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Meet the World's Best Chocolatiers

Feature: Long Read
Words by Emilie Dock

Bonbons, mendiants, pralinés, orangettes, palets d’or: the artisan creations in The Chocolate Hall come in a tantalising panoply of forms. Behind it all are the world’s most revered chocolatiers, many of whom dedicate most of their lives to making luxury chocolates – much to our continual delight.

What motivates them? How much chocolate do they eat? What do they think of white chocolate? We speak to Pierre Marcolini, Elias Läderach, William Curley and our very own Alistair Birt about our favourite cocoa creations.

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Pierre Marcolini

Founder of Maison Pierre Marcolini and Best Pastry Chef in the World 2020

20 Years of Bean to Bar

“I’m interested in finding and expressing as closely as possible the identity and uniqueness of the cocoa beans we use to make our chocolate. This know-how is the art of making chocolate.”

Pierre Marcolini

 

Why are you committed to bean-to-bar chocolate?
Bean to bar means knowing the origins of the bean, the planters and where the beans were grown. I always visit the plantations we carefully select cocoa beans from. Most of the planters have never tasted chocolate, let alone the ones they help to create. Seeing their pride when they bite into their first square is the greatest reward of all.

Favourite chocolate among your creations?
It depends. I like to eat a bar of Baracoa cocoa beans from time to time because it’s a chocolate that embraces you like a woman. Then there are the timeless chocolates like Coeur Framboise or the Câlins. 

Where and how do you go looking for new flavours?
I love to travel! Central Africa allowed me to discover cereals, whole or in pieces, which I had never worked with before. 

What flavours are you working with now?
For the summer collection, we’ve created a small fruity chocolate ganache without a chocolate shell that we’ve subtly sweetened, sprinkled with Grand Cru chocolate leaves and placed on Quimper lace with cocoa nibs and lemon. The flavours that emerge are coconut, lemon, passion fruit… and all colouring are made with 100% natural vegetable flavours. 

How often do you eat chocolate?
To give you a precise figure: I eat more than 25 kilos of chocolate every year. I eat, I taste everything and every time my friends ask me, “But weren’t you on a diet?” I answer, “Yes, but that doesn’t count!”
 

Elias Läderach

Head of Innovation at Läderach and World Chocolate Master 2018

Fresh is Best

“We were the first company to really pioneer fresh chocolate (or FrischSchoggi™, as we call it in Switzerland). Our FrischSchoggi™ is hand-crafted and produced daily in Switzerland’s mountainous Glarnerland, and made from Läderach’s carefully selected and ethically sourced cocoa beans.”

Elias Läderach

 

Who taught you how to make chocolate?
I’ve been lucky enough to learn from three generations; Läderach was started by my grandfather, continued by my father, and now my brother is the CEO. Throughout our childhood, we were lucky enough to experience the production from a young age and really celebrate the joy of chocolate – we even lived above the chocolate production facility in Ennenda, Switzerland, for the first 12 years of my life! 

What is FrischSchoggi?
Our signature FrischSchoggi™ has become such a popular product. We sell it in large slabs, which are then broken into snackable pieces. It comes in a wide range of flavours, from crunchy Florentine milk and pieces of cream caramel in Swiss milk chocolate, to fruit mixes in white Swiss chocolate, and we bring out limited editions throughout the year, too.

Can you recommend a chocolate pairing?
Wine is a particularly good partner, as there are so many different notes that bring out different ingredients in our range of flavours. Champagne pairs well with our Raspberry Blackberry FrischSchoggi, while a full-bodied red works nicely with any of our dark chocolate variants, for example. 

Most unusual chocolate flavour you’ve tried?
Bacon-flavoured chocolate from a brand in Austria!
 

 

William Curley

Founder of William Curley and four-time winner of Britain’s Best Chocolatier

All About Flavour

“My focus is always on how enjoyable the products are to eat: flavour and texture – and often this comes with a slightly rustic element. The lack of colourings, preservatives and excess sugars also gives a cleanness to the flavour of the final products made in my kitchen.”

William Curley - chocolatier

 

Where do you source your chocolate? 
Our chocolate couverture is from Amedei, a small Tuscan producer with a similar ethos to my own – widely considered some of the best bean-to-bar chocolate in the world. 
 
What draws you to reimagine all-time classics, like Snickers and Bounty bars? 
The issue with mainstream confectionary is that, over time, it has become about increasing profit margins to the point where something that once tasted nice just ends up tasting like sugar and cheap flavourings. My inspiration comes from the fact that I used to really enjoy eating some of these bars but as an adult I find them unbearably sweet and also chemically flavoured. I recreate them as think they should be! 
 
What’s your signature?
Our couture chocolate: a selection of ganaches, layered pralines, pate de fruits and caramels, all made with 100% natural herbs, spice infusions and real fruits. Our sea-salt caramels are probably the most popular. I think the balance of the dark chocolate with the rich vanilla caramel and sea salt seasoning just works for many people’s palates.  
 
What’s your guilty pleasure? 
Probably my jaffa cakes… The originals were my favourite growing up, so it seemed only right to recreate them! Back then I could demolish half a packet, but now one of my versions is more than enough.
 
Thoughts on white chocolate? 
It’s not real chocolate! We work mostly with dark chocolate – it has the best flavour – but also have a milk range. There are certain flavour combinations that pair with white chocolate though. I’m currently developing a few new products and you may spot some white in there…

Alistair Birt

Senior Head Pastry Chef at Harrods and UK Chocolate Master 2018

Only at Harrods

“Behind each bonbon, mendiant and bar at The Harrods Chocolaterie is our exclusive courverture, which we blend with other Harrods signatures like our Knightsbridge coffee to bring you fresh, artisanal chocolate you cannot taste elsewhere.”

Alistair Birt

 

Why is fresh, artisanal chocolate better?
Making chocolate fresh with the finest-possible ingredients means you can reduce the sugar content and increase the moisture, which leads to better-tasting chocolate with softer ganaches and clearer flavours. 

Tell us about the Harrods bonbons.
Each bonbon takes around 36 hours to make. It’s all about getting those beautifully decorated shells as thin as possible, before filling them with a seasonally changing menu of ganaches, fruit gels and nut pralines. As well as classic combinations like muscovado caramel and pecan, we’ve developed flavours like olive oil, lemon and basil, or peach and verbena. 

What else can you find at The Harrods Chocolaterie?
Our bread-and-butter slab, made with Harrods sourdough deep-fried in beurre noisette with caramelised white chocolate and a hint of sea salt, is a firm favourite. But you’ll also find our peanut butter praline and feuilletine snacking bar, candied pineapple slices with chilli and salt and a vegan milk-chocolate ‘cloud’ with coffee-infused caramel, alongside many more. 

Favourite chocolate growing up?
Lindt balls and Ferrero Rocher – and yes, they have inspired some of my creations. 
 

 

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