Taking Tea with the Master Chocolate Chef: Hotel Chocolat, London

David Demaison about his passion for chocolate (courtesy Hotel Chocolat)

For someone who lives on, with, and around such exciting chocolate, David Demaison is remarkably calm. True, his eyes are exactly the color of dark hazelnuts, his eyelashes match the 80% chocolate bark, and his accent (French, rural) as sweet and rich as the air in his kitchen at Conch & Roast, but there’s nothing sugar-coated or caffeinated in his manner. In fact, talking about his first Cadbury’s crème egg — which his girlfriend made him taste at Easter — he was downright bitter. “The chocolate was terreeble,” he said, his pronunciation increasing the insult. “And the inside even worse.” Sitting in a moving car at the time of this awful experience, he opened the door to hurl the confection away.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • Hotel Chocolat’s chcolate beans are  grown and fairly traded from its own plantation in the Caribbean; the roast beans are blended, or “conched,” in the cafe.
  • Who else is going to offer you chocolate with olives and cheese?
  • The “Coffee vs. Chocolate” drinks are the best mochas in Europe!
  • Good for foodies, kids, birthday or romantic celebrations.

Demaison is particular about his chocolate, because as Cacao Cuisine Development Chef at Roast & Conch, the Hotel Chocolat café in Seven Dials, London, and as menu-creator for the Hotel Chocolat resort in St. Lucia, he spends his days doing chocolate innovations. You can join Demaison — or just sample his creations — at the Roast & Conch cafe, 7 days a week, or spend a whole evening getting deeply involved in pairings and tastings at one of the cafe’s regular Tasting Adventures.

Below the Hotel Chocolat shop is the sweet-smelling Roast & Conch bar (courtesy Hotel Chocolat)

Savory Chocolate

To get beyond the usual chocolate clichés, he said, he uses “a lot of nibs,” referring to the hard, small kernels inside the cocoa bean. These, crushed into a thick liquor, form the basis of the “Coffee vs. Cocoa” drinks served at Roast & Conch, which are the best mochas I’ve had in a lifetime of sampling.

 The nibs give chocolate flavor, and Demaison uses them often without sugar, in savory dishes. The trick to cooking with chocolate, he says, is restraint. “The objective is not to overpower the dish. It’s just to add a little twist.” Traditionally, French chefs added a small amount of cocoa to boef Bourgninon, to darken it. Demaison adds cocoa to nearly every savory dish: for instance, all the fish served at the Hotel Chocolat in St. Lucia, even whitefish, is infused with the cocoa nibs.

Unpredictable Pairings

Roast & Conch menu offers savories as well as sweets with chocolate (courtesy Hotel Chocolat)

At Roast & Conch in Seven Dials, London, Demaison hosts cheese & chocolate tasting nights, for which he invents complementary pairings. “The whole table was full of cheese, and full of chocolates, and I tried them. I had to say, some did not work.” For instance, the epois cheese from France is “too strong” and the Roquefort doesn’t tolerate chocolate in any form. “If you want to make chocolate, sometimes two doesn’t work, but three does. For instance, Lincolnshire poacher cheddar goes with hazelnut paste — it’s okay, but it needs something else.” Demaison served the unlikely, yet successful, combo of dark chocolate, stilton, and kalamata olives  at the  2012 BAFTA awards. Another trio is goat cheese, honey, and dark chocolate, served in a salad.

For my unrefined taste buds, even the honey dressing didn’t make the goat cheese and chocolate work together. Unable to enjoy the heavy, sour cheese with the bitter chocolate, I admitted that I prefer chocolate slightly sweetened. I don’t care for the taste of the brick of pre-conching chocolate liquor, either: about the texture of wax, it tastes a little like chicory or smoke.

But Demaison does not despair at my lack of appreciation. “Just like your first cup of coffee,” he explains. “You didn’t know if it was good or bad. But now, after you have had a lot of coffee, you know what’s a good cup and a bad cup of coffee.”

Demaison and Roast & Conch offer unusual, beautiful taste combinations (courtesy Hotel Chocolat)

Demaison says his own tastes have developed too. When he came to England in 2009, he had a slight French bias. “Coming from France, we think England is not a very good place for good. But when I saw Borough Market, I changed my mind.” From there he sources many of the foods used at Hotel Chocolat.

The company  relies on local coffeemaker Monmouth, in Seven Dials, gets cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy, around the corner, and for scones uses Bread Factory, north of London.

Extraordinary Chocolate, Every Day

David Demaison working with chocolate (courtesy Hotel Chocolat)

Even at home — at his flat in a converted chocolate factory!  —  David eats chocolate, though not always the same form every day. “Chocolate depends on your mood,” he says. “Sometimes I want something sweet, and then I might have a praline, but other times I just want the pure taste.”

He keeps chocolate and ice cream in his house at all times, and often reaches for the Harbor Estates 60% chocolate, which is mostly cocoa mass.  “If I go two days without it, I want some chocolate,” he says, and explains that he stays slender by eating dark chocolate in small amounts.

Does he think he might ever tire of chocolate? “You don’t get tired of good things,” he says, and offers me another taste of salted-caramel crepe with whipped chocolate cream. I have to agree.

Practicalities

  • Hotel Chocolat, 4 Monmouth Street, Seven Dials, London; Phone: 020 7209 0659
  • Roast & Conch cafe is downstairs below the Hotel Chocolat shop; the cafe is not wheelchair accessible.
  • Tasting Adventures happen twice monthly around the UK; the schedule is posted online.
Average rating for this trip

About 

Gillian Kendall writes fiction, memoir, and essays, as well as travel writing, and she offers private coaching in memoir and fiction. Her business cards say, “Writer and adventurer for hire,” and her rates are reasonable. After 10 years in Melbourne, Australia, Gillian Kendall has returned (mostly) to the US. She’s co-author with Mark O'Brien (subject of the film THE SESSIONS) of HOW I BECAME A HUMAN BEING, author of the New York Times's Notable Book MR. DING'S CHICKEN FEET, and editor of the travel anthology SOMETHING TO DECLARE. Her travel blog is at http://blogodonia.wordpress.com/

Comments

  1. CHS says

    He lives in a converted chocolate factory?? This is someone who is committed to his passion, isn’t it?
    I enjoyed this article, and I’d love to check this place out.

  2. David says

    I’m in love with Chef Damaison not just for his lovely eyelashes but his chocolate!

    • says

      David, My cousin and I felt the same way! So that makes three of us, all different persuasions. Perhaps this guy is a bit like Greg Clooney, in that EVERYONE fancies him.

  3. says

    Great article, Gillian.

    I met David at the Rabot Estate shop in Borough Market last year and was thrilled to try some of his delicious cocoa cuisine. Very creative.

    I can’t wait to arrive at Hotel Chocolat in St. Lucia in Dec to become immersed in the whole cocoa experience of Hotel Chocolat. I’m sure I’ll never be the same!

  4. Sarah Yeomans says

    Worth travelling for, obviously! I simply daren’t go myself – is my addiction not already out of control? xxx

  5. says

    Gillian Kendall is the chocolate of travel writers! She is peerless in her ability to merge the humorous with the poignant and gentle wisdom. MORE, please!

  6. angelajacksonbooks says

    Delicious Gillian. Both the subject and your writing are mouth watering. Can’t say more as I’m off to find that exquisite piece of dark chocolate which is waiting for me here in Greece. Enjoy, Angela