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Meet Damian Allsop. A pastry chef by trade, Damian is now one of the hottest names in the chocolate-making world – and he’s just arrived in travel retail…
His exquisite – and as a chocolate aficionado I don’t use the term lightly – creations are unlike any chocolate you have ever tasted.
That’s because of what goes into them – and what doesn’t.
Having spent nearly two decades as head Pastry Chef in Michelin-starred restaurants – and working with some of the best chefs in England, France and Catalonia – Damian’s turning point came in February 2002 when he was introduced to the now legendary Chuao (a Venezuelan coca bean variety) from Amedei.
It was then, according to his website, that he decided that the ingredients we add to chocolate alter its flavour unacceptably – a revelation that led him to find a way to mix water (a non-flavoured liquid) with chocolate. Damian Allsop Chocolates was born (www.damianallsop.com).
Damian claims to be the first and only chocolatier in the UK working in this “medium” – a term that itself underlines how seriously he takes his craft.
Holding a plate of mixed loose chocolates in front of me at the formal unveiling of WDF’s specialist ‘Simply Chocolate’ boutique last week (“this one’s a fresh mint” he says as I select one without waiting to be invited), he launches with easy candour into his philosophy.
“If I take a base product and add cream to it, I am adding an animal fat to it and I am changing its flavour. It then becomes chocolatey,” he argues.
“But I want that particular flavour [the base chocolate] to come out, and the least flavoured liquid is water. So that’s what we do – we work with water and chocolate and we’re the only people in the world to do so.”
“Here,” he says gesturing to the plate of temptations in front of him, “we have a lot of different characters. The water technique brings out the flavour and the complexity but it also brings out the journey of the product as well.
“Because I’m a pastry chef, I tend not to think about just one flavour but about the interaction – the flavour is on a journey; it’s changing in your mouth. And that means the various flavours release at different times.”
To make his point, Damian holds up a small white chocolate. “White chocolate is very sweet,” he says. “I played with that so we have an acid taste on the outside – using an acidic yoghurt which starts off sour and makes your mouth water.
“So pop it in… bite it open,” he says to the assembled throng of journalists, none of whom needs a second invitation.
“It first goes sour, then you get the white chocolate… then you get the caramel and the sea salt [with unrefined sugar] and then you’re left with a roasted pistachio… a lovely roasted nut flavour.”
The quick fire transformation of flavours is amazing. The experience is as much about sensation as taste. Both are thrilling.
“I better try another one,” I say lamely, “just to check my findings.”
Next up is a peanut butter chocolate. But this is no ordinary peanut butter nor any ordinary chocolate.
“We roast our own peanuts; we add sea salt to them; then we mix them with milk chocolate and a wrapping of dark chocolate – it’s as simple as that,” says Damian. “It’s a lovely elevation from the humble peanut.”
Except there’s nothing simple about it at all. What Damian has achieved, like many great artists, is to make complexity look simple.
“These two are quite interesting,” he says pointing to some delicate dark chocolates.
“This is Earl Gray and this is Jasmine tea… we’re working with a specialist tea supplier [Bristol-based Lahloo] and our water technique not only showcases the quality of the chocolate but also showcases the flavour that you put in there.
“Tea has a really delicate, tricky character to get on top of the chocolate. So we use a cold water infusion.”
Damian starts to tell us how to perform such an infusion at home. But I don’t want to do it at home. I want to eat his chocolates, not mine. In fact I’d like another one right now.
I snap out of chocolate dreamland as Damian notes: “We’re going to finish off with the lightest chocolate you’re ever going to taste.”
He points to both a dark and a milk chocolate. “You’ve got fresh berries [aerated and dehydrated] in this [dark] one and anise and coffee in the milk one. It’s called a cloud and you’ll see why when you bite into one.”
A press conference, possibly for the first time, descends into a symphony of appreciative murmurs. There can be no more tricky questions because every reporter has their mouth full. Sir Alex Ferguson should take Damian with him to post-match media briefings – he’d get a much easier ride.
These chocolates are good. Very good. In keeping with the name of their first travel retail outlet, they’re simply chocolate – with a little water. Add a sampling of Damian Allsop chocolates to the list of things you must do before you die.