In 1994, I was asked to write a guide to the world’s best chocolate makers. This was a pretty tall order, as the publisher did not even have a database of chocolate makers, and I had only weeks to do the research, taste the chocolates and write up the book. It was a wonderful challenge, and with the help of the Comitato del Cioccolato who were launching ‘Eurochocolate’ for the first time, I met many small and medium-sized chocolate makers who had been brought together in Perugia, Italy. The difference between this event and the many other chocolate-themed occasions that I have attended over the years was that it was driven by real passion not commercial gain.
Started by a maverick architect-cum-hotelier, Eugenio Guarducci, everyone was thrown together in a chaotic maelstrom. I made many firm friends that year, and have returned every year since, although sadly the event has now been hijacked by the city council of Perugia, who see it as a gravy train to bring in thousands of visitors from all over Italy. The Corso Vannucci, a huge medieval boulevard, was so full last year, I could picture a public execution, only here the crowds gathered around the scaffolds were baying for chocolate not blood. The other thing that surprised and delighted me was the generosity of spirit in which all the chocolate makers shared their recipes and secret tips. In some ways it is like giving a musician a score – each one will produce a different rendering of the piece, depending on the musical instrument or raw material, the degree of virtuosity and the emotion that goes into the performance. The recipes themselves are merely the starting point.