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Preview: The Chocolate Festival, South Bank Centre

These days the South Bank Centre in London isn’t only a cultural centre but, with its regular Real Food Market and food festivals, something of a foodie-shopping destination as well. This winter, chocolate takes centre stage at the South Bank as from Friday December 9 to Sunday December 11 an array of leading chocolatiers and their chocolate creations will be on show at the Chocolate Festival at the South Bank.

Festival founder, Yael Rose

We spoke to Chocolate Festival founder and organiser Yael Rose to ask her where her love of chocolate came from. “My Mum used to make me a cup of cocoa everyday, that’s how it all started,” laughed Rose. “She got me hooked I think; it’s quite addictive! I don’t drink coffee – hot chocolate is my drug. When I was little there wasn’t very much choice of eating chocolate. I grew up on a kibbutz and there was only one shop and just one type of chocolate – it wasn’t very good chocolate, just sugar and vanilla.”

Yael Rose’s epiphany as to just how interesting and exciting chocolate could be came from watching TV. “What inspired me was seeing a programme on telly with Willie Harcourt Cooze. It kind of changed my whole world. I guess that somewhere in the background I knew that cocoa is a plant but it didn’t click until I saw the programme. It was inspirational and I thought “I must organise a chocolate festival! I had to work really hard to put it together in the time that I had. William Curley and Paul Wayne Gregory were really supportive right from the start, which was great. The first ever Chocolate Festival was in 2009, just before Easter, and it was phenomenal – there was nothing else like it, so we got lots of press and publicity. It was really busy; everybody sold out. It’s grown a lot since that first festival.”

Yael Rose feels that these are exciting times for chocolate in the UK. “The chocolate scene has grown, even in the last couple of years. Willie’s programme did change things; I feel he brought cacao and chocolate to the forefront. The whole world is looking to the UK because we really have such amazing chocolatiers. The standard is amazing but not only that our chocolate is unique, it’s different. Our chocolatiers don’t just try and copy and be like the French – they are innovative, they keep experimenting and doing new things in new ways. Sea salt with caramel, cocoa nibs – I am waiting to see what the next big thing will be!”

A particular highlight of the forthcoming Chocolate Festival is, in Rose’s opinion, the series of Masters of Chocolate events, with a packed programme featuring leading chocolatiers such as William Curley, Paul Wayne Gregory, Damian Allsop and Bill McCarrick among others. “I don’t think there are many places where you can see all those guys in one place,” comments Rose. A live demonstration of chocolate dimsum-making by Chef Chi Kin Cheung from The Grand Imperial and Valentina Harris cooking a pasta sauce with chocolate are among the other intriguing events to be enjoyed at the Chocolate Cookery Theatre. Obviously, with Christmas looming, there are “loads of different chocolate gift ideas” on offer. Rose’s hard work putting the festival together won’t go unrewarded. “There’ll be lots of different hot chocolates for me to try at the Festival,” observes Rose happily, “which I’m looking forward to.”

Chocolates by William Curley

The Chocolate Festival - December 9th - December 11th - South Bank Centre, London

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