Meet the Self-Confessed Chocoholic and Owner of La Chocolatrice
Self-confessed chocoholic Zoë Rutter discovered her love for chocolate at a young age, but little did she know that her sweet tooth would lead her to a successful career in the chocolate world. We catch up with Zoë to find out more
Zoë then moved to Paris to work as an English teacher and whenever she had time off she would book onto patisserie classes – they’d often cover chocolate making too. ‘I think the turning point for me was when we made Easter eggs and for the first time I thought “oh maybe this could be something I could do”, but I wasn’t really thinking seriously, I just knew I loved working with chocolate,’ Zoë says. After four years in France, Zoë moved back home to go to university in Leeds and got a part-time job working for a chocolatier, but when she graduated she took a job teaching French and Spanish. ‘I did like it, but I knew it wasn’t going to be what I was going to do forever.’
As a self-confessed chocoholic, Zoë had always loved chocolate and it was her grandpa who she believes sparked her passion. ‘He used to buy me a big bar of chocolate every day, tell me to hide it and eat it all, and that continued until I was about 20 years old. However, I never thought growing up it would be something I would work with – even now I find it really bizarre that this is my job and I know I’m really lucky to work with something I love,’ she says.
After setting up La Chocolatrice on Westgate Road in Newcastle, Zoë was offering truffle making classes and chocolate workshops. ‘When we opened in November 2019 no one else was running chocolate making workshops and I think we’re still the only people who do it as seriously as we do.’ But the pandemic soon hit and Zoë had to change the direction of her business as restrictions meant her workshops could no longer run. ‘After three weeks of lockdown it because really clear it wasn’t going to be over anytime soon, so I started making small batch chocolate bars in my kitchen at home. I had made enough chocolate to fill 20 boxes and I put them online on a Friday night at 7pm and genuinely thought that would be my work done for the whole of lockdown, but they sold out in 10 minutes. So in the second week I made 80 boxes, but they also sold out in 10 minutes, and from that moment on it was a full-scale chocolate production to the point that we now make 400 chocolate bars every single day and if we can make more – we do!’
In France, Zoë had done plenty of training during her time spent on patisserie courses which set her up well to open her own chocolate factory, but she admits that at the time she didn’t have a chocolate-making career in mind. ‘It was mainly for fun and then when I decided I was going to launch La Chocoaltrice, I went to Callebaut Chocolate School and did a course, but if I’m honest, although the course was fantastic, I’ve learnt so much more on the job in the last two and a half years than you’d ever learn on a course,’ she explains. ‘When I look at the first chocolate bars I ever made they were great, but compared to the bars we make now the difference is phenomenal – we’ve really refined our craft.’
As La Chocolatrice is set to celebrate its third birthday, Zoë reflects on how her role within the business has changed. ‘When I started the business I was mainly running chocolate making workshops and talking to our customers, but now I spend a lot more time in the chocolate factory.’ Since opening her shop on Westgate Road, Zoë has opened a second shop in Coxhoe, as well as her chocolate factory down the road. ‘Some days I’ll be up in Newcastle running classes and some days I’ll be in the factory polishing chocolate moulds and making chocolate. Polishing moulds is something which takes a lot of time as we do it by hand and it’s part of the process which no one thinks about. We polish everything by hand, we temper our chocolate and then we start producing and making chocolate bars,’ she explains.
At the moment, Zoë and her team are working on their halloween production before getting started on their Christmas chocolate range. ‘For Halloween we have some really exciting chocolates coming out. We’re doing pumpkins again, but slightly different this year, and the benefit of running a small business, plus the fact that I’m in the chocolate factory all the time, is that we can bring things to life very quickly.’
Creativity plays a big part in Zoë’s role, as she is always thinking about new and exciting ways to bring her chocolate bars to life. ‘In April 2020 I launched the King of Caramel. I think I’ve always lived in a bit of a fantasy world, I like magic and excitement, and The King of Caramel was a character which I straight away knew would become a chocolate bar.’
Since then Zoë has been developing a range of characters such as the Queen of Biscoff, the Salted Caramel Sorcerer and her most recent release, the Party Princess of La Choc. However, it’s not just a chocolate bar for Zoë. ‘If there is a character then it will have a personality and I’ll know everything about them. So the King of Caramel and the Queen of Biscoff have a whole big story which lives in my head and one day it’ll come out, but it’s still taking shape,’ she laughs. ‘It’s really important for me that our chocolate bars are individual and everyone who’s making them remembers the customer is only going to be eating one bar at a time, so that bar has to be perfect. It has to embody the spirt of the character, the high quality and the beautiful finish – I’m a real perfectionist and every bar has to be perfect.’
It’s clear Zoë has a real passion for her business and her products and she wants to excite her customers from the moment they pick up one of her bars. ‘I think a lot of chocolate bars come in opaque packaging so you can’t actually see the product inside. Our bars are sold in transparent packaging and that’s important to me so the customer can see how much pride we take in our work – we have nothing to hide because our products are beautiful,’ explains Zoë. ‘Our packaging is clear but also compostable and biodegradable which is important to me too.’
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La Chocolatrice’s chocolate workshops are back up and running, and now with two sites to host classes, business is booming. ‘Our original chocolate making studio on Westgate Road is where we run our original chocolate truffle making workshop. It’s a fantastic class where you can make chocolate truffles, chocolate flakes and chocolate crisps – you temper chocolate, make chocolate and eat lots of chocolate and I’m super happy with it.’ In the second studio in Coxhoe, which opened in 2021, classes have ranged from Easter egg making to family classes and Zoë is even planning on hosting Christmas workshops where customers will be able to hand-paint their own chocolate baubles.
After almost three years Zoë has built a successful chocolate business right here in the North East, and despite September to April being her busiest time of year, La Chocolatrice are planning big things for their birthday celebration. ‘We’ve had planning meeting after planning meeting and our birthday comes right in the middle of our busiest time,’ Zoë says. ’But we are quite unique in terms of what we do; there are lots of other chocolate makers and chocolatiers, but we have our own take on things and our chocolate is always very fun.’