Full name: Paul Andrew Young
Role: Owner and Master Chocolatier at paul.a.young fine chocolates
DOB: 28th July 1973
Fun Fact: One of Paul’s dogs is called Billington
J: You were born in Yorkshire, but you grew up in Durham, near Trimdon right? (my family’s from Ferryhill). Did the foods of your youth affect what you do today? Could you share a few other key moments in your evolution into the chocolatier we see before us today?
P: I grew up baking with my grandma and mum every Sunday and learned so much from them, so they have obviously been a huge influence on my interest in food. My grandma’s sage and onion stuffing recipe was amazing – if I could have one thing from her again this would be it. My mum still lives in Durham and I don’t get to visit her as often as I would like to, so luckily, whenever I see her, she makes me her corn beef pie. I become a child again whenever I taste it, no one does it in London and it just brings back so many memories.
In terms of my evolution, after working as head pastry chef for Marco Pierre White, I left the restaurant world to become a product developer and consultant and through this, I was asked to create a chocolate for the first Chocolate Week. I then began developing chocolates for other chocolate companies. But I thought “why am I giving away my recipes when I could be using them myself?” and I decided to set up paul.a.young fine chocolates in 2006.
Today, my customers and fans help me to continue to evolve – they keep me motivated and driven to make creative inspirational products.
What was it like working as head pastry chef for Marco Pierre White? I read that he scouted you out, could you tell us how that came about and what the overall experience was like? You also worked with Roger Pizey, right?
Yes, I was offered a job while working with Marco’s chefs for Land Rover on a country wide contract. Roger Pizey, Marco’s executive pastry chef at the time, saw something in my work and I was offered a job. I started at The Criterion in October 1996 and I’ve been in London ever since. Marco and Roger taught me how to cook to a whole new level.
Marco instilled in me that everything that left the kitchen was to be perfect and settle for nothing less. It is a principle I apply to my business too. I worked for him for 6 years at The Criterion, Titanic and as Head Pastry Chef at Quo Vadis.
How did you end up moving from pastry to chocolate? I read you one describe yourself as the “accidental chocolatier”
Whilst working with Marco Pierre White, chocolate captured my imagination most and became my favourite ingredient. When I left the restaurant world, I became a product developer and consultant I got into chocolate when Chantal Coady, founder of Rococo Chocolates asked me to create a chocolate for her for the first Chocolate Week. The rest, as they say, is history.
It was a thoroughly organic process. From there, I continued developing chocolates for other chocolate companies. When I created my Sea Salted Caramel people said I should enter it into the Academy of Chocolate Awards. That was the turning point, which changed my life. Winning that award inspired me to open my own shop.
Speaking of that, what does being a chocolatier entail exactly?
Being a chocolatier is a lot of fun but it takes a long time to become a good, accomplished chocolatier. In the UK there is no set qualification, yet. For me personally, I really feel that being a pastry chef for many years, working my way up through the different positions helped me develop the necessary skills, which I still use every day.
Because there is no official formal training, I like to train apprentices up in my own kitchens. So much of being a chocolatier is not learnt in a classroom, so it is best to be as hands on as you can from the start.
I heard you’d try and mix anything with chocolate (but no garlic and fish?) Could you tell us about some of your craziest experiments and how they turned out? Any real winners…real losers?
I’ve actually successfully used garlic either by slow roasting or by using Black garlic. When it comes to discovering and cultivating new flavours, I will try everything I possibly can. It’s how I get inspired. But I haven’t had any real losers, except a difficulty with a certain kind of lime… I generally know which flavours work and which don’t.
Some combinations take longer than others so I’ll keep experimenting until I get it right. I was dared by Lydia Slater, then working for the Sunday Times Style, to create a Marmite truffle – she didn’t think it could be done. Now, it’s undoubtedly one of our most popular flavour combinations. I created it in 2006 and it’s remained one of our bestsellers; I once tried to take it out of the collection but so many customers were asking where it had gone, I just had to bring it back.
You have 4 shops now, right? How engaged are you with them in the day to day?
It’s important for me to keep the link between all my teams in all four shops so I visit them all each week and also spend some time on the shop floor when I can, meeting my customers. Being hands on, I’ve seen how each shop has developed over time – they’ve all got their own personalities.
I spend slightly more time at our flagship shop on Wardour Street. It’s where our product development takes place. It’s a busy working kitchen but it’s nice to be able to work through ideas and share them with the rest of the team simultaneously. Working together, we’re now able to introduce new flavours regularly.
Speaking of that, what was the experience like opening your first shop?
In 2006, I opened my first shop on Islington’s historic Camden Passage. This was after 4 years of searching for the perfect location. Around that time, it was the coffee shop boom so anyone and everyone who could make an Americano had been buying all the prime properties in the best locations.
