Nikki Spencer - 2009-04-06
Tobacco, geranium and sichuan pepper are not ingredients that you would immediately think of as chocolate flavourings but then Paul A Young is no ordinary chocolate maker. With chandeliers, flock wallpaper and bespoke display cabinets, his shops in trendy Camden Passage in Islington and the Royal Exchange in the City of London look more like designer boutiques than confectioners and he is constantly developing new creations to keep his discerning customers happy.
“I’m a purist but I am daring as well,” declares the award-winning chocolatier Young. “I make new things every day and customers keep coming back because they know we will have something different. I like to live outside the box and ideas pop into my head all the time. Sometimes I will go into a restaurant and see an ingredient on the menu and that sets me off. I am continually thinking - so much so that my brain hurts sometimes!” reveals the 35 year old Yorkshire born former pasty chef.
“Some people still can’t believe that we put marmite or cheese or some of the alcohols we use with chocolate, but then they try them and they are pleasantly surprised,” he adds.
All Young’s chocolates are freshly made on the premises using the finest chocolate from Valrhona, Amedei and Michel Cluizel combining different blends and origins to match with his ingredients.
“There’s no machinery” he explains, “it¹s all done on marble slabs. It’s 100 per cent natural. You don¹t keep my chocolates,” he states simply. “You buy them and eat them.”
As well as more traditional classics such as champagne truffles, Young’s current chocolate collection includes “sichuan pepper and mango” and “geranium and rose truffles” plus his own sophisticated take on that retro favourite the Walnut Whip. Made with 64% Dominican Republic dark chocolate, it has a soft mallow filling, a layer of sea salt caramel and is topped with a lightly roasted pecan half.
“I have replaced the walnut with a pecan - everyone used to take the walnut off and not eat it anyway!” he explains. “People love them. We sell out every day.”
Other creations include chocolate roses for Valentines Day and Mother¹s Day and a whole range of Easter treats from shimmering chocolate bunnies and white chocolate mice for children to a limited edition egg decorated with gold leaf and containing a necklace by jewellery designer Kirt Holmes, who has a shop opposite Paul’s in Camden Passage.
Young, who grew up in Trimdon, a tiny mining village outside Durham, was fascinated by food from an early age. “I remember when I was about three and my mum bought me a plastic cookery set. She would make dough and I would roll it out and cut out shapes. I was obsessed by it.”
Cooking was a big part of family life. “Every Sunday we would spend the afternoon making chocolate cakes and biscuits, sausage rolls, the whole works.”
After studying catering at college Young’s cooking career really took off when he went to work for Marco Pierre White in London firstly at The Criterion on Piccadilly Circus and then as Head Pastry Chef at Quo Vadis in Soho in the late 90”s. “It was very hard work but it was a privilege to be there. I got to cook for some amazing people: Madonna, Robert De Niro, Claudia Schiffer, they all ate my food!”
Although working for famously tempestuous Marco Pierre White was certainly no picnic. “Marco was difficult – he’s genius verging in insanity and he’d probably say that himself. It was an aggressive kitchen and he was volatile. If a sauce was placed on a plate too late the whole tray would be hurled across the room. The standards were exacting but he demanded the best as in the end his name was on the food. It’s the same for me now. Things have to be right.”
After a stint as a supermarket development chef, which he says was “very useful as it taught me how to innovate and get a product from an idea to the shelf”, Young then found himself drawn more and more to chocolate.
“I have always loved chocolate and I just started experimenting,” he explains. After creating chocolates for private clients, running chocolate workshops and consulting for companies including Charbonnel et Walker and Rococo, Young opened his first shop in Islington in April 2006 and a second in the city area of London in October 2007.
In 2007 his Islington shop won Best New Chocolate Shop at the Academy of Chocolate Awards and over the last four years Young has won numerous accolades for his often daring creations. Young says that one of the things he loves about chocolate is the way it cheers people up. “People always smile when they walk in. They can’t help it. They smell the chocolate and it makes them feel good.”
No bad thing in the current economic climate. “People do seem to turn to chocolate in times of need,” he reflects. “It’s an affordable luxury. They are not going out but they are buying chocolate.”
And, as if to prove the point, as I am leaving a customer walks in. Paul explains to her that as his chocolates are fresh they must be eaten within the week.
“7 days!” she laughs, “My sister will eat these within 7 seconds!” she exclaims as she makes her selection.
Paul A Young
33, Camden Passage
London N1 8EA
Tel: 020 7424 5750
Open Tues - Sun.
20, Royal Exchange
London EC3V 3LP
Tel: 020 7929 7007
Open Mon- Fri.