What made you make the move from chef to chocolatier?
I trained as a chef and after graduating quickly worked through the ranks of Marco Pierre White’s restaurant kitchens to the position of Head Pastry Chef at Quo Vadis in Soho. Chocolate just seemed to be the ingredient that captured my imagination most. After leaving the restaurant world I became a product developer and consultant—not just in chocolate but in Japanese food, Chinese and pizzas—and then Chantal Coady, founder of Rococo Chocolates asked me to create a chocolate for her for the first Chocolate Week. The rest happened organically, I continued developing chocolates for other chocolate companies and then started Paul A Young fine chocolates with my business partner in 2006.
What is your earliest memory of being interested in food?
My mum and grandma had a huge influence on my interest in food. I grew up baking with my grandma every Sunday and learned so much from her – her sage and onion stuffing recipe was amazing, not a cake or baked product but if I could have one thing from her again this would be it. My mum still lives in Durham and I don’t get to go up there as much as I like, so whenever I see her, she brings her corn beef pie. I become a child again whenever I taste it, no one does it in London and it just brings back so many memories.
Who or what is your greatest inspiration? I think this is an impossible question to answer. I believe that being alive in a free country that allows me to express myself is a luxury and living in London inspires me every day. My customers and fans inspire me as they keep me motivated and driven to make creative inspirational products.
What are three of your most indispensible ingredients?
Well obviously chocolate! It’s such a versatile ingredient; it goes with so many other flavours, textures and it can be used in so many ways, from moulding, blending and sculpting. The type of chocolate I use can completely change a recipe or product and I find that really exciting.
My next vital ingredient is sugar. I always use Billington’s because it’s unrefined. There are so many varieties. I particularly love the Dark Muscovado—it has such a rich flavour.
And finally, water. It’s a vital part of making ganaches, in particular water ganaches, which are a great way of bringing out the flavours of the chocolates, as well as being dairy-free.
What are a few of your favourite flavour combinations?
I love coming up with new and unusual flavour combinations. Because everything we sell is handmade in our kitchens using only fresh ingredients, it allows me to be creative and develop and launch new flavours quickly. One of our most popular flavours combinations is the Marmite Truffle. I created it in 2007 and it’s remained one of our bestsellers. The mix of sweet and salty has really captured the public’s imagination. One of my favourites is the Goats cheese, Limoncello and black pepper—it really surprises people. I like too many things but love sweet and savoury when together and sweet and sour.
Do you have a fail-safe technique that you could not live without?
Tempering is the process used to get chocolate to exactly the right temperature to ensure a shiny finish.We are the only chocolate company in London that doesn’t use tempering machines in any of our kitchens. All of our chocolate is tempered by hand on marble slabs—it’s a real skill and I strongly believe in making things by hand.
If you could take a plane ride to anywhere in the world, just for one meal, where would it be and why?
I’ve not been to enough places to decide but right now it would be Williamsburg in Brooklyn for a feast of BBQ at Fete Sau and Absinthe at Maison Premiere.