When we opened York Cocoa House in November 2011 the dream was to create a home for true chocolate lovers, people like me, who felt they had a personal bond with chocolate. For me, chocolate had always been a companion, through every celebration, exam, commiseration and illness - it was far more than just an inanimate food stuff. There's something so wonderfully dreamy about buying a Flake and imagining you're soaking in a luxurious bubble bath - that is the type of place I wanted to create. I felt the chocolate industry had been so secretive that it was time to make it more open and accessible, to celebrate the products that make the UK industry so unique and to offer opportunities for the public to learn more about some of the fantastic chocolate products that are now becoming much more available.
I don't know when my love of chocolate started, but looking back, it has always been there. I started making cakes when I was 4, by the age of 8 I had my own signature chocolate fudge recipe, when I was 12 my school project was to track the Cadbury share price, then that Easter I taught myself how to temper chocolate. I am not professionally trained; everything I know about chocolate I have taught myself, by learning from books, by making lots of mistakes, and by working with the most fantastic chocolate experts I have been fortunate enough to meet along the way. I launched my first company, Little Pretty Things in 2009, I offered chocolate making workshops, demonstrations, and tastings as well as hand-made chocolates created using real Yorkshire flavours and ingredients all from my own kitchen. I worked full time, studied and made chocolates, going to fairs and delivering workshops at weekends and evenings until I decided to leave the world of work behind and go it alone. It was not long before I was testing the market and looking for the ideal location to create York Cocoa House.
I am often asked "Why chocolate?", or "What made you do this?" Chocolate has always played a role in my life and I have always been so fascinated by it. It would make me feel so happy if I had had a bad day. I have a big family, and grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere. People would always be around to help on the farm, and the perfect Sunday afternoon would be spent baking a new chocolate recipe and calling everyone in to try it. Living on the farm we had to make do with the ingredients and equipment in the cupboard or the fruit on the trees, or wait until the chickens had laid eggs to make a cake. I became resourceful and would turn each rainy day into a new project day, substituting ingredients and equipment where necessary. Some recipes worked, and lots didn't!
My relationship with chocolate has now turned into an obsession; I set out to learn everything I possibly could about chocolate. Every new thing I have discovered has drawn me deeper into the world of chocolate, and introduced me to chocolate lovers, chocolate makers, chocolatiers and experts from around the world who have all been bitten by the same chocolate bug. It's not just about eating and indulging in chocolate, it's something that touches our lives on a daily basis (for many of us), that we so easily take for granted. It affects so many people around the world, in all walks of life - so many people are involved with the delivery of this amazing product.
Chocolate came into England at a time of great social change. Ever since then, its enjoyment has charted our modern consumer-based society and it has been integral to our political and cultural evolution, and has shaped attitudes to health and medicine. There is still so much more to learn about chocolate, but now, I am incredibly fortunate to gain so much pleasure from sharing my chocolate obsession with others. So many have joined us and told us of their own experiences with York and the chocolate-making industry, or their first or favourite chocolate recipe. I never imagined how much joy and comfort chocolate brought to others. I
look forward to seeing you at York Cocoa House soon