Keen to turn your passion for chocolate into a career? Paul A. Young tells us how to get experience in the industry, and what it's like to work with the sweet stuff everyday...
Combining original and exciting flavours in his cutting-edge creations, Paul A. Young is an artisan chocolatier at the forefront of his industry. Here he shares the secrets to career success, from getting experience as an apprentice to developing daring savoury flavour sensations...
How did you start out in the food industry?
I've always had a passion for food – growing up, I loved baking in the kitchen with my mum and Grandma. I studied at a catering college and was incredibly lucky to continue my training as a chef under Marco Pierre White. I worked through the ranks of the kitchen and was eventually promoted to the position of Head Pastry Chef at Quo Vadis in Soho.
It was a great learning curve and taught me a lot about the food industry – working under great chefs like Marco allowed me to refine my skills and passions. Whilst I’ve had a few different roles since then, I’ve always remained in the food industry – including a stint as a product developer for well-known supermarket brands. I got into chocolate when I met Chantal Coady, founder of Rococo Chocolates, who asked me to create a chocolate for the first ever Chocolate Week. I didn't look back after that. My training and experience as a chef definitely inspire my use of unusual ingredients as a chocolatier.
I'm hugely passionate about my job. Each day is different and I'm so lucky to have a great team that supports me throughout each process or event. Working with chocolate is a mixture between science and art, and never ceases to be challenging – it is such an exciting and versatile ingredient. There are endless ways to explore and develop new recipes. Not only am I creating interesting new flavours but I'm constantly uncovering new combinations – from black pudding to Stilton, absinthe to mead.
Is there anything you dislike about your job?
That’s a hard question – I love my job! Communication between the fine chocolate industry and consumers can be challenging though - the artisan chocolate industry is complex and it's sometimes hard to explain what we do. Bean to bar chocolate, for example, can just look like another chocolate bar to the uneducated customer, but there's a huge story behind every bar. From where it’s grown to how long the cacao is conched for, each step affects the final taste. There is a huge amount of talent in the UK bean to bar industry right now, but as a group, we could be doing more to educate consumers about cacao as a base ingredient. People are aware of movements like Fairtrade but there are schemes like Direct Cacao which are doing more in the fight for a fair price for farmers too.
What is an average working day like for you?
Each day is different, but I always start each day at 6.30 am to sort through some admin and emails. While my palate is fresh, I like to check the products and sample a few of the truffles. I try one of my Sea Salted Caramels every day without fail. They’re our multi-award winning bestseller, so it’s essential that I make sure they reach our high standards.
I try to dedicate as much time as I can to my three shops in London. It's important for me to retain links between my teams and spend time on the shop floor each day, meeting my customers. With Easter on the horizon, I've been spending time in the development kitchen at our flagship Soho shop creating a spring truffle collection and making Easter eggs – we make over 4,000 Easter eggs every year. Lunch is usually on the go but when I can, I try to get home to my lovely dog Billi and take him for a walk. Afternoons are usually busy with team meetings or potential collaborators.
After this, I'm usually quite tired so I like to go home and rest with Billi. I’ve just moved to Walthamstow and I'm enjoying exploring the area. I've had my kitchen renovated, so I’ve particularly been enjoying cooking and entertaining friends recently.
What would your advice be to young people looking to get their foot in the door?
The food business is a tough industry with huge competition and long hours, so you have to be resilient. Your passion is what drives you, so I recommend really following your passions. For me, everything clicked into place once I realised chocolate was the ingredient that inspired me the most.
If you are determined, motivated and organised, these three elements will take you a long way. Setbacks happen but your inner drive to do something will always carry you through. Don’t be afraid to come into the industry at the bottom either - you can learn so much in a business where you are able to watch and be inspired by others. It’s a great way to expand your horizons.
Which courses or qualifications would you recommend?
There are no official qualifications to become a chocolatier, but apprenticeships are a brilliant way to learn - we often have apprentice chocolatiers working with us in our kitchens. They gain exposure in all different aspects of the business - you can learn everything, from tempering chocolate to the running of day-to-day business. Without the right exposure, it can be hard to truly appreciate what it means to be an artisan chocolatier. Apprentices are as incredibly valuable to our company as the experience is to them.
That’s a very good question. I suppose I often find the word artisan is misconceived. It’s all in the manufacturing of the chocolate. Since the day we opened, we’ve made all of our chocolates by hand and we have never introduced artificial flavours into our products. We don’t use tempering machines and we invest in only the very best chocolate – it pays dividends with our customers. We manage the process of making from beginning to end - being so intimate with the recipes and the chocolate making process allows me to be creative with my flavours.
Do you ever eat cheap chocolate?
Everyone has a guilty pleasure and I have to say that I do indulge in a Kit Kat or a box of Quality Street from time to time - there are some eating habits you still carry on from your childhood! Chocolate is incredibly nostalgic so it makes perfect sense to crave a piece of childhood – chocolate is extremely good for reminiscing with!
You're famed for pairing daring flavours in your chocolates. What do you think your most interesting flavour has been to date?
In 2006, Lydia Slater dared me to create a Marmite truffle and she was adamant that it was not possible! Marmite is a love or hate flavour but when combined with chocolate, it really transforms. It’s a similar salty/sweet concept to sea salted caramel. The truffle was a huge success and it has remained one of our bestsellers to this day.
I once successfully used garlic in a truffle which launched at Halloween, for which I slow roasted the garlic for a milder flavour. Sometimes it can take time to understand how to incorporate a flavour but I do believe you can make anything work! Except maybe fish…
What do you think will be the next big trend in chocolate?
It's an exciting time for chocolatiers to get really creative with chocolate, even in the face of the current cocoa shortage. Due to the price inflation, chocolatiers are seeing the true value of cocoa and are inventing more resourceful ways of showcasing this ingredient. Chocolate will become more precious, so I think we'll see more additions in bars - like nibs, seeds, nuts and fruits.
Savoury notes are having huge success in chocolate – just look at salted caramel – but I think chocolatiers will take this further. In London, we’re seeing vegetables appear more and more on dessert menus. Leading caterers Rhubarb have already created a chicory tiramisu and Grain Store have a parsnip & white chocolate cream dessert, so it’s only a matter of time before this starts filtering down into the wider consumer palate.
Feeling inspired? Whatever your skillset, we've got plenty of insight into kick-starting a career in the food industry:
Are you trying to crack into the chocolate industry, or an established artisan chocolatier with your own tips to share? Let us know in the comments below...