Once we’d had the bid accepted and we were able to open the shop, I was full of pride. But I was also initially unprepared – we opened with just me in the kitchen, making chocolates every hour of the day with friends and family helping out at weekends. On the shop’s first day, we had a queue outside and no idea how to actually run it inside!
We learnt very quickly and although a lot of hard work was involved, it was one of the most exhilarating, most exciting times of my life. It wasn’t until a year had passed that we hired our first employee.
I still love the Islington shop – there is always something about first borns! It has a great community vibe and Camden Passage is a great area for independents – the shop really feels part of something special there
As I understand it, James Cronin is your partner on all the stores you’ve opened. How did you end up working with him, and how does the partnership work?
About 15 years ago, James and I were introduced by a mutual friend. We were partners for some years and set up the business while together. We separated nearly 10 years ago now but, we are a far better business team than partners – he has the business mind, with a head for figures and strategies and this allows me to be creative.
We still sometimes disagree but at the end of the day, we both know I can’t do the financials and he certainly can’t make chocolates!
How did you break into TV and what’s your most magnificent TV experience been so far? (I also see that you’ve done lots of stuff on the other side of the pond?)
My big break TV appearance was on the Carlton Food Network – so quite a while ago now! One of early appearances was on UKTV’s Great Food Live, hosted by Jeni Barnett which was always so much fun and I learned a lot. One of my favourite TV appearances has to be appearing with Heston Blumenthal. We’re both boundary pushers in our respective industries so it was good to finally meet and get creative together.
My book ‘Adventures with Chocolate’ was launched in the US so I’ve been over there a few times to meet the press. The bean to bar movement is really vibrant in the US so I look to visit to see what’s happening there.
Your site says that you are the only chocolatier in London working in a truly artisan way – can you explain what you mean?
To me, artisan means small batch, hands-on chocolate making. It means every truffle, bar or brownie might not be a carbon copy of the last one, but that’s because we make sure we use seasonal ingredients and people not machines at every stage of the chocolate process. All of our ingredients are of highest quality – we don’t use any artificial ingredients.
If you see a truffle is raspberry flavoured, it will definitely have actual raspberry in. Our champagne truffles contain only champagne and chocolate – no flavourings or shortcuts! Our principles have been the same since we opened the first shop; we’re still tempering the chocolate by hand in our kitchens.
Do you ever eat chocolate ‘recreationally’, or are you sick of it by the end of the week? If so, what do you enjoy?
I’m not a chocolate snob, despite what many people might expect! People should experiment with new chocolates – try what you can afford and don’t feel intimidated. Fine chocolate is just like fine wine; you can enjoy both but you don’t have to be an expert in either.
A real passion of mine is discovering new bean to bar producers from around the world, with the potential for some to eventually become stocked in my shops. Currently, I am loving Mast Brothers from Brooklyn and Menakao who are based in Madagascar. We also have an exciting bean-to-bar industry building in the UK, and I especially love Lincolnshire based Duffy Sheardown’s chocolate.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the chocolate business?
Every day is different and none are boring! With four shops across London, it varies which shop I’m in each day. With every shop, I try to check in with the team on the shop floor first thing, check the products. I have to sample a few truffles – it’s a tough job but someone has to do it!
Not a day goes by when I don’t try one of our sea-salted caramels, which I still adore. After winning so many awards (International Chocolate Awards and Academy of Chocolate Awards), I have to make sure they are up to my exacting standards!
With media deadlines for Christmas looming, I’ve been doing a lot of product development so I’m spending more time than usual in the Wardour Street shop in the kitchen. I feel really inspired with the buzz of the team and the kitchen around me. Christmas is always busy, but each year we try and come up with something different to surprise our loyal customers.
I can’t reveal too much yet but I’m working with some fantastic people this year on some amazing new flavour combinations. Our newest shop at Heal’s brings a different element to the business as it’s also a cafe which allows me to do more baking. The open kitchen gives customers a chance to get a peek at me at work too!
Afternoons are often taken up with meetings – either in the shops with my in-store teams and excitingly, with potential collaborators. Working with different brands gives your mind even more room to be creative.
Where do you get your ideas?
I find inspiration in everything, I love going out to dinner with friends and I love travelling so I’m always on the lookout for new ingredients and new flavours. I don’t have a definitive answer as creative brains work when you don’t want them to, this is when some of the best and most creative ideas are conceived.
What advice would you give to aspiring food entrepreneurs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
To get to where we are in the industry today has taken a lot of hard work, commitment and also a willingness to learn. I won’t lie, being in the food industry is tough, especially when you are aiming for total luxury. You will have to work long hours and deal with unprecedented competitiveness.
It’s all worth it though when you read the good reviews and see people enjoying something you made. There’s no better feeling than seeing something you created become a success. Accept nothing other than perfection in everything you do; there will be tears, shouting and frustration but aiming for perfection isn’t easy.
