Ruth Hinks, Cocoa Black, Peebles, Scotland

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th December 2013
Ruth Hinks is the UK World Chocolate Master. In a long and illustrious career she has worked with some of the world’s finest pastry chefs and has taken part in many competitions such as the 2004 Culinary Olympics in which she won a gold medal with Australia.  In 2008 Ruth set up Cocoa Black with her husband David.  In 2011 she was crowned UK Confectioner of the Year. This year she represented the UK in the World Chocolate Masters, coming fifth, the highest ever ranking for a UK entrant. The Staff Canteen caught up with her to look back at an incredible year in an incredible career. In October you came fifth in the World Chocolate Masters in Paris, how did you deal with the nerves on the day and was there any point when you thought it could all go wrong? Preparation for the World Chocolate Masters is intense.  For the 12 months leading up to the competition, I spent at least 25 hours a week training with my coach, Martin Chiffers. The complexities of each chocolate or pastry element mean that one of the main considerations of any training programme is to practice timings.  If your timings are out, you’re in serious trouble. During the competition itself, there were a couple of occasions when my timings were at risk and I really felt the pressure.  Fortunately, Beverley Dunkley and Julie Sharp from the Academy were there to dispense the timeless advice given to chefs the world over: “Ruth, just pull your head in!” In that situation you’ve just go to slow down, gather your thoughts and refocus. What was the feeling like when you heard you were in the top five? Competing against 19 national champions in a culinary competition streamed live online is about as intense as it gets. To finish the competition officially recognised as one of the world’s top five chocolatiers was (and still is) an amazing feeling. The initial feelings I experienced during the awards ceremony were excitement and relief. I also felt pride that I was able to bring home a top five finish for the UK ahead of national champions from France and Belgium. After the award ceremony, the event organisers held a gala dinner.  It was a great opportunity to meet the other contestants and judges over a glass of champagne and to have some fun before everyone went their separate ways.  At about 2am, exhaustion set in - I suppose that the efforts of the past year and the intensity of the competition finally caught up with me! The final feeling the World Chocolate Masters has left me with is a desire to recreate how I felt during the competition.  I simply love being under pressure in the kitchen and the adrenaline kick which comes with it. Why do you think it took so long to have a woman represent the UK in the World Chocolate Masters? The point in a career at which most people would seriously consider entering this competition is probably after about 10 years of professional experience.  For most candidates, that would be above the age of 25 years old - a point at which many women have other priorities such as family and jobs.  I was very lucky to have the support of my family and staff at Cocoa Black. You started off your long journey with chocolate at the age of fourteen, is that right? Yes, it was back in the 80’s and I wanted to save up for a double tape deck radio. My Dad said he wasn’t going to buy me one because he wanted us to learn the value of money.  He suggested that I grow and sell vegetables but I thought that would take too long. One day I was out on my bike and came across an Easter egg mould which I bought with my pocket money.  I taught myself how to make chocolate eggs which I then sold to my teachers and classmates. The rest is history. There was no conflict with your dad being a dentist? No, it kept him in business! In 2008 you started your own company, Cocoa Black, what inspired you to make that move? Back in 2000, I went to work with Jean Marc Scribante (a Cacao Barry ambassador) near Lyon in France.  I’d met him at a Cacao Barry demonstration in Melbourne and persuaded him to take me on.  He had a beautiful little shop selling cakes, ice cream and chocolate.  I remember thinking at the time - that’s the business I want. In 2008, my husband was working in the financial sector at the time of the economic downturn.  He was made redundant and I remember him coming home one day saying: “Right, it’s time to start our own business.” We are both entrepreneurial minded and he had been looking for an excuse to start up a business.  It turned out to be the push we needed. What has been the greatest reward of having your own business? The greatest reward is that I don’t feel like I’m working.  I go into work every day and I’m just playing with chocolate, doing what I want to do and not having to answer to a boss.  Somebody once said to me that if you can make money out of your hobby, you’ll never work a day in your life and I think that’s true because I’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years and it’s been great. After starting the business you quickly opened a school; Is teaching something you’d always seen yourself doing at some point in your career? Yes.  As the current UK World Chocolate Master, I feel that part of my role is to provide an insight to those seeking a career as a chocolatier or pastry chef.  I recently published an article summarising the lessons I’ve learned over the past 25 years - hopefully it will be of interest to someone out there. At Cocoa Black, we’ve operated a Chocolate & Pastry School for the past three years. During that time, we’ve welcomed over 3000 participants many of whom I’ve been privileged to teach.  In 2014, I’m planning to launch a series of webinars for chocolate and pastry enthusiasts (check out the Cocoa Black Facebook page for information on when these go live.) What’s next for you, more competitions? My husband will probably divorce me if I do any more competitions!  In training for the World Chocolate Masters, I’ve more or less taken a year out of the business.  My immediate focus is on developing Cocoa Black into an international brand.  We’ve got a lot of exciting projects in the pipeline including the launch of the new Chocolate & Pastry School.  I also want to develop my staff and to spend more time with my kids. View Ruth's recipe for her Gateaux - The Orchard here View Ruth's recipe for her plated dessert - English Country Garden here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th December 2013

Ruth Hinks, Cocoa Black, Peebles, Scotland