Au revoir London

HERE it comes. Sooner – too soon? – than expected, and I can’t help but feel nostalgic about it already. You always tell yourself that you still have plenty of time before waking up that particular day. And then, you open your eyes and the time has finally come. Time to move back to France after two years spent in London.

Two years of food insanity, eating out in some of the best restaurants in London, meeting and interviewing wonderful and passionate people and improving my knowledge in food. But above all, two years of developing strong friendships and enjoying the wonderful blogging world in London.

The time has come to come back to a country we love, a way of life we enjoy (you don’t put a French person too far away from an opportunity to strike…), and raise a family next to ours.

Leaving London is not going to be an easy step. Life has been extremely generous to us and I have learned a lot through all the people I have met – restaurateurs, food producers, and even food PRs. I don’t know how to thank you all for the support you gave to my blog, the means you gave me to live my dream and to achieve crazy ideas, such as to be converted to porridge, to organise a brownie tasting, and an aubergines challenge.

You brought me a lot and I will keep your generosity in mind forever.

And how would I dare to leave the UK without my foodie treasure box? The box that every foodie should carry with him/her every time we go somewhere. The box that contains things that make you feel better.

In my treasure box, I will bring a pack of Peter’s Yard‘s crispbread; a box of DIY Curries from the lovely Sally, a cup of Paul A Young’s hot chocolate; a delicious chocolate cake from William Curley; some gin from Sipsmith and a bottle of U’luvka vodka; the unforgettable cocktails from master Brian at Rules; the Panettone recipe from Francesco of L’Anima; the tripe gratin Henry from Racine made for us for our insane and decadent Grande Bouffe; the Mort Subite Kriek (and six glasses) from the Draft House; a signed menu from Pierre Koffman; pictures of a birthday meal at The Sportsman with @Laissezfare; oats from Rude Health, who converted me to porridge for my winter mornings in Paris; and the wonderful taste of the In&Out burger at Goodman.

My treasure box will also always be there to remind me of the kindness and high quality service of the Donald Russell team; a wonderful night at The Blaggers Banquet; an introduction to high quality coffee at Kaffeine; the pleasure of having worked with Simon Majumdar for his ‘Dine with Dos Hermanos’ dinners; a Spanish afternoon with Rachel McCormack cooking her home-made cuisine; an introduction to vodka by the legendary Leonid, owner of Bob Bob Ricard; the delightful team at Wahaca – Tommi, Mark and Cecilia; a crazy cheese feast at @bridedwithfood’s; red pepper and aubergines challenges; my first meeting with Ferran Adria at the Royal Geographical Society for the launch of the book The man who changed the way we eat by Colman Andrews; a home-made tapas meal cooked by the lovely Jose Pizarro; and the most insane foodie adventure my husband and I put ourselves through in the Instant Restaurant TV series on BBC2.

I will also add wonderful meals at San Lorenzo with our dear friend and passionate owner Ghigo; a discovery of Indian street food at Moolis, thanks to the crazy Matthew and Sam; an afternoon playing Scrabble at Polpo, which we nicknamed Foodabble; an introduction to Italian, Australian, Chilean and other wines from around the world with the help of @chrisCmitchell and @thirstforwine (which showed me how poor France is when it comes to discovering wines other than French ones); the best #FF from @chrispople; a piggy night at St John with 15 exciting ladies around a table; and a dive into food PR with three wonderful clients – Pho, Glorious and Yuforia.

This is only a short summary of 18 months of intense social and foodie life, and this post would be too long if I mentioned all the people I’ve met, the places I’ve visited, and the events I’ve enjoyed. I don’t know yet how the blogging life is going to be on the other side of the Channel but I promise I won’t only speak about frog legs and how French are proud of their cuisine. Well, at least not in my next three posts…

Thank you all from the depth of my heart, it’s been a real pleasure.

AU REVOIR et à bientôt

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William Curley, the Chocolatier of Pleasure

WILLIAM Curley is a man with a passion. Beneath his austere businessman’s look thrives a man who lives for chocolate and patisserie. Every day, in one of his two stores, Richmond and Chelsea, he takes the time to meet his customers and share his passion for baking. And when the moment comes to talk about his wish to bring a bit of pleasure into peoples’ lives through chocolate, his eyes start to sparkle.

Before opening his first shop in Richmond, William spent most of his life in the best restaurants in Scotland, France and London where he trained and worked with the best chefs – from Pierre Koffman, Marco White to Raymond Blanc – to become the talented patissier that we know today.

I’ve been cooking since I’m fifteen and I became a patissier very young. I didn’t attend to become a chef but it happened.” William’s success has been a succession of things that just happened as he likes to say; as if a nice fairy godmother leaned over his cradle and blessed him with culinary success.

