Rococo Chocolates are among the finest in the world. Founder Chantal Coady, speaks to T&L about pioneering a chocolate revolution
In June 2014 Chantal Coady visited Buckingham Palace to do something that no one in her industry had ever done before. She was going receive an OBE for services to chocolate making. And yet, if it were not for her husband James, she might have missed out on the award entirely. ‘This brown envelope that looked like a parking ticket arrived,’ Chantal explains. ‘I opened it and there were badly photocopied bits of paper inside, so I tossed it down on the table. I could not be bothered with it. My husband said “I think you should read this”. He knew before I did because they have to vet you, check you for criminal records and your passport. So I read it and thought it was a joke.’
But it was no joke and Chantal received her award from Prince William in a ceremony she remembers vividly as though it were yesterday. ‘You are allowed to take three people to the actual ceremony. I took my mum who invested so much in my business – she put the family home on the line for me when I first set up and the bank took on my business plan but needed security; James my husband and James’s mum. And then our children, Milly and Fergus, came and joined me for the photographs. So they were in all the photographs. They did not go to the ceremony. I think they would have been bored waiting for three hours. Then we all went out for lunch and had friends round for supper in the evening. I was not even allowed to cook. It was a really, really lovely day.’
Chantal’s journey to Buckingham Palace began at boarding school. ‘I remember very clearly, we were not allowed to shop on certain days and I wanted chocolate very badly [she once led a midnight raid on the school kitchens in her eagerness for the stuff of her dreams]. My mother always made sure I received a chocolate frog in the post on the day I wasn’t allowed to go and buy one. Chocolate was just part of my life. I was heavily influenced by Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in my fantasies, and the idea of searching for the perfect chocolate. So while I did not have a plan I was definitely processing something in my brain.
‘Later, when I was a student studying art and textile design, I went to meet a friend in Harrods for lunch. She was working in the chocolate department and, while I was waiting, a rather handsome man sidled up to me and said: “Do you want to work here?” He was the Chocolate Department buyer. It was very unorthodox on his part, but he was looking for extra people to sell chocolate on Saturdays. So I got my job there and supplemented my meagre grant while I was doing my degree. I learned a lot there about chocolate and about customer service, what to do and more importantly what not to do.’
Today, Chantal Coady is the founder and Artistic Director of Rococo Chocolates, a brand known for its exquisite chocolate both in presentation and taste. Her first shop opened on the King’s Road in 1983 – ‘that part of the King’s Road then was not a destination place for smart shoppers; the World’s End was still a bit scruffy. I liked it, there were lots of punks still’.
With exotic paintings and 18th-century grandeur it hardly looked like a rebel, but it was something of a revolutionary in the chocolate world. Other shops followed in Marylebone High Street and then in Motcombe Street, Belgravia. Five books and an OBE later, and Chantal is undoubtedly the Queen of Chocolate: innovator, entrepreneur and arbiter of taste.
The growth of Rococo reflects our own changing chocolate-eating habits. Today, the British public is more likely to ask about provenance and ethical sourcing, and it’s something Chantal welcomes. The organic and ethically grown cocoa used in her chocolate comes from Grenada. ‘People are getting more into dark chocolate and even dark milk chocolate now. Recent health studies are showing that dark chocolate can help with coughs and with the bacteria in the gut, even though the benefits are not fully understood. And people are opting for smaller quantities of something good rather than huge quantities of less good quality chocolate.’
And yet, despite this growth in ‘good’ chocolate, there’s no doubt we British are still addicted to bars and Easter Eggs. ‘I think it comes down to addiction to sugar, fat and salt,’ says Chantal. ‘We are hard wired to want these three things still. We do not need them in the same quantities, in the same way when we hunted and foraged living in the wild. We need to retrain our brains. I think it’s a bit like when we used to go to art gallery openings and they serve really cheap white wine. It was so bad you just had to drink more of it. If it was good wine, you might well have had just one glass.’
So how much chocolate does Chantal actually eat? Does she still have her school girl cravings? ‘For me, chocolate is my ultimate security blanket,’ she says laughing. ‘I don’t have to eat it. I have to know it’s there.’