September 25, 2018
Fifth Dimension's Albert & Russell answer my questions about how they make their wonderful chocolates and what inspires them.
Fifth Dimension, multi award-winning British chocolatiers, create beautiful things. They use fresh well sourced and created flavours in their ganaches, and well matched fine couverture. Their diverse, sometimes surprising, but always interesting flavours, represent the eclectic well-travelled tastes of Albert Chau and Russell Pullan, collectively the brains and talent behind a brand well worth seeking out. I managed to grab a moment of their precious time to answer my questions.
Albert and Russell, I have been excited and pleased to discover your filled chocolates, but I don’t know how you came to be chocolatiers. Tell me about each of your lives before chocolate. And what roles you each play now.
R: I worked for a television company in transmission, basically paid to watch television all day long. I began making chocolates as a hobby about 15 years ago. I am self-taught and never did this with the intention of starting a chocolate business. After many years I was making chocolates like you buy in the shops. Eventually I decided to start a chocolate business. I am the head chocolatier making all the products and researching the recipes and making them come alive into the products you can purchase from us.
A: My background is in the healthcare industry, developing treatments for life-threatening diseases such as cancer. I still have my own consulting business in this industry – so I actually have 2 full-time jobs! At Fifth Dimension, I develop the new products with Russell. I also have the very tough job of being the “Chief Taster” which involves eating a lot of our products in development and figuring out how to improve them. I also deal with all the computer side of things including the website and social media.
When and why did you decide to start working with chocolate?
R: I have always wanted to run my own business. After working for other people all my life, a chocolate company seemed the natural thing to do. I have always been a little creative and this enables me to bring this out developing new flavour combinations in chocolate.
A: We started the business in October 2013. When Russell became more and more unhappy with his previous job, I suggested that perhaps if he wanted to have his own business, this would be a good way forward, as we were already playing with flavours in cooking and in chocolates in our spare times.
Tell me a bit about how you make your chocolates?
All our chocolates are made by hand, from tempering the chocolate, molding and colour decoration, making the filling to packing. We even fold all our boxes by hand ourselves (and occasionally with the help of friends).
We make all our own fillings – this allows us to have greater flexibility in sourcing the good quality ingredients and controlling the exact flavour profile that we want to achieve. We even grow some of the ingredients such as basil (for our basil ganache chocolate) and mint (for our mint & miso chocolate) in our own greenhouse.
You often add new recipes, I know you enjoy cooking up new flavours and ideas. What is your approach to creating new recipes?
Our inspiration for new flavours usually comes from our experience with exotic ingredients or local cuisines when we are on holiday, or interesting flavour combinations we have encountered while eating out or cooking with friends.
Each of our filled chocolates is named after a place in the world, and this is reflecting where the inspiration of the flavour comes from. For example, “Hong Kong” is our soy caramel chocolate – the inspiration comes from one of Albert’s favourite dishes in his childhood – chicken-wing braised in a sweet soya sauce. We saved a bit of the sauce and tried it with some chocolates, and that’s when we knew this combination would work. Then it’s a matter of fine-tuning the recipe for the chocolate, to get the right balance of the ingredients, while retaining the main spirit of the original dish!
Which couvertures do you use and why?
We only use couvertures made from fine-flavour single-origin cacao. We prefer to use fine-flavour chocolates that have interesting flavour profiles and characteristics themselves, that would complement well with the fillings and inclusion pieces we use for our chocolate products. While we are not a bean-to-bar chocolate maker, we like to be able to trace where the chocolate comes from – our couvertures are mainly from Colombia, Bolivia and Dominican Republic. We have visited our couverture suppliers in Colombia and Switzerland to understand first-hand their processes from sourcing the cacao to producing the couvertures.
We have also worked with a handful of bean-to-bar makers on some limited edition filled chocolates.
Starting up a new business must have been a steep learning curve. What have been some of your greatest discoveries?
There’s a whole lot more than just making chocolates! There are so many other aspects to consider when running a business, from design and packaging, to marketing and finance.
