Damian Allsop, executive chocolatier, Damian Allsop CH20colates

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th September 2013
Damian Allsop is a master chocolatier with more than 27 years in the industry. He has worked with some of the greatest chefs in the world  including Joel Robuchon, Gordon Ramsay, Giorgio Locatelli and Joan Roca. In 1999 he had a bad accident which left him in a wheelchair for six months but also led to his discovery of a breakthrough process of using water instead of cream in  ganaches. In 2007 he set up his own production unit in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, which soon went on to supply the most Michelin-starred restaurants of any chocolatier in the country as well as being crowned best chocolatier in the UK and fourth best chocolatier in the world in the International Cocoa Awards. Now Damian and his wife Anna have relocated the business to Girona in northern Spain where they hope to expand while continuing to produce world class chocolate. The Staff Canteen caught up with Damian to find out how it’s going. When and how did you first move into pastry? I served my apprenticeship at Intercontinental Hotels before moving on to Walton’s of Walton Street which was my first taste of Michelin-star restaurants; that’s when I decided I really wanted to be a pastry chef. I asked the pastry chef at Walton’s who she thought was the best in the country and she said Robert Mey at the Hyatt Carlton Hotel without even blinking, so I went and knocked on his door and said, “I want to work for you.” He said he didn’t have any jobs or anywhere for me to stay. So I said, “I don’t care; I’ll sleep on the floor,” and he said, “Well with that attitude, you can start on Monday.” That’s how my career as a pastry chef really started. Can you tell us a bit about your accident and how that affected your career? I was working at El Celler de Can Roca when I fell off a drainpipe trying to get into a first storey window of my house. I broke my feet and ruptured my back. I had to spend six months in a wheelchair; that was the first time I’d really stopped working after 22 years so physically and mentally it was a great thing to step back. I realised then that I needed a change, that I didn’t want to be in the restaurant all the time. That was around the time that El Bulli and El Celler de Can Roca were really blossoming and I started to take on board their very open way of dealing with inspiration and ideas. Was that the catalyst for your discovery of using water instead of cream in your ganaches? When I recovered I came back to the UK to open up Locanda Locatelli for Giorgio Locatelli. It was through him that I was introduced to what chocolate can be. That was when I realised that cream actually masks the taste of chocolate rather than bringing it out and that water would be a far better ingredient. Until very recently you were based in Tunbridge Wells in Kent but you have just moved back to Catalunya in Spain; what precipitated that decision? It was partly a business decision, partly personal: we needed to cut costs and didn’t want to grow too quickly. Plus we were working seven days a week and not making much money so our quality of life was very low. My partner Anna is from Catalunya so now we’ve moved back here, where we met when I was working for El Celler de Can Roca.  We have found a great production unit with amazing air-con!  We still have the online shop and specialist chocolate shops for our retail items plus our wholesale business serving top restaurants, many with Michelin stars, and now we have added the opportunity to  expand more into the European and worldwide market. Do you have any exciting new product lines coming out soon? I have a few things up my sleeve which I can’t talk about yet but there’s some juicy stuff coming up. We’re going to be doing a really cool sculpture for Christmas this year which will be a kind of Christmas tree using a new texture I invented called the cloud, an aerated fruit puree which we dehydrate. The Christmas tree sculpture will be on show in the UK this winter. You invented a revolutionary technique with the water ganache; do you have any similar revolutionary ideas in the pipeline? There are only so many things you can reinvent in your life and something as fundamental as that -I’m not sure if I’ll ever do that again!  It was a specific time and a moment when that needed to happen. We’re an avant garde chocolatier delivering flavour in a unique way and we’ll continue to search for that; that’s an on-going lifelong mission. We’ll also find different ways to refine the water ganache. People want to talk a lot about the water but really my whole life is about the chocolate. The water technique is a way to get through to the chocolate; it’s about educating people to make their own decisions much like has happened with wine in this country. Twenty years ago if you put four bottles of wine down in front of someone they wouldn’t have a clue what the difference was  but now people have been educated and they can tell what is expensive wine and what is cheap wine.  I want people to be able to do that with chocolate and have the knowledge to say that a particular bar and a particular chocolate experience really is worth five pounds, for example, rather than just comparing it to a Mars bar and thinking it’s ridiculously expensive. Finally, you’re writing a book which is coming out next year; are you going to give away the secret of the water ganache technique? Obviously I can’t give every single thing away; as a producer, I’ve got to keep a little but back about how to control long shelf life and that kind of thing, but I will be giving out a lot of information and specific recipes using this technique. We were the ones that started the ball rolling with the water ganache and so I feel we should be the ones to explain how it’s done. People are now trying to copy but as they don’t understand about balancing recipes, they make chocolates that are unstructured and may give the water ganache a bad name. They think, “Oh, a water ganache sounds cool: I can put water with my chocolate and it’s going to make it better,” which of course isn’t the case. The water technique is there to celebrate and bring out the taste of an amazing chocolate but people sometimes don’t realise this and they just jump on the bandwagon, so hopefully the book will help people to avoid some of those misinterpretations. See Damian’s recipe for chocolate ice-cream here See Damian’s recipe for flourless chocolate sponge here  

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th September 2013

Damian Allsop, executive chocolatier, Damian Allsop CH20colates