In 2014, Prince William stood in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace and smiled warmly as he pinned an OBE on Chantal Coady’s lapel. “Goodness.” he said. “Your profession is chocolate - what a wonderful job to have!”.
Coady shot back with a comment - one that she cannot for the life of her remember - and William laughed heartily. It was a magical - indeed, crowning - moment in a remarkable career.
Coady received her OBE “For services to chocolate”, a category specially created by our late Queen Elizabeth to acknowledge her achievements. Now celebrating 40 years in the business, Coady is firmly established as a trailblazer and the undisputed doyenne of luxury chocolate.
Aged only 23 and a graduate from art college, Coady launched Rococo Chocolates on the King’s Road in Chelsea in 1983. She devised delicious new flavours, such as sea salt milk chocolate, chilli pepper and lavender, then paired them with quirky designs and stunning packaging.
Her creations caught the imagination of Hollywood A-listers and British royalty and the brand soon became a sensation that shook up the dusty world of violet creams. Multiple industry awards followed and new shops opened in London’s smartest areas.
Fast forward a few decades, and hundreds of delicious chocolate inventions later, Rococo is now owned by Polo del Gusto, the gourmet brands subsidiary of Italian coffee giants Gruppo Illy. But Coady remains firmly involved as its Creative Director and Brand Ambassador. She also fulfils the same roles for Prestat, the 121-year-old chocolate maker of Piccadilly that is also owned by Polo del Gusto and the keeper of a precious royal warrant since 1975.
Our writer caught up with Chantal at Rococo in Chelsea where her sensational chocolate journey first began all those years ago…
1. Prince William said that you have a wonderful job - was he right? What do you love most about your work?
I smile whenever I think back to that Prince William moment. He was so nice and supportive. He was genuinely amazed that anyone could spend their working life immersed in something as decadent as chocolate. But he was right - this really is a wonderful career choice.
I spend most of my days trying to think up delicious new recipes or blends of flavours to pair with chocolate for people to love. When I am not dreaming up recipes, I am thinking of new ways to present chocolate, or fresh designs for packaging. I am from an art background, so I am driven by the creative process. There is a certain beauty to working with chocolate because you know that it is a product that brings joy to our customers, that you are making something so irresistible. Knowing this is a great motivator that keeps me inspired. It’s not as if I am labouring over something mechanical or functional, like making ball bearings! I am working with the best chocolate in the world for loyal customers. What’s not to like!
2. As the founder of Rococo, what has been your most important takeaway from this business?
Even though chocolate has been the centre of my world for 40 years, I am still learning new things every day. That is what keeps me interested. I have been able to put down roots in cocoa growing territories and work directly with the farmers, which is part of the business that I love most. You respect chocolate even more when you see the work that goes into growing the cocoa. My on-going ambition and dream is for the chocolate business to be ever-more transparent, ethical and sustainable. Some of the major producers do not adhere to the best standards, so I want things to improve across the board - world-wide - so that greater agency and profit goes directly to to cocoa farmers. I am really passionate about working for this cause. I certainly want our two businesses to be a standard bearer for sustainability of ethical practices that respect the cocoa farmers.
3. What are the challenges facing the chocolate business?
There’s a huge job in educating consumers to understand exactly what they are eating and appreciate how precious good chocolate is. The vast majority of people think that chocolate is a bar of Dairy Milk or Galaxy. Chocolate at that mass-produced level is just full of milk, palm oil and packed with sugar. People are basically hooked on sugar and buying products like that for a sugar rush.
Chocolate is not something that should not be consumed thoughtlessly. The difference between that industrial candy and handmade chocolate is enormous. For me, the best is “single estate chocolate” - when the beans come from one small farm. This kind of chocolate is a fine delicacy that should be enjoyed in small quantities, rather like a fine wine. The simple truth is - you really do get what you pay for.
4. What is the latest creation from your recipe repertoire?
Rococo is currently celebrating its ruby anniversary. To mark this we have brought out a very special truffle called Cru Criollo. It is made from 100% criollo which is the rarest varietal of cocoa in the world. Criollo accounts for only 0.01% of the annual production. It is the most delicate varietal with very low tannins, which gives it a creamy softness, with notes of honey, dried fruit and macadamia. It is delicious and I think our customers will love it. We have only been able to make this truffle thanks to a partnership with the Italian chocolate producer, Domori, which is a recognised expert in the field of criollo. Domori has spent 30 years nurturing and protecting the criollo bean and has been acknowledged for saving it from almost certain extinction.
5. Christmas is clearly an important time for the chocolate business. What can we expect from Rococo and Prestat?
Rococo is known for its quirky designs, so this year we have a collection of chocolates inspired by Santa’s Workshop. Our packaging draws on vintage toys of the 19th century, like the Musical Carousel, the Little Drummer Boy and the Rocking Horse. Inside these box selections are an array of chocolates that reflect the spirit of Christmas, from milk to dark, to a boozy collection with alcohol. We also have smaller products that are ideal as stocking fillers, such as broken slabs infused with the flavour of mince pie or panettone. I hope that there is something for everyone.
Prestat was founded in 1902 and is the holder of a royal warrant, so it has a more traditional and genteel image than Rococo. Therefore, the Christmas range this year reflects its roots and concentrates on its legendary truffles. There are Festive Houses of Pink Marc de Champagne and Dark Sea Salt truffles. These are some of the finest truffles in the chocolate world, so they work well as a super fine treat.
6. How do you plan to spend Christmas this year?
I will be in London with extended family from four generations, which will be great fun. There will be a full-on traditional Christmas lunch - always very late - followed by games. I expect it will be a noisy, riotous affair with plenty of great food, fine wine and - no doubt - some even finer chocolate. What could be better!