There’s silence in a basement kitchen in Soho. On the corner of Wardour Street, below Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates, three men are piping liquid into moulds. The first wraps the piping bag around his right-hand and slowly squeezes the hanging udder of the inverted triangle. About half a centimetre of gooey caramel is given to each dome before moving to the next. Beside him there is a marmalade mix being piped into chocolate squares, and at the back, one of the kitchen brigade has forgone his piping duties to spread chocolate across a marble slab. Like a painter and decorator preparing a sheet of wallpaper, he slides the molten liquid back-and-fourth with a spatula.
Paul A. Young (the A. is for Andrew, so you know he’s not going to take requests for “Love of the Common People”) is showing me around his Soho outpost. I’m here because I f––king love his Sea Salted Caramels. Everyone does. It’s why Paul has started running classes on how to prepare them, and they sell out within hours of being announced. It’s not enough that the public can buy them from his stores. Or that Lindt, Godiva, Hanley’s, Hotel Chocolat and Green & Blacks have their own varieties alongside Charbonnel et Walker’s Sea Salt Caramel Truffles, Waitrose’s Chocolate & Salted Caramel Shortbreads and M&S Salted Caramel Cupcakes. They want to create them at home for their own impatient gormandizing. It’s a national obsession: the new Kit Kat, the chocolate we crave and go-to for lunch, tea breaks, when in front of the television and moments of solitude.
Aaahhh… it washes through my mouth, opening up beyond the milk-chocolaty-crunch and gushes out ganache chocolate, followed by salty prickle-tickles on my tongue, and a quiver from my bottom lip, like kissing a girl for the first time
Upon arrival I half expect Paul to appear from behind the counter, plump as a bonbon and face smeared with chocolate. He is in fact slight and cheery, and clearly not someone who delves into his sugary repertoire often. It’s a little disappointing. I wouldn’t mind meeting Augustus Gloop and dedicating my morning to gluttonous-gobbling of chocolate, toffee, fudge and treacle-leaking truffles.
Paul beams a smile from his groomed, ginger stubble and shows me the goodies around the shop floor. By the window is a vat of hot drinking chocolate next to a pile of cellophane-wrapped brownies. On the centrepiece table: Aqua Riva Margarita, Passion Fruit Curd, 85% Ecuadorian RAW, Yorkshire Tea & Biscuits, Billington’s Triple Sweet Truffle, Lemon, Basil & Almond, Smoked Sea Salt & Bourbon and other lick-ya-lips creations.
I’m drawn to the collection which has already been refilled since I arrived. It’s the Sea Salted Caramel. By far their best seller. My mouth shuts down under temporary confectionary trauma as a stringy-dribble falls from my lips.
“Try one of these”, Paul says, handing over a domed morsel of chocolate. He doesn’t have to ask twice and I pop it in my mouth. Are you supposed to take a bite first? To study the inside and let the chocolate work in your mouth? Savour the flavour and texture before continuing on with a second, third nibble? It’s too late, I’ve committed the greatest of chocolate tasting faux pas. Aaahhh… it washes through my mouth, opening up beyond the milk-chocolaty-crunch and gushes out ganache chocolate, followed by salty prickle-tickles on my tongue, and a quiver from my bottom lip, like kissing a girl for the first time.
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“It’s consistently our top seller”, Paul says. “No shit!” I think – this is a form of mouth foreplay. He continues to sell their popularity to me, but there’s no need. “The UK’s having this fascination with sea salt and chocolate and the Sea Salted Caramel just won Gold at the International Chocolate Awards”. We’re all hooked on the stuff.
Back in the basement Paul goes through the design process, showing me the scribbles on the whiteboard and how the operation works. Scribbled are the words: “ginger”, “sesame”, “soy” and capitalised: “SICHUAN PEPPER”; with various percentages referring to the mathematical levels of cocoa. I’m then shown a list of chocolates, many of which already appear on the shop floor, while others await unveiling: Marmite (consistently a top three seller), Pimm’s, Lemon & Lavender, Miso & Seaweed with Sweet Plum and The Banoffee Pie. But will any of them rival the Sea Salted Caramel?
The high level of perfectionism is obvious, after all, Paul is the only bona fide chocolatier in the UK making chocolates daily. With his success already well established on this side of the Atlantic, he is setting his sights on the States. “I travel to New York at least once a year”, he tells me. “We stock Mast Brothers Chocolate [Brooklyn, NY] in the shop and I launched my book Adventures in Chocolate there”.
So, the future looks bright – and salty and runny with caramel – for chocolate and Paul A. Young, both here and abroad. As well as New York he mentions to me plans for a patisserie and chocolate academy, enabling him to educate people about chocolate and its plantation origins, as well as how to develop a bottom-shelf supermarket bar. With this in mind, I question the place of chocolate in today’s society; how we buy it for ourselves and others, wish to make it at home, and invest heavily in its many forms. We are a generation of choc-adicts, truffle-poppers and fatty-sugar-over-loaders… and we’re all flipping out over Sea Salted Caramel, the confectionary equivalent of crack. C