Tell me a little bit about your background?
I grew up in India and went to an international boarding school in the South West. I didn’t have a clue about what I wanted to do so I chose to study maths at university because I was good at it. I went to university in York without thinking, and a year in, I got mumps really badly so I was allowed one year out. At that point my parents asked me, what is it that you actually enjoy doing? The answer was baking, so I chose not to go back and that’s what started my journey to becoming a chocolatier.
Where did you gain experience in the chocolate industry?
I started Level Two Kitchen at Gateshead College so I could get onto the Level Three Patisserie course. At the time I was also working one day a week at Café 21, and two days at Gareth James in Tynemouth. I then went on to work full time at Gareth James for three years, where it was mostly myself and him making chocolate. I moved from there to Pink Lane Coffee in central Newcastle to gain experience front of house.
When did you begin your training in chocolate specifically?
I went to a patisserie class and heard there was a space on the chocolate showpiece class. You know when you have those moments where everything just seems right? I thought, I need to do it. I met the Pastry Chef Graham Hornigold, who was the Executive Chef of the Hakkasan Group, whilst on the course – it was myself and five other Michelin-starred pastry chefs. He offered me a job, so I moved to London and I was in the original Hakkasan, in Fitzrovia, for around four years.
What was your role at Hakkasan?
I started at the bottom as a Comis Chef and ended up as the Pastry Sous Chef. Each restaurant has a Pastry Chef and as Hakkasan have two places in London, the Head Chef oversees both. So essentially, by the end of my time there, I was helping to run the pastry kitchen.
Did you work with a lot of chocolate there?
It was mainly high-end plated desserts. A lot of thought went into flavour and balance – you need something acidic to cut through the sweetness and so on – and trying to reduce the quantity of sugar in things. There was a lot of education and thought behind everything, and the chefs that ran the pastry department were really good at teaching too.
Have you found maths to be helpful in your career as a chocolatier?
So much. First of all running a business requires a lot of maths for things like costings. But chocolate is very scientific too.
What made you choose Hoults Yard as a location for your first chocolate shop?
I already had a lot of wholesale business so I needed a relatively large kitchen for that. I also really enjoy doing classes, and for that you need a sizeable kitchen too. That kind of space just isn’t available in the centre of town – all the kitchens are tiny, and the front of house space is maximised. Hoults Yard gave me the space to do classes, but I love the community feel too. It feels more independent than town, and very creative.
Tell us about your workshops, what can you learn from them?
All my classes are the same level, whether you’ve been in a kitchen or not it’s something you’ll be able to do. I do two hour classes making truffles and some sort of larger item. We theme these around the seasons, pre-Christmas we’ll make a chocolate bauble, around Valentine’s Day we do heart boxes and around Easter we do Easter egg classes.
When it comes to making your own chocolate, what is the best starting point for a beginner to try at home?
Probably a simple ganache. You take equal quantities of cream and chocolate and melt the chocolate very gently in the microwave. Boil your cream then let it sit for about a minute, (so you’re not pouring boiling cream over your chocolate). Then in three stages combine them together. It will form a ganache, which is like the centre of a truffle. You can set it in your fridge, then without even needing to use chocolate shells you can use a melon baller and create little spheres. Melt some chocolate to roll them in, then coat them in coco powder. They make great Christmas presents.
What kind of festive offering do you have in the shop?
My focus has been making chocolate baubles, Christmas trees and wreaths and chocolate robins – which everyone is loving, I’ve sold around 300 of them. Rather than truffles, I focus on sculpting items. A lot of people do truffles at this time of year, and while I’d like that part of the business to grow, I want to do something different.
Do you have any goals for the future of Studio 28?
I’d love to have different classes for people who really want to learn about chocolate, and maybe start their own business. I’d like to have something that’s a bit more high level because I love teaching.
What is your best seller?
Pre-Christmas definitely the robins. I also make a bar of caramel white chocolate, so rather than creating the white chocolate with caster sugar I use caramel. Then I caramelise hazelnuts with a little bit of sugar, salt and butter, so they’re crunchy on the outside, and they go into the bar. Because they’re a little bit different people really seem to like them.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve made using chocolate?
The first chocolate sculpture I made in the class before I got the job at Hakkasan. I’d seen chocolate sculptures, but had never made one. It had a theme but in reality it was a very random collection of chocolate rocks, leaves and flowers. I’ve made the clocktower in Hoult’s Yard out of chocolate, but it wasn’t like that, it was a bit more abstract.
Milk, dark or white?
Milk if I’m feeling in the mood to eat a lot. There are lots of different flavours of dark chocolate depending on where it’s grown and what it’s grown beside, but milk chocolate you can just eat a lot of.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I think the creative side, there’s so much you can do with chocolate and colour. I love it when I hear people saying: ‘Wow I didn’t realise you could do that with chocolate,’ and when we do classes, ‘wow I didn’t realise I could do that with chocolate.’
And your least favourite?
Hoults Yard NE6 2HL