July 2, 2013
The Principal Chocolatier of the award-winning Rococo now runs some exemplary classes.
A morning spent in Rococo’s kitchens with Principal Chocolatier Barry Johnson? That’ll be a yes please!
It was my great pleasure recently to bring you an interview with Chantal Coady, founder and CEO of pioneering Rococo Chocolates. Rococo celebrated an admirable 30 years in March, and due to Chantal’s visionary leadership is still a leading light and going from strength to strength. Very much part of that strategy and achievement is Chantal’s appointment of the most talented chocolatiers.
Principal Chocolatier Barry Johnson has been at the helm since the beginning of 2012, and under his watch Rococo have notched up an exceptional showing of top awards. Their Madagascar House Truffle and Rose and Cocoa Nib filled dark chocolate won silver awards in the world finals of the International Chocolate Awards in late 2012, one of only two silver awards in the entire world in each of their categories. This March they won four gold, two silver and two bronze awards at the Academy of Chocolate Awards, which recognised the excellence of their plain and flavoured filled chocolates, their caramels, their artisan bars and their gorgeous advent calendar.
And in this year’s International Chocolate Awards European semi finals they have been rewarded with a stunning five medals. Two gold, the one for their White Chocolate and Cardamom Bar being the only award given for a white flavoured bar. The other was for their Salted Chocolate Toffee and Crunchy Praline. The three silvers were caramel heavy, with their Kalamansi Lime caramel and their Passionfruit and Rosemary caramel being two of only three medals given in the category. Their Organic Milk Chocolate Bar with Salted Caramelised Almonds and Rosemary completes the impressive set. I was especially pleased to see Barry’s Kalamansi Lime Caramel given the gold award. I wrote about it in my piece on the Christmas Chocolate Festival and it was one of the most delicious things I ate last year! I would also like to have seen their collaboration with late Mott Green of The Grenada Chocolate Company, the Gru Grococo bar, win an award. I simply love it, it made my 2012 top ten list!
Barry Johnson is a huge talent, with fifteen years behind him as a top pastry chef and a stunning technical mastery of chocolate. Crucially he has a palate capable of developing multiple award winning recipes. He also happens to be an utterly charming and lovely man; a winning combination if you want to learn more about chocolate from an industry expert. If you do, then you will be interested to learn that Rococo are running Masterclasses, taught by Barry, at their heavenly Motcomb Street boutique and café. I was lucky enough to be invited to one so that I could write about it for you.
The day did not disappoint. Barry is enthusiastic, thorough and precise in his work, and his teaching follows the same lines. His knowledge was well edited and communicated, leaving all the students better informed, whatever their prior level of experience. The kitchens of Motcomb Street, the pacing, and the hands-on technical demonstrations were impeccably organised, which facilitated a deeply satisfying success rate and meant that we all produced a wonderful stash of goodies to take home.
The particular class I attended was on tempering, that tricky and potentially elusive technique without which no true chocolate work can begin. We tempered on marble to best get a ‘feel’ for what is physically happening during the process and what we needed to achieve. The small class size, restricted to four, meant that there was no chance of failure, and the very generous kilo of chocolate we were each given to work with was soon tempered to perfection. Then the fun started in earnest!
Rococo is known for its stunning designs, and one aspect of this is the quirky moulds they use. We each made the most delightful retro looking bar, then some of their trademark fishes, and then continued with teddies, flowers, shells and all manner of lovely things. We were also shown how to hand-form chocolate thins and some simple decorations. Who knew that a knife dipped in chocolate would make such a convincing petal?
Any of our creations could be enhanced with a range of intriguing ingredients from the kitchens. I chose to add to add a delicate and thematically appropriate sprinkling of sea salt to my fishes. And my bar was adorned with a smattering of yoghurt crisp. I left the rest plain, as I like the easy flavour of the Valrhona 55% Equatorial blend we were working with well enough on its own. However, the yoghurt gave a nice tang and acidity, as well as some textural interest.
Aside from the hands-on learning, this class really outdid itself on background understanding of chocolate. Barry talked us through the making of chocolate, with photographs taken at their plantation in Grenada. The various stages of production, and its effect on the finished product, was really well communicated. Much of the knowledge gained was truly invaluable, as it was clearly unknown to the other students, despite my classmates ranging from the enthusiastic chocolate eater to the budding chocolate shop entrepreneur.
Last but not least we sat in Motcomb Street’s delightful café with a selection of chocolate and filled chocolates for a guided tasting. Differences between some of the couverture chocolates used were noted and discussed and we had a chance to taste some of Barry’s latest recipes. That is not something I would ever turn down, no matter how much of the molten couverture had already accidentally made its way into my mouth!
On this occasion there were five to sample, and they were suitably varied. A plain ganache made of the Grenada 71% was an interesting contrast to the chocolate itself; very smooth, mellower than the bar, and with the fruit making a dominant appearance. One of the milk chocolates was a particular favourite, unusually for me; an almond praline with a deep nutty flavour, beefed up by a casing of shards of toasted almonds. The praline itself was both aerated and contained some feuillantine, which created a truly winning texture. But probably my favourite was a simple affair; a slim, dark ganache made with the citrusy Valrhona Macae, flavoured with mandarin. Deep and clean, it had dark, smoky chocolate notes. The fruity top notes of the chocolate married beautifully with the mandarin, which was recognisable, but became more interesting in the chocolate, reminding me of grapefruit and kumquat.
Class over, I said a fond farewell and thanks to Barry. But not before bagging myself a Kalamansi Lime Caramel for the road. Yes, I really do have that big a capacity for chocolate! That afternoon there was to be a class on making the perfect ganache. The classes can be taken for the whole day, or you can pick one half. I really could not recommend them more highly.
I travelled home, the finest chocolate on my lips, and a bag full of my achievements to share with loved ones. I also clutched a generous goody bag containing my coveted Rococo apron, already anointed with chocolate, a little book with some of Chantal’s recipes in it, and an incredibly generous amount of chocolate to ensure I get cracking again soon.