you begin to understand how this makes the job of a chocolatier so daunting. He’s quick to admit it’s not easy to make a good coffee, but that it requires extreme dedication, not to mention the many years of training and costs involved.
He’s adamant that the future holds no more London shops, aware of the dangers of spreading himself too thinly and with no desire to become mainstream. Although I’m disappointed to learn he won’t be sharing his famous brownie recipe in his second recipe book there is an exciting partnership with the new Wolseley restaurant in the pipeline. The plan is to supply the restaurant with three variations of his popular hot chocolate, and Paul is very proud that “they want the best hot chocolate in London and they like ours“. With the salted caramel trend showing no sign of abating, Paul suggests there possibly may never be a ‘next big thing’ in the world of chocolate, but that it may finally be the time for fine chocolate to become more accessible to a far wider range of people.
He and James intend to embark upon the challenge of bean to bar chocolate production, making them only the third chocolatiers in this country to do so. He tells me the industry can be quite misleading in regards to blurring the boundaries between chocolatier and chocolate maker. He works with chocolate in the same way that a barista will experiment with roasted coffee beans. His most important ingredient is still made outside his kitchen and it seems like the logical step for an artisan who has opened three successful shops in the last five years.
Paul’s skill as a chocolatier stems from his ability to take a fresh approach to a tried and tested formula, creating something fresh, pioneering and remarkable. With his scrupulous attention to detail, the bean to bar process will undoubtedly carry the same hallmark of excellence.
Paul A Young Chocolates: www.paulayoung.co.uk
Follow Paul on Twitter: @paul_a_young