On Tuesday night, the wonderful Cassie and I headed out to the Paradise in Kensal Green to attend a chocolate masterclass hosted by the one and only Paul A. Young. This was one of a series of ‘School of Grub’ events held at Paradise focussing on fabulous food and the people that make it.
If you have not heard of Paul A. Young, shame on you! (although I can forgive you if you live outside of London) Paul is one of Britain’s finest chocolatiers and has won numerous awards for his wonderfully creative flavour combinations. I am very lucky to work just a 15 minute walk from his Soho branch on Wardour Street and I do tend to ‘visit’ his shop quite often so I am all too familiar with his incredible chocolates/brownies/billionaire shortbread.
And so the evening began. Tables were laid out with numbered sheets and beside them, samples of chocolate.
The audience was predominately female and an air of excitement filled the room as Paul introduced himself and started to talk about our favourite subject…chocolate.
Paul explained that after studying hotel catering and management, he had a few food-related jobs then worked through the ranks of a restaurant kitchen to the position of head pastry chef for Marco Pierre White at Quo Vadis and Criterion. He then began to specialise in chocolate and discovered a deep love for it. He opened his first shop on Camden Passage in Islington in 2006 with his business partner James Cronin. Since then he has opened two more shops in Soho and Bank. He is the only chocolatier in London who makes each creations completely by hand in the kitchens at each shop, in small batches and at every stage using fresh ingredients. Compounds, concentrates, essences, preservatives and additives are not used.
So after an introduction to chocolate, Paul explained about our sheets of chocolate samples.
I wrote down notes on the night but looking back, I can’t read a lot of them, so I am piecing this together from memory and the notes that I can make out!
Number 1. was a 55% Venezuealan single origin Criollo bean milk chocolate from chocolate maker Duffy Sheardown. Paul told us that this was probably one of the best milk chocolates we will try. Now, I’m not a fan of milk chocolate at all so I didn’t have high hopes. However, for milk chocolate, it was actually very nice. Oddly the texture wasn’t as smooth as you would expect to get from milk chocolate. Instead it was slightly grainy, and the flavour of it was quite biscuity. It was still way too milky for my personal taste, but it was still lovely. Paul advised us to bite the piece in half and to allow the chocolate to melt in our mouths first. And then to chew the second half. Strangely enough, the chocolate tasted very different with each method.
Number 2. was a 63% Madagascan chocolate. This was extremely fruity, the over-riding taste being of cherry. Again, this still tasted a bit too ‘milky’ for my taste.
Number 3. With this chocolate the cocoa bean was ground to taste, without roasting. It had a very soft texture, no bitterness. Almost a taste of liquorice, very floral and delicate.
Number 4. was my absolute favourite – Raw Ecuadorian 83%. This was definitely the highlight of the evening for me. It had a good, clean snap, a rich, nutty flavour and the texture was unbelievably velvety and smooth. It also left a slightly dry feel on your tongue afterwards. A few people in the room weren’t so keen on this one but I thought it was perfect and could have eaten a bar of it there and then. In fact I did ask Paul if he sells it in his store and luckily he does. So of course I had to buy some the very next day…
Number 5. was a 100% Madagascan chocolate. This was like a whack over the head with a pan! It is extremely dark and robust. I actually quite liked it but I could only eat it in very small quantities. Most people in the room found this way too dark though.
Number 6. was pure cocoa beans. You just had to twist to release them from their shells. they didn’t taste too bad at all actually.
It was really interesting to taste how the chocolate differs depending on where it is from. Ecuadorian tends to be more fruity and floral, Venezuelan is more biscuity, Madagascan was also very fruity.
We then moved onto two of Paul’s chocolates. The first one was a Pimms chocolate. This was a revelation! It really did genuinely taste of a glass of Pimms. The first taste was mint, then cucumber and the the hit of Pimms. It was so full of flavour and yet incredibly light and fresh. I could have eaten another five straight away. The other one was his salted caramel chocolate…a 64% Madagascan chocolate shell filled with gooey, delicious salted caramel. It was divine. He told us that this is his biggest seller. In fact they sell about 1000 per shop every day!
Paul then went on to make a simple ganache, one which he makes using just chocolate and water. Now, this does go against what most of us think of as a classic ganache: double cream and chocolate.
He also explained how best to roll a truffle. I tend to roll mine by moving both my palms in a circular motion but this rarely results in a perfect ball. Instead, he advised us to keep our left arm still and to roll with just the right hand. Also, instead of rolling in the palms, just roll on the tips of the fingers as the palms are too warm.
And then it was our turn. We were each given a pair of latex gloves and then each table was issued a large dollop of ganache and some cocoa powder. Here is Cassie with a somewhat ‘flat’ truffle, (It was VERY hot in there!) and me looking very pleased with my bag of round (for once) truffles. Unfortunately it was so hot that evening, by the time I got home they had merged into one giant ganache explosion. Still tasted great though.
The evening was fantastic fun and so interesting. In fact, its the happiest I’ve felt in a very long time. I’m clearly in the wrong job!
Thank you Paul!
If you are in London and would like to try Paul A. Young’s incredible chocolates, his shops are here.