Award-winning chocolatier Paul A. Young opened his first shop in London in 2005, which was shortly followed by a second and third. We visited him in his Soho store to discuss his impressive career and taste his most recent creations.
Inside Paul A. Young's Soho store the smell of melted chocolate is thick in the air. On display are the most exquisite truffles: classic flavours such as salted caramel, banoffee and water ganache, as well as the more adventurous Aperol, marmite and sourdough. While the latter may sound daring they're much smoother and more delicate than you might imagine them to be. We head down to kitchen, where the behind-the-scenes magic happens, to talk about how the business got started, what keeps it going and what Paul cooks at home.
What’s a master chocolatier and how do you become one?
A master chocolatier is someone who makes chocolate from scratch and is head of the business. Some countries have actual qualifications for master chocolatier but I'm self-taught.
We are natural, pure, handmade, artisan and craft. We’ve totally simplified the process and there's no machinery. There's more labour involved but we get to train lots of people.
My job is also running the business, managing the teams, doing everything from maintenance, procurement and packaging, to product and visual merchandising. Then all the things outside of the business – ambassadorial roles, TV, radio, recipe writing and books. It's quite a lot under the umbrella.
Why did you choose to work with chocolate?
I think it chose me in a way. My patisserie career morphed into chocolate out of me exploring it and seeing what I could do with it. I found it interesting and technical. Limitless in terms of what you can create and what you can build.
And people liked my chocolates. I entered the Academy of Chocolate Awards in 2013 and won gold and silver awards.
So it's completely organically built, I didn’t stop one career and start the other. I worked right up until I started this and that works well for a lot of people. They find their routes just by naturally going down a direction they’re offered that comes up.
Is it something you’ve always been passionate about?
No, I didn’t know I was going to be a chocolatier. I never saw it as a hobby. It was something I was doing because I found enjoyment in the craft and I thought I can do something different.
If you find a niche or a gap in the market that's a big motivator. You think well if I can stand out in the crowd by doing something slightly different that people love then it's probably going to work. That's not the hard bit, the hard bit is keeping it going.
What has been the biggest challenge?
There are thousands. I think honestly anyone with a food business will tell you there is something every single day. Whether the weather is too hot or the weather is too cold, there’s a tube strike, a delivery driver hasn't dropped off what you need, and staffing.
You have to worry about the weather?
Everybody does. It’s about customers, every single person in food looks at the weather.
If you've got a business that sells ice cream and it's raining every day not many people buy ice cream. If you’ve got a business like mine and it's hot every day, no one is going to buy chocolate.
If you have a food business with no outside seating and it’s really hot, everyone is going to the place with outside seating. In winter it's packed indoors because it's cold and no one wants to be outside.
A lot of people don’t think of this when they start a food business. There are lots of things you can’t control.
So you’d say it's a daily challenge?
The challenges are endless. If you don’t like challenges you should never start a business. You have to figure out how to balance challenges out. What's important, what to prioritise, what can wait. It’s a constant juggle, but you inspire and empower your team to help and take on responsibilities too.
I’m not painting a grim picture, but you’ve got to love having lots of things going at any one time and making sure you can tackle them.
If it wasn’t chocolate what else would you be doing?
I'd probably either be working with dogs because I’ve got a dog and I love dogs. Or I always wanted to be in music, in art or a chef. I also like motoring, vintage cars and their design. I have lots of interests.
Sometimes I think what if I gave it all up and started again? What would I go into? It’s nice to have different careers. I think I’d be creative.
What do you cook at home?
I eat a lot of vegetarian food but meat probably twice a week, fish once a week.
Simple things like Italian with fresh ingredients. Pasta, tomatoes, olive oil, basil and parmesan – one of the nicest things you could ever eat.
Occasionally I like classic French. I was trained in the classic French style so I do occasionally like those richer things.
I also cook a lot of Thai food, I do Thai noodles. They’re quick and healthy.
Then when friends are around I’ve got to have a good dessert – a good chocolate cake or a chocolate dessert. That's an absolute must.
Do you use chocolate in savoury dishes?
There's a lot of traditional Mexican recipes like mole which are chocolate-based but it has not really caught on here much. It's about using the bean, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs and different varieties.
I often slow-cook a leg of lamb for eight hours and do a ras-el-hanout spice sauce and put chocolate in that because lamb is rich and chocolate is rich. But it never tastes of chocolate, it just makes it really intense.
In fish dishes I use white chocolate because its delicately sweet. That works really well with a bit of lemon and dill.
You’ve got to do it really sympathetically and carefully so you don’t overpower. I don’t like it when meat is drowned by the chocolate. It's old fashioned and ruins the meat.
What’s your advice for homecooks wanting to improve?
Read the recipe fully from beginning to end. It sounds really boring but you have to do it to know what to plan for and what to get.
Then be confident about changing things. If it says put orange zest in, lemon won’t ruin it. It's about being confident to add your own little touch to it.
Don’t rush. A lot of people rush and try and get things cooked quicker by turning the heat up. If it says cook slowly – cook it slowly. Food needs to be treated quite respectfully.
Give yourself plenty of time. If the recipe says it takes three hours to make it's probably going to take you four if you’ve never made it.
Always clean up as you go. And try something new. We all tend to stick to habits but try something new you wouldn’t have made before.
Give us a secret food hack?
Get a baking tray and cover it in slices of white bread. Put it in the oven at 170°C or 180°C and leave it in there so the bread starts to go golden. Take it out and see where the bread is more toasted than other areas. This will show you the hot spots in your oven.
So if it's hotter at the back left, you wouldn’t put something there as it's going to burn quicker. One side of cake will always be more cooked than the other, so you have to turn the cake around.
About once a year I’ll just check it. Then you eat the toast.
Do you ever get sick of chocolate?
We’re testing everything a lot to make sure every batch of every single thing is right. At the end of the day you do feel like you’ve had too much sugar. But the next day you're back at work, it’s one of those things you can’t get away from.
You might also like:
Be the first to comment
Do you want to comment on this article? You need to be signed in for this feature