That’s how things are with William. He touches something and turns it into gold. After having opened his first store in Richmond in 2004, William and his Japanese wife, Suzue, received the award for the Best British Chocolatier in 2007 and 2008.

I don’t pretend and I don’t want to become a superstar. I just want to give people pleasure. Just like everybody can treat themselves to a piece of cake from Pierre Hermé, I would like everyone to enjoy a bit of what we do.” Life is as simple as that for William.

Fine chocolate is new in the UK and it is our role as chocolatier to educate people about what good chocolate is. We have to make them understand that they don’t buy a price, they buy quality. There is a demand in London for experimental things but it is important to get the foundation right before getting too creative.

“As my wife is Japanese, we have developed a range of chocolate with Asian flavours such as Toasted Sesame, Green Tea, Japanese Black Vinegar, Apricot and Wasabi, Yuzu or Sadachi… That brings something different to the market.”

Our relationship to chocolate has evolved over time and this little black morsel is now playing an important part in a lot of people’s well-being. “We have noticed through the years that people don’t only buy chocolate as a gift but also for their own consumption. Some customers come three times a week to buy their piece of pleasure.”

But what is William’s secret pleasure? “I love the classic flavours cooked very nicely such as an Apple pie or pain perdu. Sometimes, there is no need to look for something too sophisticated. Pleasure can be very easy to find.”

Next time you go to one of William Curley’s stores, ask for a hazelnut hot chocolate, which comes with a selection of chocolate or treat yourself to a nice patisserie. You’ll see, the whole world will look a little brighter for the day. Life is good, enjoy it!

William Curley
198 Ebury Street
Orange Square, Belgravia
SW1W 8UN
020 7730 5522
www.williamcurley.co.uk

10 Paved Court
Richmond
Surrey
TW9 1LZ
020 8332 3002

Brownies – The ultimate tasting experience

IN life, a project can start with a simple email or a phone call. From a simple suggestion to taste a chocolate pudding, who would have ever imagined that, a few weeks later, the tasting would have turned into the crazy idea of organising a review of brownies from different brands and bloggers willing to take part in the project.

Beyond the tasting and reviewing (which is far from being the hardest task to accomplish, I must admit!), I discovered people with a true love for brownies. A passion so intense that they can spend hours talking about these wonderfully intricate small squares of chocolate. Small, but so much to say!

A brownie should be chewy on the outside – a kind of baked fudgy casing – with an almost glossy, meringue-like, light crunch to the top. Biting in breaks through the top easily, straight to the deep cakieness – and on to the soul of the piece: the dark, fudgy centre.” Petra, ChocStar

A chocolate brownie is ‘a rich dense chocolate cake slice’. It should be moist, dense and fudgy with a paper thin crisp top.” Sarah, Serious Treat

My perfect idyllic chocolate brownie is rich, chocolaty, fudgy and gooey with chocolate pieces in it and ideally a slight crust on top. Ingredients must be natural and good quality including chocolate such as Belgian. Nuts are wrong and detract from the overall chocolate taste in my opinion. A brownie should be a pure indulgent treat, totally different to a slice of cake.” Natalie, Sweet Things

A brownie may cheer you up in the middle of the afternoon, an enjoyable moment of pleasure. Brownie makers, however, take the definition of a perfect brownie very seriously and spend hours creating the ultimate recipe. From the varying – and often contradictory – definitions they come up with, I’m sure they’d send just as much time arguing the said definition.

The absolute perfect brownie is simple and pure – it doesn’t contain booze, nuts, raisins or cherries. It is simply 70% chocolate, eggs, flour, butter, sugar and vanilla. It should be something you can also pick up with your hands and take an almighty bite out of, getting your hands and face a bit sticky as the intense chocolaty-ness hits you. Most importantly, a brownie is the perfect brownie if when you’ve just finished it, you’ll wish for just one more bite.” James, SoBo Chocolate

“A brownie is a small, chewy, cake-like cookie, usually made with chocolate and possibly containing nuts or dried fruit which brings huge joy to children, many adults and to the cook who made them. The best brownies always look home-made – if they’re too perfect they probably don’t taste too good!” Paul, Paul’s cooking

A brownie should be soft and slightly gooey in the centre but not undercooked with chunks of chocolate and pecan nut, strong chocolate taste with no artificial taste nor powder taste. We find that enrobing the brownie chunks increases the chocolate taste and make a nice contrast from crisp coating to soft interior.” Anne, Artisan du Chocolat


So, with pen, paper, water, a bottle of 2004 Domaine Pouderoux, Maury and 1988 Vin Santo Castelio di Verrazzano ready, Aforkfull, R_McCormack, Bridedwithfood, chocolatetour and my dearest D were ready to dig in and enlighten ourselves in the mystery of brownies.

