This is an exciting time for professional chocolatier Paul Wayne Gregory. Well-known behind the scenes in the world of professional catering as a supplier of luxurious chocolates to high-end restaurants, hotels and companies, Gregory is now launching his own retail range of chocolates. From October 2011 Paul Wayne Gregory’s stylishly-packaged Pure Indulgence range of chocolates will be on sale at Harvey Nichols’ glamorous Food Hall.
In a characteristically ambitious and intriguing move, every chocolate in Gregory’s Pure Indulgence range has already won an award in its own right – including three Golds in the 2011 Academy of Chocolate Awards while the whole range has also won the Award of Excellence. “When I started my own chocolate business I wanted to attack it from a chef’s point of view as someone who has an aim and who goes for a Michelin start,” explains Gregory. “So I said ‘What’s my aim?’ I wanted to bring out a box of chocolates where every chocolate in that box has won an award. When I won the prizes people were surprised because they hadn’t heard of me.”
The setting of personal challenges is characteristic of Gregory, whose journey towards becoming a chocolatier has been a long and complex one. Having trained as a baker, he then returned to college to train as a chef. The desire to learn, to acquire knowledge has been a driving force for Gregory throughout his career. “I’m dyslexic so studying is not something I like doing, but I know you have to learn.”
Having worked as a chef, Gregory realised that he lacked pastry knowledge . “I started training as a pastry chef at 28 years old – which is very late, but I was very focussed. Give me my flour, my eggs, my butter - everything about pastry suits my personality. It’s the precision. You have to know what you’re doing, how to manipulate the ingredients.” In order to complete his training he did unpaid work with patissier Jean Valentine in Paris for three days a week, working in England as a chef the other four days a week. “If you really want to learn, you go and work for free.”
After this came a stage with the renowned Oriel Balaguer in Barcelona. “Wow, that was an eye-opener! He’s a pastry chef but also a chocolatier. That was my proper introduction to chocolate. I’d worked with chocolate along the way, but he was an all-out chocolatier. We got on very well because we thought in the same way; he was very open-minded.”
Having returned to England, and while Gregory was searching for a job, a catering contact asked him to make some chocolates for him. “ I got my kitchen checked out by health and hygiene and started making chocolates by night, delivering in the morning and going for job interviews in the day.” This wholesale business built up, with Gregory becoming a nominated supplier for establishments such as Searcy’s, The Royal Opera House and Mansion House. “Those first two years were very important for me. I wanted to take the best of what I’d learnt but I wanted to come up with my own concept.”
Gregory had a clear vision of what he wanted to do with his own chocolates from the start. “For my first Pure Indulgence range, I just had one flavour in each chocolate – so they are pure as well as being indulgent. The reason for that is that I went back to my cheffing background and I remembered speaking to Nico Landenis. He said: ‘Look young man the first rule is to keep it simple. If you make a tomato soup, you make the best tomato soup that money can buy but you don’t confuse the flavour .’ I’ve never forgotten that. So for my first range, I kept everything simple. When I started to actually do this, it turned out to be the hardest thing I’d ever done. The thing is when you create a single flavour like raspberry or coconut, there’s no hiding. Everybody knows what raspberry tastes like; everybody knows what coconut tastes like. Once you start adding rosemary or cinnamon, you take away from the main ingredient and no one knows what it tastes like. Creating single flavours was a harder challenge but it helped to build the company. Now I had these flavours and understood how to manipulate them to get the taste we wanted, these were the building blocks.”
For Gregory, starting with these pure flavours was the way to create a solid base for his chocolate range. “ I think there’s always room for classics. You’ve got to have in your range something that people can relate to. Mustard, fennel seed, balsamic, that’s great – but you don’t want to eat them every day while you eat a mint chocolate every day. That’s why I brought out this range first, then we can build on that and start bringing in some wacky flavours and some flavours that people will say ‘Oh my goodness, that won’t work!’”
“When it came to flavours, I went right back to my cultural roots,” he says. “ My parents are Jamaican; I was born here but we visited Jamaica a lot. Because of that food culture, my first flavours were passion fruit, rum, Blue Mountain Coffee. Passion fruit for me is my signature flavour that sums up what the Paul Wayne Gregory range is all about. With all of my chocolates you taste the chocolate first, then the filling, then the chocolate. I’d seen a lot of people attempt it but they didn’t do it the way I like it, so I thought I’ll give it a go. It’s the hardest to get right. I wanted it to taste as if I’d dipped a passion fruit in chocolate. Passion fruit is a big character. Very hard to get the right chocolate to marry with the passion fruit. At what point do you want the taste note to come through of the passion fruit and the chocolate? There’s a lot of acidity in the passion fruit so you want a chocolate that doesn’t increase that acidity. I do like passion fruit. Everywhere I worked I always put in something with passion fruit, a passion fruit sorbet, ice cream, mousse – because it’s difficult, that’s the appeal.”
The chocolate Gregory uses is Cacao Barry for whom he is one of their Ambassadors. “I use some single origins and some blends. Most of the time we blend our own. We might use chocolate from Ghana, chocolate from Venezuela, mix it to create our own taste that will marry with the main flavour that we’re trying to create.”
The fruit ganache fillings, such as the passion fruit or raspberry, are created using purees rather than essence because in his opinion they give a better finish. Gregory feels that his background as a chef has influenced his chocolate making. “As a chef, you learn to cook things either very quickly or very slowly for the best results,” he laughs. “When I make a mint infusion I can boil it and add it to the cream or do a cold infusion, add the mint to cream and leave it for a day. I’m working on something that uses both methods: cold and hot. That way you get the whole taste. With a hot infusion you get the top notes but not the lower notes.”
Not surprisingly, given Gregory’s enthusiasm for experimentation and learning new skills, he finds reproducing the same flavours every day less exciting than creating new ones. “I want to experiment but I have to stick to the recipe. You can adjust and adjust and adjust – you have to know when to stop.” An outlet for Gregory’s creative talents, however, is his striking chocolate art. “What I love about this,” he enthuses, “is that it all comes down to how creative you are, to whether you can think outside the box. I love working out how to do things, how to solve a challenge. What I like to do is to be on the edge; it might go wrong, but if it works it will be great.”
He feels that both these sides of his personality - the precise and the creative - are expressed in his Indulgence range. “The chocolates are so neat, so shiny, so square, but the lines on the top of each chocolate are not straight. The line shouldn’t go with the chocolate because it’s not precise, but it does.” Having passion fruit as a signature flavour seems very appropriate – Gregory really is a chocolatier with a deep-felt passion for what he does.