Ask any popstar how may times they had to sing a song before it was perfect and ready for recording – probably more than we would all guess. The repetition can be challenging so be 100% committed, put in the extra work, time and commitment and results will follow.
I would also try to be unique and stand out from the crowd but beware, as style over substance never wins. Working with chocolate especially, allows people to really explore their passion and essential ingredient in any business.
It is an ingredient that really captures the imagination – it’s versatile, can match well with so many other flavours, textures and it can be used in so many ways from moulding, blending and sculpting. So my advice to budding chocolatiers would be to get creative and never be afraid to do something different.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else – I was born to be a chocolatier! Every day, I get up looking forward to the day ahead and my mind is constantly abuzz with new ideas. Being a chocolatier inspires me like nothing else.
If you create a bespoke chocolate for anyone, with a limitless budget and access to any ingredient you wanted – who would you pick, and what would you cook for them?
I meet some amazing people through my business and have some amazing customers in my shops. I could have picked so many creative people from history and more obvious choices, but Emma Thompson has a way of expressing her thoughts in such elegant language, that for me it’s like enrobing chocolate around the finest silks.
When I met her, she showed such a genuine interest and respect for my craft – the feeling is mutual of course. What would I cook for her? That’s an excellent question and maybe one day I will be able to tell you! It would be something super luxe, evocative, edgy and unforgettable.
What makes a good chocolate, and what makes a bad chocolate?
If you are looking for a good chocolate, the easiest way to tell is by checking the ingredients and tasting the chocolate before making it into anything.. The best chocolates have the most minimal amounts of ingredients – an unflavoured bar should only really contain cocoa liquor/beans, sugar and maybe soy lecithin or vanilla.
Chocolate should never taste burnt, smell like cheap vanilla ice cream (indicative of cheap beans being swamped by vanilla or vanillin and sugar to disguise bad tastes) or be uncomfortably bitter, where inferior beans have been over roasted or burnt. The cocoa butter could also have been replaced with artificial fats so look out for those in the ingredients list.
The more you pay for your chocolate the better the quality and the more the farmers will have been paid for the beans.
What’s one thing about chocolate that you think people don’t know, but need to know?
I believe that people’s fixation on percentage of cocoa is totally wrong. The idea that there is a perfect percentage is probably the most noticeable myth in all chocolate products. 70% is not a definitive sign of fine quality, flavour, taste, texture or price. I do rant about this quite a lot – it’s so misleading for you the consumer.
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for your career? If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Money and reality are no obstacle, so shoot for the moon…
I am aiming high and would like a chocolate TV series with a book attached so that I became the “People’s chocolatier”. The journey has started so keep watching this space…
As you know, I’m a Northerner at heart, so I would like to open a shop in Northern England. Manchester is so up and coming as a foodie destination, it would be exciting to be a part of its journey. Ultimately though, my dream is to open up across the pond; I’d like to be the first British chocolatier to make it outside of the UK.
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you were forced to live on one kind of alcohol for the rest of your life (assume that your metabolism becomes specifically adapted to use this as your sole source of calories, so you had to drink this to survive) – which would you pick, and why?
At the moment, I am in love with Bourbon. I love it so much I’ve just included it in my collaborative dessert with Flat Iron‘s brand new restaurant on Denmark Street. It’s made from a collection of all of my favourite things; Bourbon and vanilla ice cream, my famous salted caramel and a Madagascan chocolate sauce
…Another all-time favourite drink of mine would have to be Woodford Reserve [Ed: fuckin’ A]. If I had live on those for the rest of my life, I’d be very happy. I’d also get to do my weekly shop in my favourite local Soho shop Milroy’s.
If you were forced to fend off an alien invasion and singlehandedly save mankind using only the tools available at Paul A Young, how would you do it?
I think my KitchenAid digital motored hand blender would do it or we could fend off the invasion with some of my chocolates – kill them with kindness? Hopefully that would keep them sweet!
If you were forced to convert the business into some sort of scientific/technological research firm (assume a limitless budget and access to the best scientific talent in the world) – what would you call yourselves and what would your specialist areas of research be?
Away from chocolate it would be the paul.a.young dog intelligence and hound happiness home – I LOVE the hound group of dogs; they are so entertaining and unusual, if you are an owner of one , you will know. I’ve had a Basset Hound and now have a Miniature Dachshund called ‘Billi’ and they are totally bonkers.
But if it was something chocolate related, it would be the paul.a.young Fine Chocolates Centre for Chocolate Research and we would look into how to make cocoa farming more sustainable.
We would research into how to make cacao farming better for everyone involved – from the farmers right through to the consumers and ensure that good quality, ethical chocolate could be enjoyed by all for years to come. We would grow cocoa in HUGE (we are talking massive here) climate controlled mini rainforests here in the UK to increase the growth of the cocoa farms)