In 1983 - long before London was the lively centre of high-class chocolate which it is today - a young woman, only 23-years-old, with, in her own words, “a little knowledge and a dangerous passion for chocolate” opened a small, dainty chocolate shop named Rococo in the Kings Road.
That young woman was Chantal Coady, a pioneering figure in bringing quality chocolate to London and the UK, innovatively introducing flavoured chocolate bars long before their current fashionabilty. Today Coady has three shops in London and one in Chester, while her distinctively-packaged chocolates are sold in delis throughout the UK.
A sign of her influence is that two notable contemporary chocolatiers in Britain, Gerard Coleman of L’Artisan du Chocolat and Paul A. Young, worked for Rococo before launching their own individual careers. Coady has written about chocolate before, but this her new book Rococo is the most personal, charting the story of both Rococo the chocolate shop and Chantal’s love affair with chocolate. And what a fascinating story it is, from Coady’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde existence’ as a ‘posh’ squatter, a Valrhona epiphany which led to the founding of the Chocolate Society and the realisation that Rococo should make chocolate as well as sell it. The book also offers an insight into the amount of hard work which goes into setting up and sustaining a food retail business.
An eye for visually appealing, stylish presentation has always been a hallmark of Rococo, both in terms of the shops and the chocolates themselves. Having studied Fashion and Textile design, Coady’s visual flair expressed itself in the ‘theatrical backdrop’ she created for the first shop and has proved a key part of Rococo’s appeal. It’s appropriate, therefore, that Rococo the book° is a delight to look at, with publishers Weidenfeld and Nicolson doing a handsome job of production. This elegant book arrives packaged in a box which resembles a large a box of chocolates, with its endpapers in Rococo’s trademark elegant blue and white wrapping, a design created by Coady from a nineteenth-century chocolate mould catalogue. The richly colourful photographs of chocolate creations from truffles to cakes, interspersed with photos of the Moroccan tiles adorning the Motcomb Street Rococo shop garden, make it a very appetising book to look through.
Divided into sections ranging from ‘Bonbons, Bites and Bars’ to Savoury Chocolate’, the book offers an appealing assembly of recipes. As in any professional chocolate book, instructions include a section on tempering chocolate, the intricate heating process which stabilises chocolate. Coady uses a nice analogy for this process whereby the cocoa butter crystals are aligned, comparing it to children running around in a school playground, who then form orderly lines. Fans of Rococo chocolates will recognise a number of Rococo classics, from the salted caramel truffle to the elegant olive oil, lemon and basil truffle, though a revelation of the patient work involved may send them to a Rococo shop to buy them rather than to make them. More accessible to the home cook are a very tempting collection of chocolate-flavoured biscuits, cakes and tarts, with photos to match.
A particular Rococo touch is the ‘Decorating Chocolate’ chapter featuring writing with chocolate (the golden rule is to use mirror writing) and recipes for orange powder and rainbow sugar. Throughout the book a sense of Chantal’s personality comes through, with her wry sense of humour peeping through the text. Rose and violet creams, she observes, ‘have that Marmite effect on people, inspiring passion and revulsion in equal measure.’
Running through the core of the book, like a message in a stick of rock, is Coady’s affection and respect for the Grenada Chocolate Company, the Caribbean company which grows its own cocoa and transforms it in Grenada itself into chocolate. Rococo as a company works with the Grenada Chocolate Company, using its chocolate in various products, and many of the recipes feature Grenada Chocolate Co. dark chocolate. Touchingly, Coady has dedicated the book to the late Doug Browne and other members, including Mott Green, of the Grenada Chocolate Company. In her introduction she writes of the need to find ways to grow cocoa ethically and her excitement at working with Grenada Chocolate Company, supporting a different model of cocoa production. Coady is hopeful that this ethical cocoa movement will take off and grow and one senses that yet again she’s helping bring about a change in the way we appreciate chocolate in Britain, with how cocoa is grown to be considered alongside its flavour.
Just as Rococo’s chocolates both look good and taste good, so Rococo the book lives up to its appealing presentation, filled with delectable recipes and images and also offering thoughtful insights into the chocolate world from a woman who knows it well and who has done so much to communicate her love of chocolate.