Made with passion. A very individual selection of chocolate melting in mouth. Little masterpieces like the whiskey truffles, simply tantalizing.
His macarons are of a bite-size, so delicious they make you smile. Interview with Alistair Croll, a very special chocolate-maker.
What made you gravitate towards chocolate ?
I really started to have a great interest in chocolate whilst working at Claridges in Mayfair. Until I started working there I didn’t realize how flexible a chocolate product really is.
I always wanted to start my own business in the field of pastry, and I thought it would be ideal to start from home. Making chocolates I thought would be a good start, as at the time my space and cooking facilities were quite limited. Through working in many different places I collected lots of really fantastic recipes and thought I needed to put them to good use, and not hide them behind the doors of a 5 star luxury hotel.
The combinations and flavors of the chocolates come through lots of experimentation. Sometimes they work, sometimes not.
The recipes I use are ones I have collected along the way.
They are very flexible and good for trying out different combinations.
I have one particular favorite chocolate bar that I like and this is Porcelana from Amedei. They are a Tuscan chocolate producers.
How long have you been working with chocolate?
I guess I have been working with chocolate since the early 90s, but on a serious level since 2000.
How and where did you learn making chocolate?
My real training in the process of working with chocolate was gained at Claridges in Mayfair. When I arrived there I couldn’t believe that so much skill was involved. To work as a Pastry Chef at Claridges you needed to be able to temper chocolate, which I guess is a ground rule in being able to create anything of substance in the realm of chocolates.
Where does your inspiration come from?
There are lots of inspiring people working within the chocolate world. Two whom I would like to mention are Jerry Lagundas from Harrods and Frederic Bau from the chocolate school of Valrohna. Jerry (from the Phillipines) used to be one of the best pastry chefs at Harrods, there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do with chocolate. I used to stay behind after work just to observe his techniques and flair.
Frederic Bau is probably one of the best. I was at the Savoy where he did a demonstration some years ago. I was impressed by his skill knowledge, flair and his recipes which were really fantastic. Frederic Bau is also a guy who is witty and seems to really enjoy what he does. He's very passionate, and passionate people are the ones I find most inspiring -they don’t necessarily have to be the best. An inspiring book I read recently has been “The 10 rules on business” by Martha Stewart, which defines the success of business having the passion for something and giving it/sharing it with others. As a practicing Buddhist I am also inspired by my Buddhist Mentor Daisaku Ikeda whom inspires me with his never give up spirit which is vital in all areas of life, especially in business.
What is your favorite kind of chocolate to eat?
I have one particular favorite chocolate bar that I like and this is Porcelana from Amedei. They are a Tuscan chocolate producers. The bar is very fine, its 70% and it's as delicate as porcelain.
Which kind of food or drink would you recommend, to pair with your chocolate?
When eating the chocolates I make, I think they are best to eat at the end of a meal with water and no other drinks as you can then really appreciate the flavors in full. It is quite nice to put them on a chopping board and cut pieces away and eat them slowly. But each on their own. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.
What are the channels to promote your business? Where do you sale?
I sell my chocolates and macarons at markets at different places all over London. My prime location is Partridges food market, Duke of York Square, Kings Road Chelsea every Saturday.
Other places are Piccadilly St.James church on Mondays, Regents place Thursdays, One New Change Shopping centre, 1st Wednesday of every month; occasionally at Cardinal Place, New street Square. Twice a year I do the chocolate festival on the South Bank which is a 3-day event (on Easter in April and then on the 9th, 10th and 11th of December, at Belvedere place behind the South Bank center). The festival is a really big event. I may soon be selling my chocolates at Partridges.
I haven’t got a website yet; this is something I really need to get done. I started the business in December 2008 and I think its about time I got one done.
How do you come up with flavor combinations for your chocolate?
The combinations and flavors of the chocolates come through lots of experimentation. Sometimes they work, sometimes not. The recipes I use are ones I have collected along the way. They are very flexible and good for trying out different combinations. I like to hear what my customers like, this is really important. I do like to combine many different alcohols with the chocolate ganaches as they marry really well. They are not all alcoholic: sometimes it only has to be a very small amount. There is just so much you can do.
What is most difficult thing when making chocolate?
The most difficult thing with chocolate is tempering in the summer months. If you don’t have air conditioning this can be a real problem. Sometimes I work at night. Humidity is also an issue especially with the macarons as they don’t dry properly. This is a problem that will not exist once I have a studio to work in which isn’t far off as the business is growing fast.
What are the most special points about your chocolate?
The special points about my products are the smooth textures, the delicate flavors and the slightly rustic look, and above all the feeling that you are experiencing pure unadulterated luxury.