The lovely Rebecca Kerswell – Valrhona Ecole du Grand Chocolat trained Chocolatier and owner of Sydney’s award-wining Coco Chocolate – knows a thing or two about great chocolate. By astounding coincidence, Raffles knows a thing or two about eating it! So when the two of them got together over a connoisseur chocolate tasting at her flagship Kirribilli store, it was a match made in heaven!
Here, between gobfuls of Coco Chocolate’s hand-tempered finest they wax philosophic about the fine art of the beautiful brown stuff…
You have the coolest job in the world! What made you want to become a chocolate maker?
Thank you, Raffles. It was a mixture of things. I wanted to work with the taste and look of the chocolate and the design of the packaging. I really wanted to specialise in edible artwork on chocolate, like our new May Gibbs range and Siren and Swellegant boxes. How about we try some… do you think I achieved what I wanted to?
The packages are nice, they all looks nice and everything tastes awesome. So yeah!
How did you learn?
I did a Post Grad at UTS in Building, Architecture & Design. When I finished I got on a plane to France and went to the Valrhona Chocolate School just outside of Lyon where I did a series of short courses. I did more at the amazing Slattery’s Chocolate School in Manchester and did work experience in their kitchen. Once I had enough skills I opened my first shop in Edinburgh in 2004.
Did it take a long time to learn?
I did a lot of courses (at both schools) over a long period of time but I’m still learning. I never stop.
How is chocolate made?
First of all you have to work out what plantation you want to get your chocolate from as they each have a really distinct taste depending on where the cocoa beans have grown. That’s due to Terroir, a word that refers to the soil, the climate, and the other things grown around it. At Coco we use our own special blend chocolate from the Dominican Republic plus Valrhona cocoa powder and two Valrhona covertures which I’ll let you try. The first is Manjari from Madagascar, which is incredibly beautiful and fruity. The other is Caraïbe which comes from the Valrhona’s Caribbean plantation, and has a nuttier taste. Can you taste the difference?
I can. I like them both but the nuttier Caribbean one is my favourite.
Then what happens?
Next it needs to be processed. The cocoa beans are winnowed, roasted and broken up to separate the husks from the nibs. The nibs are squished through a hydraulic press to separate the cocoa butter and the coco mass and that brown mass is the part with all the flavour. Different bits go back in a vat with additional flavours depending on the type of chocolate. If it is under 70% mass, a binding agent like soy lecithin, is added. Then it is stirred together in a process called conching to break up the particles to give a smooth texture. Then it has to be tempered.
What does tempering mean?
Chocolate is actually quite dull looking and a little soft but people want a high shine and great snap and we achieve this through tempering. We raise the chocolate to certain temperatures depending on whether its milk, white or dark. At Coco we use a marble table and move it around until it drops to in temperature, then raise it back to another temperature. We teach this at our Sydney Chocolate School courses, like the one you did a while back.
That was so fun.
Your chocolate is the best ever. What is the most important thing about making really good chocolate?
Thanks Raffles. The most important thing about making really good chocolate is starting with a really good cocoa bean. And to me the wonderful French art of hand tempering (though machine tempered chocolate tastes the same) delivers a beautiful artisanal product and is better for quality control. And, of course, beautiful added flavours make all the difference. We use Herbie’s Spices in Balmain for all our spices.
We love Herbie’s, I interviewed Ian Hemphill once and he’s so nice and his herbs are the best!
Do you prefer white, milk or dark chocolate?
I change quite a bit. Sometimes I can’t get enough milk, then I go back to the dark, and every now and again I have a white chocolate, lemongrass, lavender and vanilla hot chocolate and I think that’s perfection. When I first met the Sarah Wilson I quit Sugar team to make their sugar-free bar I wasn’t sure I’d like a 99% cocoa mass bar but with the right additions, like freeze dried raspberry and vanilla, I love that too.
I get that, I like them all too.
How many different types of chocolate do you make?
We make loads. In the bars alone there are 45 different flavours.
Epic! I want to try them all!
Which one is the most popular?
Some of the biggest sellers are the Raspberry and the Hazelnut & Sea Salt shards. In the bars its the Orange, Lemon & Geranium and the Rose & Black Pepper – which won gold, judged by the Roux Brothers, in the London Great Taste Awards. What do you think?
The Rose & Black pepper is kind of spicy and so, so good!
You have great taste. But the number one best seller is our Caramel, Pine Nut & Sea Salt bar. Its always fun to experiment with flavour but that one came about because the boy I was going out with at the time was standing outside my shop eating a Mars Bar, which didn’t look good! And he said I didn’t sell anything like that so I came up with Caramel, Pine Nut & Sea Salt bars as my gourmet version of one. Do you want to taste?
Yeah… Oh. My. God! It’s so good!
Which is your favourite?
I take home the cocoa dusted almonds and always have a big bag of Valrhona Mangari but I adore the Raspberry and Hazelnut & Sea Salt Shards too. Plus whatever has been freshly made in the Coco kitchen… even with chocolate, fresh is best.
Do your kids help you come up with flavours?
They always have ideas. Though most of their time is taken up with eating it. They do both love doing the chocolate schools with me and they love making it.
We just tasted 27 different flavours of Kit-Kat from Japan and they had really weird flavours like wasabi, apple-pie flavour and even red bean sandwich. What’s the weirdest flavoured chocolate you’ve come up with?
When I was making chocolate for Harvey Nichols in London we had to come up with the Best of British box for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. They even went in the Queen’s Hamper. So the Queen has eaten my chocolate. One of the ones I came up with was pretty odd but I still love it… Dark Chocolate with Haggis Spices! There’s no sheep or oats in this just the spices, salts and pepper. I dare you to try it!
Yes please. It’s so spicy but so yum.
My dad uses chocolate to make chilli. What’s the weirdest thing you cook with chocolate?
I don’t often because I eat so much of it but one of my favourite books is Like Water for Chocolate and I really want time to make every recipe in that book because there is so much love and emotion in the food.
What is you favourite food besides chocolate?
I love food. I eat everything. I adore food and wine and coffee. So I can’t choose. But if I was stuck on a deserted island and had to pick three things I’d say some authentic Italian pizza and endless pasta; A beautiful Asian inspired fish dish with crispy skin fresh flavours, and of course chocolate which I’d probably eat for breakfast. That would keep me happy.
Thank you so much for talking to me and sharing all this awesome chocolate.
Thanks for my Green Tea KitKat from Japan. I might have to try and come up with something like that here.
I’d definitely come back for that!
This is not a sponsored post. We’re regulars at Coco Chocolate and wanted to share the love for our favourite chocolate. For more info on Coco’s Chocolate Connoisseur tastings and the Sydney Chocolate School visit http://www.cocochocolate.com.au.
Coco of Kirribilli
Monday-Saturday 10.00 – 6.00pm
Shop 12 3a-9b Broughton St Kirribilli 2061
Ph: 02 9922 4998