What does it take to be a chocolatier?
“It's not tricky.”
Josie Raine is describing the process of making a five kilo, 55cm tall Easter egg – like our Imperial in Bloom Egg. To put it together, one huge half is placed curved-side-down, then tempered chocolate is spread onto the edge and the other half is carefully manoeuvred on top of it. To the untrained eye, it sounds terrifyingly tricky.
“Well, I probably did think it was tricky when I first did it,” she concedes.
Kirsty Mitchison remembers her first Imperial Egg: “The scary bit is where you come to stick it together and stand it up. I was terrified of dropping it. Though I don’t think anything of it now.”
If you’ve eaten Bettys chocolate, there’s a very good chance that Kirsty or Josie made it. Josie has been with Bettys for 38 years, spending time as a confectioner and cake decorator before settling into the wonderful world of chocolate. Kirsty made her first Bettys Easter egg 12 years ago and has worked full time in our Chocolate Room for eight years.
So what does it take to be a chocolatier?
“Chocolate is quite temperamental to work with,” says Josie. “It can't be too hot, it can't be too cold, it can't be too wet.”
“So a knowledge of chocolate is good, of course, and I do think you need a bit of flair with piping, because you can’t hang about. You can add you own flair to an egg, too – even though we have specs to work to, everyone's egg is a little bit different. It shows how handmade they are.
Kirsty says: “Patience is important. Although there’s a science behind it, so you can understand how it works, it occasionally likes to throw a curveball at you.
“I enjoy the science. I did originally train as a chef, and there you’ve got a bit of creative license – you add a handful of this and a sprinkling of that. As you move into the sweeter side of things, with baking, you need to stick to a recipe. And it’s even more restrictive when you work with chocolate. You have to stick to temperatures and consistencies and timings.”
Josie adds: “The good thing is that you can melt it back down again. We don't have a lot of waste.”
And is it important for a chocolatier to love chocolate?
Kirsty says: “I like the Opera Slices on our Afternoon Tea. But I don’t tend to eat much sweet stuff at home because I’m surrounded by it all the time, so I go more savoury. I quite like a lot of Mexican food, and I try to always make things from scratch.”
Many people dream of working with chocolate for a living, but is it a rewarding career path?
“Easter is my favourite time of year,” says Kirsty. “I love decorating Easter eggs. I don’t know what it is – I just enjoy piping, and like working with chocolate. I always wanted to work with it.”
Josie adds: “I really like to train people. It's nice to pass on my knowledge and skills to other people.
“And I like to go and look at the Bettys window displays. When other people look in and say it looks beautiful, I do feel proud. But I don't turn to them and say: ‘I did that!’. I’d feel a bit silly.”