Chocolate has come a long way in the last 20 years and fine chocolate is now more popular than ever. For Chantal Coady, the inspiration behind Rococo, it remains the living embodiment of a dream she first had as a child. With 3 shops thriving in the heart of London, she has lost none of the enthusiasm of her early years and remains as innovative and driven as she was the first time she opened the doorsto her flagship store in Motcomb Street.
She is a pensive woman; someone who seems to take her time to weigh you up before engaging with you. Much about her is measured and restrained but if you look hard enough you can clearly see the spark of invention and a scattering of mischief behind those experienced yet engaging eyes.
“I have always loved chocolate, ever since I can remember. Being one of 5 children there never seemed quite enough of it to go round but then I guess that made my desire for it all the greater.
“I come from a nomadic family, so when I was growing up I attended it lots of different schools, but the biggest chunk was at a convent boarding school which I hated with a passion. 6th form was in London at Mary Datchelors and then I finished off my education with St Martins and Camberwell Schools of Art.”
Although Chantal’s training at university was originally in textile design, she opened Rococo almost immediately after graduating and has made it her one and only career, with the store on the King’s Road having become something of an icon in the area.
“Since those early days I have seen a lot of changes but even though there has been agreat deal of expansion in the specialist chocolate market, to a certain extent it still remains a food area still waiting to be completely discovered. Most people are now aware of the differences between fine chocolate and the industrial candy that they were brought up on.”
Naturally, as any decent chocolatier will tell you, you need good beans make good chocolate and Chantal is confident that her crop comes from some of the best around.
“Rococo has a small cocoa farm in Grenada in the Caribbean, which is a joint venture with The Grenada Chocolate Company. It is part of a co-operative group of organic cocoa farms; all of them have a share in the Grenada Chocolate Company. Furthermore, all the chocolate is ethically farmed and produced.”
If you happen to take a trip along the King’s Road, Rococo will stand out and just a glance through the window will reveal some of the most wonderful creations one can imagine.
“Chocolate gives me the opportunity to be creative. It is such a versatile product. My ideas tend to come to me from out of the blue, sometimes when I am away from work, a smell or a taste or even a colour can spark my imagination.”
And yet for all her drive, hardwork and the respect gained in the industry, Chantal remains in the minority when it comes to women in the chocolate industry and it was something I quizzed her for an answer to.
“I suppose it is the same in the world of chefs, but generally when a woman succeeds in this job, they have to be very, very good. I think we need to look at supporting women all over the world with micro credit unions, so that especially in really poor communities, like the cocoa producing countries, they can help to build a better world for their children and their children's children. If cocoa farming could be elevated from a subsidence crop to one that had added value,which would be a good starting point. In the developed world, I guess that many women do go far with professional careers, and maybe there is not that much money to be made in chocolate?
“As far as my own success goes, I have to attribute some of that to my family, especially my husband. Rococo was my first baby, the real children did not comealong until the business was established, and then my super-hero husband got involved with the business too, so it really is a family affair. It is not easy to get the work/life balance right but I have been blessed with a great family and a great team who I work with.”
With images of cocoa beans andrich dark truffles filling my head I asked Chantal what her own personal favourite chocolate is.
“It depends on my mood, sometimes I love a bit of really good dark chocolate, like the Grenada or Manjari from Madagascar, othertimes it might be a sea salt caramel or white chocolate with cardamom.”
“You might have a bit of a sweet tooth to start off with in this industry but as times goes by you learn that real sugary chocolate is ultimately notsatisfying and the sign of a really good chocolate is one that you only need a small piece of to hit the spot.”
One of Chantal’s proudest moments came earlier this year at the G20 summit here in the UK when she was approached by the PM’s wife, Sarah Brown, to provide the chocolates for the visiting world leaders.
“To be asked ahead of so many excellent and talented chocolatiers was more than I could have ever expected. It was a wonderful honour and something that both me and my family were very excited about.
“For my mother in particular it is a noteworthy moment because along with my husband, she demonstrated tremendous faith in me in the early days. She gave me the deeds of her house to act as collateral for the bank loan that got me started and it is something I will be eternally grateful to her for.”
As someone who is so dedicated to her task, running a business as well as being a mother and wife means that any time she has outside of work is precious so I found it admirable to hear Chantal say that outside of her career, her time was still focused on her family.
“I love to spend time with the family. We go to Grenada once a year, all together and try to get to our house in Provence two or three times too. We all love cooking and eating great food and we also do various sporty things, like cycling, walking and boating. I am also totally addicted to BBC radio 4, 7 and World Service, I almost never watch the TV. I like art, music, film and theatre too when there's a moment.”
So where to now for the woman who has provided her chocolates to some of the most influential people in the world?
“You can never stop testing yourself. There are still many opportunities to chase – even in a recession. I would love to try my hand in the Middle East and the USA as these markets still have plenty of potential for development when it comes to fine chocolate.”
If you would like more information on Rococo and the delightful Chantal Coady then why not visit her website www.rococochocolates.com or even better, one of her 3 stores. I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed.
George R Vaughan