What started as a simple tasting, though, turned out to be a very instructive master class. What I thought was an insignificant piece of chocolate cake had actually much more to say in its defence than I could have imagined, especially with the incredible range we had at hand – Bea’s of Bloomsbury, Paul A Young, SoBo Chocolate, Leon, Gu, ChocStar, Paul’s cooking, Garlic Confit, Serious Treat, Gower Cottage, Sweet Things, Cocomaya, More Artisan, William Curley, Artisan du Chocolat, Cocoa Loco and Wholefoods.


Learning #1: This ‘interesting beast somewhere between a cake, pudding, chocolate bar and a ….well cake again’, as Garlic Confit defines it, likes to differentiate itself. The most creative ones will play the fudgy and gooey game while the others will concentrate on the right balance between the crispiness and the chewiness. The brownie lives and likes to be eaten for itself and, among the 19 brownies tasted, none of them looked or tasted the same. Team spirit is definitely not a notion that a brownie will fight for.

“Traditionally Brownies are made in a bar or square mould and cut. They are often soft in the centre giving a gooey texture. We serve ours in a small cup to give the appearance that it has been made just for you. Our Brownies have a soft centre with roasted walnuts and a crusty top adding texture to the Brownie.” William, William Curley

Learning #2: Being creative is good…but not too much! Playing with flavours and texture adds a nice touch to the brownie world, it brings something different and unexpected but sometimes the classic remains the best.

“A brownie should have a little crunch on the outside and be deliciously moist on the inside as well as having a luxurious chocolate taste that coats the inside of your mouth as you munch, with an intense chocolaty velvetiness that continues to excite the taste buds as you eat.” Kate, Gower Cottage


Learning #3: The choice of the ingredients and especially the quality of chocolate will make the success of the brownie. Use bad chocolate at your own risk! It usually results in a buttery, sugary cake that our poor palates have trouble enjoying for more than a bite.

A brownie is chocolate that can be consumed with a dense but velvety finish in the mouth.  A brownie should not in any way, shape or form, resemble cake. Brownies are one of the few desserts by which the quality of the chocolate is most seen, particularly ours as chocolate is the number one ingredient by weight in our brownies.” Bea, Bea’s of Bloomsbury


Learning #4: Judging isn’t an easy task. Expectations are high and you don’t want to disappoint anybody. Beyond that, each brownie was not made with the same audience in mind, nor were they made for the same purpose.  Some are meant to bring us back to childhood, while others are epitome of chocolate perfection. But you have to make a choice and taking a decision – even if the fear of being blacklisted by everybody – suddenly crosses your mind (eek!).

Learning #5: Water is your best friend! Drink a lot of water when you organise a brownie tasting… and stay away from chocolate for the next couple of days.

After having enjoyed a few bites of each brownie, debating the taste and the texture, discussing the look, figuring out the quality of the chocolate and the necessity of adding flavours, rinsing your palates from sugar and duelling with the imminent stomach ache, it was time to compare notes and determine favourite choices.

But how to feature it? A lot of questions came up to find a way to present our feedback.

Should we give a prize to everybody? I don’t think so as the list was very long.

Should I mention what we liked and what we disliked? I guess it could be a good learning.

Should I list the brownie based on our rates? It wouldn’t be fair as some were made by professional chocolatiers and others by bloggers.

We finally decided to announce our 5 favourites and explain our choice based on everybody’s feedback.

William Curley. A crunchy and gooey texture all at once with a light nutty taste obviously made with very good quality chocolate that created a perfect balance. Funnily enough, the brownie looks more like a muffin but the taste is definitely what you expect from a brownie.

Cocoa Loco. A denser brownie with a texture made of different layers that gives a nice crispiness in the mouth but still keeps its gooeyness. The chocolate is very tasty but not overpoweringly so with a light sugary taste.

Sweet things. A nice full chocolate taste that stays in the mouth providing a comforting feeling. The brownie is nicely dense and fudgy without being too gooey. The glitter sparkles on the top adds a nice touch!

ChocStar. The perfect texture, both crunchy at the top and fudgy inside.  The brownie has a very nice smooth chocolate taste in mouth without being too sugary.

Cocomaya. Despite being a bit heavy without any true crispiness, the texture feels very good.  The chocolate is rich and intense with an interesting hint of sea salt.

SoBo. The Nut-lovers’ choice, the fudgy brownie started with a nutty taste which it held throughout.

I would like to give a special mention to Bea’s of Bloomsbury white chocolate brownies. The texture reminds more of a flan but it has a very pleasant and smooth taste.

For someone passionate about food, it was a unique opportunity to have the chance to taste all these brownies at once and I would like to thank all the chocolatiers as well as the bloggers Paul’s cooking & Garlic Confit who were willing to take part in this truly interesting and rich experience. Merci !