Focus: Chantal Coady marks a remarkable four decades in confectionery
Editorial board member Chantal Coady meets Confectionery Production to discuss her career. Pic: Neill Barston
As co-chair of the Academy of Chocolate, Chantal Coady OBE, an editorial board member of Confectionery Production, has a lifetime of experience in the sector. Neill Barston catches up with her in London to examine her eventful career to date
Founding her own globally recognised chocolate business, championing sustainable cocoa and gaining an OBE from Prince William are just some of Chantal Coady’s considerable achievements.
To her credit as we meet to discuss her richly rewarding and eventful career in confectionery, she displays a healthy dose of modesty about all her accomplishments over the past few decades in the industry.
Confectionery Production is delighted to have her as a valued editorial board member, with a wealth of industry knowledge on fine chocolate, as well as the challenges of retailing within the decidedly complex, yet innovative British market.
While she made a step away from her own firm Rococo Chocolates, which is now owned by Prestat, amid testing conditions several years ago prior to the pandemic, she remains deeply passionate about the sector and in supporting the wider industry. Now known as the ‘Chocolate detective,’ with her new enterprise, she is continuing to place her energies into backing the Grenada Chocolate Company as an inspiring example of how to deliver products in the most sustainable way possible for its farmers.
As she explains, the Caribbean business founded by Mott Green just over two decades ago, is able to keep a huge chunk of its value right there on the island’ through employing villagers devising a true ‘tree-to-bar’ operation. This enables a viable living for the local community, rather than seeing cacao processing profits going directly to manufacturers elsewhere around the world.
According to Chantal, it was a realisation that much of the confectionery industry as we know it has been created out of old colonial mindsets, and she feels, along with many other observers, that it’s high time the system changed. In terms of her own experiences, she was born in Iran, after her father moved there as a specialist doctor, along with her mother, a historian.
After several further moves, it was the family’s decision to move to London that proved pivotal. “I think my story starts with being the middle child of five, and never getting enough chocolate! But fast forward a few years, and I was a student at the University of the Arts in London, and a friend was working at the Harrods chocolate counter. They just asked if I wanted a Saturday job and it turned out that my first customer was in fact Michael Caine, who bought the biggest box of Milk Tray chocolate we had for his mum, which he would do every year,” she recalls of the encounter with the movie star back in the late 1970’s. As she explains, it was a question of realising how improvements on the customer service side of the business could be made, which directly inspired her to start her own company.
Notably, she admits it was a scary prospect starting up a new business entirely on her own, yet she has no regrets over starting off on that eventful path. “When you set up a company at a young age, you don’t necessarily see it as being that difficult, but obviously it is. It was really hard to get enough money, and it took years to make progress, but then it did happen. I recall the first time we opened, it was just before Easter, and everyone just said, ‘what are you going to do afterwards,’ as if we were going to become an antiques shop,” she recalls of that first store, located in King’s Road, Chelsea.
While, as she explains, that period four decades ago was characterised by intriguing developments in art, fashion and music, yet the wider artisan chocolate movement was still very much in its infancy. “I didn’t actually know that much about chocolate, and had to teach myself a lot. My benchmark was what was being sold in Harrods, and we have moved on so much since then.”
A new beginning
As she relays, this led to her starting the campaign for real chocolate with the Chocolate Society. From there, she was to become a founder member of the London-based Academy of Chocolate, with its goal of raising awareness of the difference between industrial chocolate and fine varieties.
Despite gaining international acclaim, as well as celebrity and royal admirers including the late Queen Elizabeth II, her own Rococo business, which she founded in 1983 and went on to be reportedly been valued at £10 million, fell into difficult times against a backdrop of high operating costs. It was to enter into administration several years ago, but as Chantal notes, she is pleased that after a period of uncertainty over its future, she is glad that it is now being fully revived under the stewardship of Prestat, as we reported earlier this year.
In other major developments, last year, she found herself in the unexpected position of being asked to take up the helm as cochair of the organisation, after the passing of its former chairman, Sara Jayne Stanes OBE, who had been a fine ambassador for the sector over several decades.
Together they set up the Academy of Chocolate in 2005, which is continuing to thrive with its annual awards attracting fine flavour cacao entries from right around the world. “Sara Jayne was very unique and her own journey was quite something, having been taught by the Roux brothers, and she used to make chocolate at home in her kitchen. She was very passionate, and very particular about what she liked and didn’t like. “I remember in our first year that we did the awards with the academy, we had something like 24 entries for our awards, and not many categories and just entries from UK and Europe, and now it’s 45 different countries represented, and thousands of different entrants.
“I’m also honoured if not a little daunted to be invited to join the editorial board of Confectionery Production. I know all the tireless work that the late Sara Jayne Stanes has done to help move the industry forward and I am committed to doing the same.”
As Chantal enthuses, it’s been greatly encouraging to see the artisan market continue to grow and evolve in recent years, resulting in the quality achieved by smaller producers reaching ever-more impressive heights in recent years.
With the festive season well and truly upon us, you can’t help wondering what she believes is so special about giving chocolate gifts at Christmas, and does she have a personal favourite?
“Nothing beats a freshly made truffle – try to find your local small chocolatier and support them, remember quality over quantity – savour and cherish each bite. If you don’t have the budget this year, in our time of austerity, I urge everyone to try making them – I have a simple recipe here. Your friends and family will be so impressed and you can use your budget to buy the best dark chocolate you can find. ” Recipe here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/rococotruffles_68078
On a positive note to close out the year, she says that ‘from the abyss’ of exiting her previous business, she embarked on new online-based adventures under her Chocolate Detective guise.
As she explains, her venture’s core goals are centred on connecting to the cocoa farmers and communities, noting that there are strict rules in place in Grenada where the business sources its chocolate, which has free schooling for every child until the age of 14 to give them the best start in life.
Moreover, she is using her 40 years of knowledge of chocolate making to create a selection of her own products, noting that her role is very much a curating rather than personally making confectionery series – through ‘sharing the best of the best from around the world in chocolate.’
While there are indeed many challenges remaining out there in the industry, Chantal believes there are bright times ahead for her own venture, and also the Academy of Chocolate, as it strengthens its board and looks ahead for a successful, engaging and creative period in 2023.