The Genesis of Rococo

Appears in

Real Chocolate: Over 50 Inspiring Recipes for Chocolate Indulgence

Real Chocolate

By Chantal Coady

Published 2003

‘Whatever made you think of opening a chocolate shop?’ I have lost count of the number of people who’ve asked me that. To me the answer is so obvious I am amazed that anyone need ask. I have always been obsessed by chocolate, as far back as I can remember, and I thought that everyone dreamed of opening their own chocolate shop. Perhaps they did, when they were small, but then forgot about it or got sensible and decided to follow conventional careers. My dream was recurrent; many a time I walked through landscapes from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where the trees were swathed in sweets, blades of grass made from soft minty sugar, and rivers filled with molten chocolate. Each time I picked the sweets, gathered them in my skirts and returned home to hide them under my pillow, so that they would be there when I awoke. So vivid were these dreams, so bitter the disappointment on awaking and finding nothing.

I suppose in a way I deviated from my childhood fantasy when I went to art school, but it was there that I was given my dream ticket to chocolate heaven, or so I thought. I was offered a holiday job in the confectionery department of Harrods, at that time the archetypal British department store, staffed mainly by veterans who had worked there for at least 40 years. My immediate superior was a vodka-soaked tyrant who refused to give carrier bags to the day-trippers buying Mars bars. In spite of having a wonderful array of the finest chocolates available at that time, the atmosphere in the department was funereal, and the customers were largely treated with contempt. No one seemed to realize that they were purveying probably the finest handmade chocolates available in London. To me they were a revelation to behold and taste, and everyone I gave them to (I had a generous staff discount) was in raptures. Surely I was not alone in understanding that this chocolate had the power to transport the most hardened individual.

Everyone thought I was crazy when I said I was going to open my own chocolate shop. I saw a niche for something completely different – along the lines of a French boutique de chocolat – which would allow the customer to indulge in their wildest chocolate dreams, and no one managed to talk me out of it. I did a 10-week ‘Start Your Own Business’ Course, sponsored by the Manpower Services Commission, and was 23 when my bank manager agreed to lend me cash to start up. As I was penniless, my dear mother secured the loan with her house. Was this an act of supreme indulgence on her part, or did she believe I had inherited the female entrepreneurial streak from her side of the family (her mother and grandmother had both had shops)? For my part, business failure just wasn’t a possibility, due to a mixture of blind faith and youthful chutzpah.

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