With a place among the best chocolatiers in the world, Paul A. Young’s innovative chocolate creations have won him several awards. Working alongside Marco Pierre White as head pastry chef at Quo Vadis and Criterion in his early career, Young is now the proud owner of three fine chocolate shops in London
Q. Did you know you wanted to be a chocolatier when you were young?
PAY: I had no idea I wanted to be a chocolatier at all, it wasn’t in my plan at all. It was completely accidental, it was something I found I was good at and creative at and it kind of found me, which is great. It worked incredibly well. It’s one of those things that just happened and sometimes that’s the best way; you go with your creativity and you go with an opportunity.
Q. Is there one person in particular, or a specific moment in time, that helped you get to where you are today?
PAY: My first chocolate commission…I’ve never been trained by anyone in chocolate, I’m completely self-taught. Chantal Coady, who owns Rococo Chocolates in London, she asked me to make some chocolate for her store on Kings Road in London…this was 13 or 14 years ago now. And they sold incredibly well. She praised them and said they were of great quality and that was the first of that kind of chocolate opportunity and chocolate job. Making a commission. I suppose it kind of stemmed from there. Her feedback was fantastic.
Q. What are your favourite ingredients to use alongside chocolate and why?
PAY: I haven’t got any favourite ones, there are so many. I mix savoury, sweet, spicy, fruity, herby and floral. I don’t have a specific favourite ingredient—I just like diversity. I like blending flavour combinations. I work seasonally, I like using the right thing at the right time of year. I just love the diversity of living in a city or a place where you can get pretty much anything. That means your creativity is endless.
Q. Do you think there are certain combinations that are particularly suited together?
PAY: I got my name from not following that ethos, because otherwise I would have been making chocolates that everyone else is making. The combinations I make can be quite daring and ambitious and unusual. We make great Champagne truffles and pralines but we also make incredibly innovative chocolates. I never limit myself to any rules or ways of putting things together. Because that means I can really play and push the boundaries. I love that freedom. Everyone loves classics—everyone loves the truffles and pralines. But then it’s what can you do with that and how can you take that and turn it into a completely different chocolate.
Q. Where does your inspiration come from?
PAY: Just being open to everything. Talking to my team, talking to my friends. Eating out. There isn’t one specific method that I’ve got. Sometimes it’s the season, and what that inspires. If it’s really hot you want something cooling, if it’s winter you want something comforting. And just open yourself up to everything. Discover. Travel. And don’t say no to anything—just try it!
Q. What are the most popular chocolates at your shop?
PAY: Salted caramel is a huge seller, I made that 14 years ago before it was even on sale in London. Champagne truffles, chocolate brownies, hot chocolate. But then all of our seasonal chocolate, we change them very regularly. I think taste is definitely personal but I try to hopefully get people to try new things that they wouldn’t necessarily try otherwise. I try to create new trends by doing that.
Q. What kind of feedback do you get from customers who try the more exotic, daring products?
PAY: It’s generally good. They don’t have any negative feedback. Generally it surprises people, it encourages them to have something they wouldn’t normally try. And generally they’ll say, ‘Yes, I can see why that works I just needed somebody to guide me and show me and tell me how it’s going to taste.’
Q. What is the one thing you hope people take away and remember after they visit your shops?
PAY: I want them to remember the creativity, honesty and the great customer service. And that they feel like they want to come back. I want them to have more of an experience than just a shop visit.
Q. How has the way people think about chocolate changed over the last decade?
PAY: People are more informed now, they know about origins and varieties and percentage and what that means. Now people want to know where the beans are grown, who has made the chocolate, how it’s made and where it’s made. If it’s natural and pure and that it’s seasonal. And the story behind it, not just that it comes from a catalogue. We have a story behind the chocolate; we like to think about what we’re buying now. It’s that insider information on how it’s made and where it comes from. People’s palates have changed, people are now not afraid to try higher percentages or unusual flavours. And that works well for us.
Q. What are the main pieces of advice you would give to home cooks who want to use more chocolate in their cooking?
PAY: Try a lot of different varieties; don’t keep buying the same thing every time—although it’s very easy to do that. Be open to experimenting…it’s never going to taste that bad, really. Spend a little bit more money on chocolate because cheap chocolate is going to taste cheap no matter what. And just read the back of the label and just make sure the ingredients are natural and it says where the beans are from. Have some information about the chocolate so that you can make an informed choice. You can’t really get that from a wrapper. You have to buy it and taste it. As long as it’s real chocolate and contains real cocoa beans and cocoa butter and no artificial anything. Don’t be thrown by fancy branding and fancy labelling. You’ve got to experiment and try something new. The chocolate should never taste burned or really bitter. It should have a nice balanced and rounded taste and flavour and texture. Eventually, opening the wrapper and tasting it. Go to a chocolate shop and ask if you can have a taste of things…they should say yes…hopefully! Explore a bit. Every time you see a new kind of chocolate, try it.