Paul Young, Paul A Young Fine Chocolates, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th September 2014

Paul A Young grew up making cakes at home with his mum and grandma in Durham.

He trained as a chef before moving on to work for Marco Pierre White where he moved up the ranks to head pastry chef at Quo Vadis and Titanic. In 2006 he opened his first chocolate shop selling fine chocolate and has since opened three more. He has gone on to win numerous  accolades and awards including Best Sea Salted Caramels at the International Chocolate Awards two years running. He specialises in handmade chocolates, innovative flavour combinations and a truly artisanal approach to chocolate making.  

Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness
Paul A Young

You worked for Marco Pierre White for six and a half years at Titanic, Criterion and Quo Vadis; how much did you learn about pastry during that time?

Pretty much everything – not baking but in terms of patisserie and desserts and in terms of skill and detail.

It was very different then than it is now; the hours were 8 am till 2 am and you were grateful for having that job because so many other aspiring chefs wanted to get in.

I kind of knew at the time that if Marco was interested he’d give me a tough time, and he did.

He’d say things like: “Paul, your chef whites are crumpled; iron them.” He’d throw odd details at me and I thought, if he didn’t care he wouldn’t be saying things like “if you look smarter, you’ll work smarter” and that kind of thing, and that’s why I stayed with him for such a long time.”

Marmite ganache truffle - photography by Anders  Schonnemann
Marmite ganache truffle

Where did you learn about chocolate and how did you make the move to becoming a chocolatier?

I’m completely self-taught. There isn’t any official training in chocolate in the UK so my training comes from going to college to learn to be a chef and my experience as a pastry chef for seven years. It was just something that happened; I met the right people at the right time.

I then met Chantal Coady from Rococco who asked me to make some chocolates for her for Chocolate Week and she said they were fantastic quality; that then stemmed into developing chocolates for other chocolate companies for a short period. Chantal introduced me to Kate [Johns] from Nudge PR who started National Chocolate Week and she encouraged me to enter the Academy of Chocolate Awards. 

Then my business partner, James Cronin and I made the decision to launch our own business. It was never ever in my business plan or life career plan; it developed organically through me following my passion and found that chocolate was probably the best thing for me in terms of being creative and unique.

So I started from scratch and started to create the recipes and different methods and just tried to be different from everyone else, and it worked!

You have four shops now. What’s it like opening a shop; is it as difficult as opening a new restaurant?

Signature dishes                                                        Sea salted caramels                                    Marmite truffles                                              Chocolate brownies                                                                                                                                                    Top cookbooks                                                  Persiana, Sabrina Ghayour                                      Pitt Cue Co. The Cookbook                                    Mast Brothers                                                Chocolate: a Family Cookbook                            Let’s Bake! Cathryn Dresser (so much fun for kids!)                                                                          How to Eat, Nigella Lawson                                                                                                                            Desert island desserts                                            Syrup sponge and custard (the nicest one at the minute is in Scott’s in Mayfair – it’s supposed to be for two people but I always have it to myself!)                                                  Lemon tart (there are some shockers out there – it has to be a good one)                          A really good Bakewell tart                                  A really good doughnut                                Chocolate and hazelnut bombe at The Ivy (the best chocolate dessert I’ve had in recent times)

It’s exactly the same. People aren’t sitting down to eat but you’re still manufacturing food. It took a year to plan the whole thing for the first shop. It was harder doing that than working for Marco Pierre White because of the responsibility of having your own business.

Trifle of 4 chocs 2 - photography by Anders Schonnemann
Trifle of 4 chocs

Throughout the whole of the first year I was often working through the night. I rarely had a day off for three years. After that I tried to take one day off a week. The team grew from just myself and James along with friends and family who’d help at weekends; then we took our first member of staff on and now we’ve got 32 members of staff.

All your chocolates are made by hand in the individual shops without any artificial processes; what are some of the challenges of this totally artisanal approach?

We’re using about 20 tonnes of chocolate a year now and we don’t have a single tempering machine or a moulding line or a filling machine; we do every single stage by hand. We don’t have any preservatives, no invert syrups, no stabilisers, nothing; it’s totally, absolutely, completely fresh. And everything is entirely handmade; we don’t have a way to speed anything up, and as we expand we employ people rather than buy machinery.

Choc decoration p.26 - photography by Anders  Schonnemann
Choc decoration

What annoys me most is when people say they’re chocolatiers and then you find they’re buying everything pre-done. The biggest challenges it throws up are shelf life and consistency of quality, that’s about ongoing training – every day, asking is that right? Is that acceptable?

That new recipe – will it preserve? Will it last for the seven days, two weeks or a month that we need? It’s questions all the way along the line, but I would never, ever compromise; never, ever decide to use a flavouring over a fresh product.

And now you’ve developed a whole-bean chocolate bar?

Yes, we roast the beans whole; we don’t shell them and we grind the entire bean. Traditionally you would only roast the beans and not the shells, but traditionally the shells can be made into cocoa tea so they have flavour; it adds texture to the chocolate but it’s part of the bean. We thought we’d try it and we really liked it and a lot of our customers loved it.

Some people are a bit unsure because they think chocolate shouldn’t have a texture to it, but you know what, it’s about innovation; things have been done in the same way for so long in chocolate and we want to do something challenging and different. We’re not going to make another 70% chocolate bar; there’s tonnes of those out there. We’re going to play with ingredients and innovate a bit without being gimmicky.

You’re famous for unusual flavour combinations in your chocolate like Marmite and port and stilton; how do you come up with these ideas?

I have no idea! It’s like if you give an artist a blank canvass and some paint, something will happen. I don’t have a particular method or a formula. I don’t have a notepad that I sketch ideas in. It’s just continually  thinking about different flavour combinations, experimenting and being spontaneous. Everything is possible to a degree, I believe.

Sometimes an idea comes out of the blue, sometimes it’s something that someone mentions to me, often it’s about using flavours that people don’t associate with chocolate; seasonality and using seasonal ingredients are also part of it. I just think if you are creative – and I’ve been creative my entire life for as long as I can remember - it’s just there.

What new projects do you have coming up?

I do need to do a second book next year. I’ll have to pull my finger out and get it done, finding the time is difficult! We do want to expand outside of London next year so probably up North somewhere but we don’t know where yet.

Those are the two things that are high on our priority list for the next 12 months. If we don’t get to open another shop then okay, we’re not greedy, we’re very happy with what we’ve got but we’d love to get further out and get people in the north of England to experience my chocolate as well.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th September 2014

Paul Young, Paul A Young Fine Chocolates, London