Paul A Young is a familiar brand to chocolate lovers. Its third London shop, its flagship, recently opened at 143 Wardour Street. Its Soho neighbours, passers-by and revellers will not have been able to miss the chocolatier's elegant, designer boutique.
Paul Young is the creative brain behind it all. Born in Yorkshire and raised in Durham, Young grew up in the early ‘80s on a diet of natural, home prepared food. From the age of six, he learnt to bake with both his mother and grandmother. No surprise then, that he chose food as his career path.
Specialising in pâtisserie, in 1996 Paul Young trained with Marco Pierre White before becoming a product developer for Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury.
But Young never chose chocolate. “It was never my plan, which is quite nice,” he recalls.
“It was completely accidental. Working with chocolate developed from being a pâtissier, it was never a conscious decision, it evolved and it took over.”
Every way one looks at it, there are many similarities between being a pastry chef and a chocolatier, he continues. “The attention to details is the same in both jobs and chocolatiers, like pâtissiers, work with fresh ingredients.”
The freshness of his ingredients makes Young stand apart from his competition.
“A chocolatier is someone who makes chocolates, and by that I mean confectionery from chocolate,” he explains.
“We are distinct from chocolate makers who create chocolate from cacao beans. I believe in true, fresh chocolates without glucose, preservative or stabilisers.”
Paul A Young are the only chocolate shops in London where everything is made by hand from start to finish, with “no machines whatsoever”. They use Valrhona, a French chocolate of the highest quality, combined with fresh ingredients. If lavender is used it will be lavender flowers, not the essence. The same with herbs. All products are made on-site, in each of the three shops.
Creating brownies, bonbons, ganaches and caramels by hand means “we employ people rather than use machines”, Young says.
He hopes his staff will end up running their chocolate shops, spreading the message.
“Ten years ago, you could only find one or two chocolatiers in London, compared to Paris where families have been in business for 80 years,” he says. “The industry needs to grow, there is room for more people. If I could inspire a few people, that is great.”
A word of advice for his budding chocolatiers? “The public likes chocolates more than before. People know what they like and what they don't like.
“In London, if you want to be successful you've got to be creative, you have got to be different.'
Unquestionably, Young's creations stand out, they don't blend in. Shoppers can buy ale truffles or Pimm's, cucumber and strawberry chocolates.
“We are not followers, we are leaders. We don't want to follow everybody else, we want people to follow us. We don't choose the flavours for a gimmick, we use flavours that customers recognise, that they know but would not necessarily associate with chocolate. However, we also have classic flavours such as champagne or hazelnuts.”
Young is close to his clients, he listens to their feedback and integrates their comments at development stage.
“Some customers have never seen fennel in chocolates, nor Marmite, nor cheese. Our blending, the mix of ingredients, may sometimes be more creative than with the more common chocolates, however it has to be what people are familiar with.”
Port and Stilton is definitely not an ordinary combination for confectionery, nor is a lemon, white chocolate, goats’ cheese and rosemary icing for a brownie.
Young trusts his hands-on approach to come up with new formulas. “I try this, this and this, it doesn't work, and then one day, I realise that it was there all along, and I realise that I should have kept it simple.”
Commercially, everything flies off the shelves. All the shops are extremely busy but no best-seller stands out. Some creations vary from one week to the next. Young likes to work with the seasons and the weather. “I find inspiration in my head. If I am shopping or in a restaurant, things start to roll. I am constantly thinking about it.”
However not all his creations are new - some old favourites remains like the award-winning Sea Salted Caramel.
Will there be an ultimate chocolate? The answer is a definite no. “Thinking that way would never make me happy.
“My creations have so far been successful but you don't know where the next successful thing is coming from until you have created it. Sometimes a creation becomes a success when it wasn't expected to be ‘the one’.
What are his dreams? He smiles and replies “holidays”.
“The flagship shop is a dream. We have learned from other shops. Now we have got the space, so much more can be done.”