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Fusing flavours

William Curley is officially Britain's Best Chocolatier, having been given the prestigious accolade four years running by the Academy Of Chocolate, for his innovative approach to flavour. Neil Ridley meets the real life Willie Wonka to discuss the well trodden pairing of whisky and chocolate
By Neil Ridley
As I arrive at the door of the Belgravia chocolaterie & coffee bar, I am suddenly struck with a series of memories from my school days, in particular a meeting with the resident careers advisor, who tried to persuade me that there was no such thing as a job in a chocolate shop. One thing’s for sure, I’m certain that should the same careers advisor have met William Curley, the proprietor of this wonderful emporium of flavour he would have certainly resigned, with his over-officious tail well and truly between his legs. Curley is a fanatic when it comes to the precise and often increasingly imaginative recipes that he uses in his chocolates, often fusing together flavours from as far a field as East Asia to the Scottish Highlands.

Brought up in Fife, William’s career in chocolate began with an apprenticeship at Gleneagles, followed by six years at numerous Michelin-starred establishments, working with respected chefs including Pierre Koffman at La Tante Claire, Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and Marco Pierre White at The Restaurant. Curley’s wife and business partner Suzue is an accomplished Japanese patissier and together they have represented Scotland at several international culinary events, winning Gold at the Culinary Olympics in Germany in 2004, prior to opening their first boutique. All this and William still found time last year to create the ‘ultimate Jaffa cake’, instantly sparking a huge buzz about the ‘Curley way’ of doing things. His most recent accolade however, was to enter the official Guinness Book Of World Records, by creating the world’s most expensive chocolate egg to be sold at auction, as part of the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt, raising money for Action for Children charity.

“When I’m experimenting with flavours, the truffle is a much better way to deliver the right marriage of flavour”


Today, the bustling Belgravia shop is hosting an afternoon tea, with an oriental twist and as we sit down to try a few of his delicacies, I’m keen to find out from William what it’s actually like to ‘live the dream’ and run a business dedicated to the some of the finest chocolate in the world. “Well, it’s not something that you would ever consider gorging yourself on,” he laughs. “If I’ve learnt anything it’s that the versatility of working with chocolate is brilliant. When you analyse it, chocolate has between two to 300 individual flavour profiles.”

So where does William’s chocolate differ to the average confectionary, which occasionally masquerades as high-end chocolate? “Couture chocolate is more about purity,” points out William. “When I’m experimenting with flavours, the truffle is a much better way to deliver the right marriage of flavour.” All this chat is most timely, as just then, a mug of steaming Curley’s ‘House Blend’ hot chocolate arrives, along with a small plate of exquisitely made truffles. Award-winning creations such as Rosemary & Olive Oil, Japanese Black Vinegar, and Scottish Heather Honey all fill the mouth in precise amounts, back-dropped by the wonderful silky, yet earthy chocolate notes. Despite these truffles are mini works of art, they are bursting with flavour and I can really understand why the last thing on William’s mind is over-indulgence.

Curley has recently turned his hand to pairing chocolates with various whiskies and wines, including a sensory tasting event at Harrods, as part of National Chocolate Week, which showcased his creations with a number of world whiskies, including Japanese and Australian malts. Last year Curley teamed up with Diageo’s Colin Dunn for an exclusive tasting at the Whisky Show. So why does William think the two distinct flavours are so complementary? “Some of the more malty notes in the chocolate really fit the flavour profile of whisky and with Japanese whisky in particular, the nuttiness you tend to find lends itself very well to combination in a truffle, and other complementary flavours like Hojicha roasted and smoked tea.” Indeed, one of William’s successful pairings, the Yamazaki influenced truffle often appears on his menu.

So has there been any flavour combinations that really haven’t worked out as he’d hoped? “Ah yes,” he laughs. “I’ve tried in vain to pair Japanese seaweed with chocolate. In fact, I was so confident that it would work I made six different varieties, but they all ended up tasting fishy! The heavy tannic notes in red wine also make pairings with chocolate quite tough.”

After biting into my final chocolate, this time an extremely moreish apricot & wasabi truffle, something tells me that William will probably crack the seaweed pairing before long, given his sense of adventure and if not, he will undoubtedly discover another divine pairing in the process by accident.


The sweetest pairings


William picks his top three whisky and chocolate pairings:

1. Johnnie Walker Blue Label with my Amedei Chuao chocolate

“This is a perfect match – perhaps the world’s finest whisky with the world’s finest chocolate! These go so well together as they share so much in terms of longevity on the palate, the smooth taste and the elegant notes.”

2. 17 Years Old Hibiki whisky with my Hojicha Couture chocolate (made using a smoked Japanese tea)

“The smokiness of both of these pair naturally together. The malty richness and intensity of the whisky complement the smoked flavours of the Hojicha perfectly. A hearty combination.”

3. Yamazaki 18 Years Old Whisky with my Muscovado Caramel (officially Britain’s Best Chocolate!)

“The Yamazaki is malt rich and full bodied with notes of caramel and red fruits, which works extremely well with our Muscovado caramel, a buttery, salted caramel with a deep rich caramel flavour.”