Walking with Chefs and Learning from Chocolate

It seems I have underestimated chocolate. I learned a lesson about wine from a ‘chocolatier’ (if I may call Paul A Young that, it seems a rather limiting term for a chef, innovator, entrepreneur, spokesman and generally-actually-quite-a-nice-guy). 

What I did not underestimate was the ability of Mecca Ibrahim (now aka @gbchefs) to organise a brilliant evening full of interesting people, places, flavours and ideas. She’s a super-networking machine and lovely as well, so when I was invited on a “food crawl” with her and friends, I naturally said yes.

Let’s start with the event, … then we need to talk about chocolate, and wine.

First, I arrived at Angel tube station on a rainy, London day recently to meet a small, select group of foodies. The idea was to do a trek around Islington, visit and taste some of the unusual products from independent shops in the area, and end up at the HQ of Great British Chefs to learn about their mission and their app over dinner (and wine).

Our first stop was the impossibly cute Home & Pantry (@HomeandPantry), a shop combining all those trinkets to give your London flat a touch of idealised country houses with a coffee shop with lovely home-made cakes. I can’t say I am the main target market (I’m more a messy practical minimalist) but yet the welcome was very friendly (including some sparkling wine) and I sense that this is a brand that will develop, and I do like the sound of having a decent coffee while others get on with shopping.

Next stop was frozen yoghurt. But not just ANY frozen yoghurt … this was FRAE (@FRAE__) organic, natural and delicious frozen yoghurt. The folks behind FRAE have a very focused business model. Only four flavours, but lots of fresh toppings. Keep it simple and focus on quality. Works for me. I had a lovely Natural Yoghurt flavour with some strawberries and chocolate chips. Delicious, if a little unusual as a “starter” for a food crawl.

Then to visit the amazing Paul A Young (@paul_a_young). The shop is a temple to amazing flavours based on chocolate, but actually appealing to all. Just the look and smell was amazing, but it was what he said that got to me most … but let me come back to that.

Finally, we repaired to Giraffe (@giraffetweet). It may be a big chain, but I was impressed by the richness of flavours in the dishes we tried – nachos, duck & noodles, mezze and more. I even liked the mint based smoothie (and I rarely try smoothies) as it was very refreshing and not at all too sweet. I would definitely recommend heading to Giraffe when in doubt and looking for a relaxing place when you are out shopping, travelling, chatting with friends, etc. Is is a fun place and I have to say they are also good at getting their message out in social media.

And from there, finally, already feeling spoiled, to GBC HQ … which I will have to write about separately.

Now, the take-away thought from the evening.

Paul is a great, passionate, spokesman for his business. Standing in this, one of his three shops, you can hear, feel, smell, taste and see the passion. It is there everywhere you look. 

What made me sit up was when he explained how his chocolate creations differed from what most people call “chocolate”. His competition is NOT Dairy Milk, Snickers, Mars bars, and so on. He is not trying to get people to “trade-up” from that chocolate. Those products are not even “chocolate”, they are general confectionary or candy. They are sugar delivery mechanisms. They have little in common with the artisan, hand-made, uniquely and irrepressibly creative works of art made exclusively for his shop. He is selling unique taste experiences to people who value that little bit of escapism.

Just like wine, consumers have a perception of “chocolate” which covers a magnitude of products and quality levels, but at least they have the term “confectionery” to aggregate the mass-produced sweets sold in supermarkets and corner shops. 

Fine Wines are also made by passionate artisans, but we do not have the vocabulary that separates out the mass produced wines that NEED to be sold in supermarkets and are effectively alcohol delivery mechanisms for consumers rather than true wine experiences. They have been called “branded wines” but that is wrong. 

We also need to avoid confusing consumers. Tesco et al do not need to be stocking expensive wines in Inner Cellars (I’ve even seen £25 bottles of Barolo in my local Sainsburys that will probably never shift the 6 bottles they have on the shelf.) just as Paul refuses to supply other retailers with his products.

I see chocolate in a very different light today, and I look forward to hearing Paul Young speak again. Now I’m off to have my last Saltwater Caramel Truffle. Oh Yes!

My photos here:

Thanks to @gbchefs @victoria_glass @miriamjsnice @foodurchin @webstaurants @tikichris