My career as a chocolatier has taken me all over the world. Beijing, for instance, was an interesting city where I did a presentation for chefs at the Black Swan pâtisserie, located within a stunning photography museum, where the owner displayed his artworks, and cakes were delivered in a Rolls Royce! Even after Dubai, where I love walking around the city and seeing the Burj Khalifa towering above everything else, I had never seen such a display of wealth. Closer to home, I have grown fond of Ljubljana in Slovenia; the architecture is spectacular, the city is walkable and the locals really friendly. I always recommend it for a weekend trip.
My hometown is Antwerp, where I began my training at the Horeca Institute learning both the practical side of all things related to pastry, chocolate and baking, as well as the theory about ingredients and chemical processes. After working for a year at the Café Royal London as a chocolatier, I got a phone call asking me if I was interested in working in Saudi Arabia. Like most people, I had quite a stereotypical idea of the country, though my desire for adventure trumped my doubts. I signed the contract and flew out to Jeddah a few days later.
It was quite a culture and climate shock, but the locals really made me feel welcome. My sous-chef became my best friend and we still meet once a year. Most recently we took a course in Las Vegas with one of the world’s top chocolatiers, Melissa Coppel. My experience In Saudi Arabia helped me shape a more nuanced view of the world and also an appreciation for Jeddah’s Corniche on the Red Sea, which is amazing for a late-night stroll. Of course, I did the one thing my boss told me not to do – fall in love with a Saudi girl. I set out to try and convince Dalal’s father to let us marry [in Saudi Arabia a woman cannot marry without the consent of her guardian] – he remains unconvinced. Dalal moved to Ireland to finish her studies after being accepted at University College Cork. I packed my bags shortly afterwards and moved here too, with no contacts and no job. That was six years ago and it has turned out well for us both.
I founded Arcane Chocolate last October. I like to think I have a talent for balancing flavours, and my style is a hybrid of Belgian, French and British chocolate “philosophies”. I never skimp on quality ingredients and prefer acidic fruits with chocolate. My favourite cacao origin is the floral, fruity Tanzanie which makes the chocolate taste as if it has been infused with rose petals and berries. In my current range “Forbidden Love”, Exotique is a favourite – a passionfruit caramel with Tahitian vanilla and a ganache flavoured with mango and ginger. It goes without saying I have a sweet tooth and need to go to the gym frequently as I am constantly snacking on broken chocolates.
As for my favourite place, I spent a few weeks in Kuwait city helping to set up a chocolate business for a couple of young entrepreneurial Kuwaiti women. In all of my travels I have never had such a warm welcome as in Kuwait. I became immersed in local culture and cuisine. They brought me to the souq, which was a revelation. Imagine the scent of the best cardamom and saffron mixed with local oud perfumes, with incredible dates and local street food on offer. I even found a Belgian-style chip shop there. It was a bit out of place but us Belgians are big on our chips and I must admit I indulged and gave them my seal of approval! I’d love to return to Kuwait and spend some more time nosing around in the souq.
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