FEATURE

Sweet dreams: An interview with Rococo Chocolates

In celebration of World Chocolate Day on 7th July, we visited Chantal Coady OBE, creative director and founder of Rococo Chocolates

Rococo Chocolates established itself in 1983 in Chelsea, and since then has transformed the London chocolate scene. Chantal Coady OBE opened Rococo Chocolates in Belgravia in 2008, which is so much more than just a chocolate shop. The ‘secret’ garden at the back – which Chantal as dubbed as ‘MaRococo’ – is the perfect place to enjoy the sun’s rays over a hot chocolate or an ice cream, and spy into the chocolate room to see a workshop taking place.
 
What better place to celebrate World Chocolate Day on 7th July?

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in all sorts of exotic places. I was born in Tehran; from there I went to Brunei and then Ethiopia. My father was a doctor and his speciality was tropical medicine, so he was working in all those places. We came back to London when I was about six and we stayed here for a bit. After, we moved to Kuwait, and after that I went to school there for a little bit, and then I was sent to boarding school in England. I did an art foundation course at Central Saint Martins, and then studied textiles at Camberwell College of Arts. 

What inspired you to become a chocolatier?
I was working in Harrods chocolate department, as you do. This came about when I went in to meet a friend who worked there, and I was offered a job. It was a dream come true to be paid to sell chocolate. And while I was working there, I got to taste the best chocolates available in the world. I also got a feeling that there was something missing about the sort of magic and excitement and theatre of chocolate, and that’s what really inspired me to set up my own business.

Is chocolate something you’ve always been interested in?
I’ve always been really, really keen on chocolate. I think it’s partly because I’m one of five children and I wasn’t given lots of chocolate growing up, and I felt like I never quite had enough. Combined with going to a convent school, where you’re always cold and always hungry, I think it became a big thing for me.
When did the first shop open?
It opened on the King’s Road in 1983, just before Easter. We had a great Easter sale and lots of people came in and they’d say things like “so what are you going to be selling after Easter?” I think they thought it was a pop-up.
 
It was quite hard to establish it as a concept, because really there wasn’t any shop like Rococo that existed at the time. The first few years were quite difficult, but we did gradually build up a reputation for all the things that we do to start with – the beautiful environment, packaging and how we actually serve the chocolate.
 
And the second site?
At the time of opening the Kings Road site, to have more than one of anything was really unusual. So if you had a restaurant, you had one restaurant. In the early 2000s, when we were being approached by the Howard De Walden Estate, who were desperate to get us in Marylebone, I thought “well I can’t be in two places at one time, and how is it possible to do that?” But they managed to persuade us that it was going to work and were very supportive, and we just made it happen. The minute the door opened there we were busy, and it was a great success.
 
Why was Belgravia chosen as another location for Rococo?  
I have to say, the thing that really brought me to this location on Motcomb Street was the garden. When we moved into the site in 2008, the garden was completely overgrown, and I just took one look at it and I thought I could do something beautiful with that space. We never had a gardener in any of our shops – I’m a keen gardener and nature lover, so that was a bit of a challenge for me.
 
What do you like about Belgravia?
The thing about Belgravia that is really special is that it’s like a little hidden village in London. I suppose London is a series of villages when you get to know that, and Motcomb Street is almost secret for most people.
 
In the area, I go to The Fine Cheese Co for lunch sometimes and Mosimann’s. For a real treat I go to Petrus. 

Have you got a favourite product?
I think we’ve got so many different things that it would be hard to have one favourite. So it depends very much on the day, and the mood. Sometimes it could be just a piece of Grenada chocolate – which has a very special place in my heart, as we have a little cocoa farm there and we give all of the cocoa to The Grenada Chocolate Company who transform it into chocolate. Some people may have heard of ‘bean to bar’, but this is actually tree to bar. So every bit of the value is added just there in Grenada.
 
Then there are some of the ganaches that I really love. There’s one made with Madagascan chocolate. Then some of the liquid caramels – passion fruit and rosemary is particularly good. And then the wafer thins of chocolate, of which we do a sea salt one. We have a number of different flavours, but it’s a really lovely format because it’s just a small piece and it melts in the mouth very quickly.
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
The thing I love doing most is the designing, and obviously tasting chocolate. Travelling is great too, and meeting other chocolate people. They are generally a very nice bunch, interesting and passionate.
 
What challenges do you face in your career?
I think being an entrepreneur and having a business where you employ 50 or 60 people is always a challenge. Mostly it’s a good challenge.
 
How did receiving an OBE in 2014 make you feel?
It was the biggest surprise of my life! A brown envelope arrived that looked like a parking ticket – I actually refused to open it at first! My husband said, “I think you should open it”, so I opened it and I thought it was a joke.
 
The service was really fantastic and an amazing thing to take my mum to, and my mother in law, after everything she’s done to support me in business. It was with the Duke of Cambridge and he was really lovely. He asked me what made me get into chocolate, and I can’t actually remember what I said, but it just made him roar with laughter and he threw his head back and everyone in the room was watching.
 
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
To be your authentic self. It means you can’t think too much about what other people think about you, you just have to be you and your best self. And it could be quite eccentric.
 
What else does Rococo offer?
We also do workshops here. We’ve got the chocolate workroom where we have the kids parties, or the corporate groups come in to get out of the office. There’s lots of interactive chocolate bar making and truffle rolling. We’ve got a summer school for children, too.
 
For more information on Rococo’s events, click here. And find out more about the summer school here.

Photography: Chris O'Donovan