August 28, 2012
It was both entertaining and inspiring to hear how the boy from Scotland became a world-class patissier and chocolatier.
William Curley is at the top of his game. A world class, multi award winning chocolatier and patissier, he has two London boutiques under his name and a store in Harrods. His first book; Couture Chocolate, won the Cookery Book of the Year Award at the Guild of Food Writers Annual Awards 2012.
To say that William is focused and uber-talented would be an underestimation. It would also be only part of the story. His path to his current position; the highest level cooking, boutiques in the smartest addresses in town, the glossy award-winning tome, also had its fair share of twists and turns, crossroads and hardships, determination and sheer hard graft.
Arriving in advance of William at his serenely elegant Belgravia flagship I was greeted warmly by one of his staff, supplied with a reviving hot chocolate made with 70% Amedei chocolate, and left in peace to browse a copy of his book. It is fantastic to look at, with stunning photography that both delights and tempts. And the writing and recipes are clear and approachable, while being inventive and exciting in their scope. I have a lot of books on chocolate! This is one I truly enjoy.
On meeting William, fascinated to hear his story, wondering what makes him tick, what I hadn’t anticipated was what a great time I would have talking to him. He may be made of steel but he is the most charming company.
We settled at a table in the front window, where we chatted life, creativity and chocolate for a leisurely couple of hours. We drank fine leaf teas and tasted a selection of treats chosen by the man himself, which had me periodically interrupting the train of thought with an involuntary gasp of delighted pleasure.
The shop itself is a joy to be in, with many calm corners to sit and enjoy it’s delights. It works so well as it honestly reflects William and his life and work. The simple design of pale colours and blond wood, adorned only with a softly gilded wall of painted leaves, makes reference to the native Japan of William’s wife and business partner Suzue. She is also a pastry chef, whom he met during their coinciding stints at the Savoy. Their combined creative input informs the fabulously tempting contents of the sleek food counter that runs the length of the otherwise uncluttered space.
William grew up the son of a docker and British Gas worker in Methil, Fife, and had to stick his neck out to choose the catering route. He had enjoyed and appreciated the fine teas baked for him by his grandmother, who was in service to a grand local family. He remembers watching the baking, and also his pleasure at the finished meal. His desire in the kitchen has always been to recreate that sense of delight, and his drive to master all the complex techniques of fine patisserie have very much informed his current practice. He still regards himself as a patissier as much as a chocolatier, hence the division of products into three complimentary sections.
His chocolates take centre stage of course, and range from the expected; Sea Salted Caramel, to the more unexpected; Apricot and Wasabi. William and Suzue use Japanese flavours with a wonderful deftness, native to her and inspired in him by their visits to Japan and the opportunity to eat with locals.
Alongside the chocolates is a collection of divine patisserie, classical in technique, if not always in flavour combinations. They have a visual and culinary brilliance that demonstrates William’s three Michelin-starred experience. Mini works of edible art!
The third section of goodies are things of equal beauty, if fractionally less refinement. While far from shabby looking, their true beauty is in the eating. Here sits his famous revamped ‘jaffa cake’, and a collection of it’s friends. Anyone for a gourmet take on a ‘Snickers’ or ‘Picnic’ bar? The perfect chocolate treats to have in situ with your cup of tea, or one of the inviting hot chocolate drinks.
As William and I talked we managed to draw breath long enough to sample two of these. William’s favourite, which is a hazelnut and almond dacquoise, a heavenly nutty meringue cake sandwiched together with a nut infused dark chocolate ganache. And William’s take on a ‘jaffa’ cake. The brilliance here has been in making something that is reassuring and familiar, which is the ultimate in a comfort food. The transformative nature of food memories is a precious thing. But this is also made over into a series of fine tastes far beyond the original. The sponge base is a light and delicious cake, perfect to balance the richness of the other components. Orange is the star turn in the form of a smoky darkly caramelized marmalade, dense with glorious fruit, rich and full in flavour. These are enrobed with a chunky layer of an Amedei couverture chosen to compliment the whole. It is fruity and deep enough in flavour to chime with the marmalade, with enough cocoa intensity to match how deeply it is caramelised. A seemingly simple thing, made sublime.
With these three ranges, and well-stocked shelves of chocolate bars and other nibbles, William has his hands busy. He comes across as someone daily striving for perfection, but also as a man content and grateful for his achievements and life experiences. He wanted to make the best and bring people to the delights of foodie pleasure. Unless my eyes and palate and are deceiving me he is doing just that. Thank you for a delightful and delicious afternoon William.