A fairly last minute decision to take a stall at this annual festival of all things chocolate, led to a couple of weeks of intense chocolate making preparation, long days polishing, tempering, wrapping; falling into bed in the small hours exhausted, only to wake an hour or two later fretting about whether I needed another batch of Smoked Heb Sea salt and Java; how much would I need? I had no idea.
By the time I got to the sleeper to travel down to London, I was almost too tired to fully appreciate the way traveling on the sleeper always makes a journey seem like such an adventure. I slept well, and woke to London, beautiful in autumnal crispness.
The Show was being held at Olympia, a first time visit for me and a revelation – we were in the National Hall; a huge space with beautifiul glass curved roof, and a deep wide first floor balcony all around it. I was a few hours early – but to my amazement, the place looked extremely unready! Some stalls were up but few were dressed or occupied. There were crews of people all over the place focused on their own part of the busy ant hill that was getting it all ready.
I found my stall – as always in the ‘dark corner’ – furthest corner of the show, tucked away. Not really, we were in good company - The International Chocolate Awards Winners Zone (lots of very lovely chats with Beverley), with their stand opposite, and The Highland Chocolatier across the way, and next door to Gustolato, both multi award winners.
My stock and display materials were being brought down from Scotland by Ali and Freddie of The Chocolate Tree and Julie of The Highland Chocolatier, both coming in vans. This was such a blessing – and a tangible benefit of the collaboration we are fostering through the Scottish Chocolatiers Network. As the afternoon progressed they both arrived and we helped unpack and then I set about ‘dressing’ my stall. My lovely sister in law Anna had come to help me and was slowly initiated into the world of chocolate and bean-to-bar; she grew to be haunted by this phrase over the weekend and told me that she woke up in the night with the mantra ‘bean-to-bar’ running through her head!
Slowly other chocolate making friends arrived over the afternoon – it is a smallish world, but growing fast. People I knew already – Duffy and Penny Sheardown (always so generous with time, advice, moral support, battery charger thingies, and just all round loveliness), Aneesh, Neena and Kirti Popat, Spencer from Cocoa Runners – all of whom who have at different stages of my own chocolate journey been significant ‘wayfarers’. One of the aspects of the weekend that really excited me was meeting many of the names I had become so familiar with through my regular internet and Twitter voyeuristic trawls of what is new on the scene. Omnom, Original Beans, Doble & Bignall, Marou, Damson, Ika, Seaforth, Forever Cacao, Chocolat Madagascar, Choconord, Paul A Young (another sea buckthorn fan), Mathieu du Gottal… to name but a few.
The weekend was extraordinary – exhausting in many ways and by Sunday I thought I was going to lose my voice; in addition to days spent explaining my own particular take on chocolate and answering the continual questions ‘ooh, what is a Charlotte Flower?’, my evenings were spent talking cocoa; conversations about $100 chocolate bars, barrel aged cocoa, nib-to-bar, bean-to-bar, perfect roasting times, off notes, my white chocolate dilemma
I have come away feeling very much more connected to this scene, and hope to have found some new customers along the way. I am indebted to two extraordinary women – my sister Jessica and sister in law Anna, who both with boundless energy and good humour offered chocs, answered questions, encouraged people to try something new, became fluent in this bizarre world of fine chocolate and were just all round wonderful.