With our filled chocolates, we have found out that the right pairing of the filling with the chocolate couverture makes a lot of differences with the overall taste. When we develop a new chocolate, we may have an inkling on what couverture we want to use, but we often try the filling with a variety of couvertures, and sometimes our final choice is not what we expected.
Tell me about where you make and sell your chocolates, how does that work?
We make all the chocolates at our facility in Hillingdon in West London. We sell all our products online via our website (www.5DChocolates.com), and several shops in the UK and Europe stock a selection of our chocolates and caramel sauces.
We also exhibit at various chocolate fairs in the UK throughout the year and you will always see one or both of us – we enjoy talking to our customers and get direct feedback on our products, and for the customers to get to know us too.
How have you seen consumer and food professional attitudes change towards fine chocolate since you became interested?
There’s an increased appreciation of fine chocolate, just like what has been happening in the wine and coffee industries, in terms of flavour, origin and variety. The fine chocolate industry is still in its infancy by comparison – while many consumers will be happy to pay a premium for wine and coffee, many are still very price-sensitive when it comes to chocolate. There’s a long way to go for many customers to understand what fine chocolate is about and how it differs from the industrial mass-produced chocolates, in terms of the ingredients, flavour and quality, as well as the supply chain.
How do you think the chocolate market is going to develop going forward?
Hopefully the fine chocolate industry is going to grow and many more people will appreciate fine chocolates.
For chocolate bars, the bean-to-bar movement will continue to grow and there will be more collaborations between chocolate makers and chocolatiers. There will be new cacao-growing countries and regions coming along, and new processing techniques in bringing out the flavours of the chocolate.
For filled chocolates/bonbons, there will be more exciting flavours and ingredients from all around the world, just like we’ve seen with the general food scene. There will be more chocolatiers who are more experimental with the flavours.
Chocolate aside what food do you love?
This is a difficult question! We just love food, whether it’s an unusual combination of ingredients/flavours that we would have never dreamt of, or a classic dish that’s perfectly executed, or even simple cooking which allows the fresh high-quality ingredients to speak for themselves. When we are on holiday abroad, we really enjoy trying out the local cuisine and learning about new ingredients.
Have your own palates and feelings about chocolate changed since you started?
Definitely! As we work with chocolates on a daily basis, we have really learnt so much about tasting and flavour profiles of different chocolates, whether it’s a chocolate bar or a filled chocolate – It is important to be able to identify the positive attributes as well as any defects.
Having been to several cacao-growing countries learning about the different steps of processing cacao, and talking to the farmers first hand, we have learnt to respect this wonderful ingredient and also appreciate some of the challenges facing the farmers and the supply chain.
While we have got our own methods of assessing chocolates, having done the chocolate tasting course by International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting has given us another useful toolset/method to evaluate the quality of chocolate, and to get a really deep understanding of chocolate.
What is coming next for Fifth Dimension? What plans do you have for the chocolate and for the business?
We would like to continue to push the boundary of flavour, and create exciting filled chocolates, caramel sauces and other chocolate products. We are always playing with flavours and pairing them with chocolates even when we are not “working”.
We are currently supplying within the UK and the EU regularly, but we are hoping to be able to ship our chocolates to other countries around the world.
Can you tell me what each of your desert island chocolates would be? It can be a bar, filled chocolate, chocolate dessert, anything chocolatey.
R: One of my favourite Chocolate desserts was “Trio of Chocolate” at Michael Caine’s restaurant when he was at Gidleigh Park. It was about 10 years ago but I always remember it. The dessert consisted of 3 chocolate creations all on one plate. It had white, milk and dark chocolate with many different textures all on one plate.
A: I’d go for the Marquise au chocolat with a pistachio sauce from a Parisian restaurant called Taillevent. It was probably my first experience of a top quality chocolate dessert from about 25 years ago – the presentation was stunning and it tasted so good. And me being so greedy, I’d probably be fighting Russell for his “Trio of Chocolate” on the desert island too!
Thanks so much guys!
Now that the summer holidays are over and the season of feasting has begun, I propose a journey of a different kind. A chocolate journey!