‘Chocolate is a wonderful ingredient; its versatility is endless in every way. Flavour pairing, moulding, decorating – it’s very visual as well as tasting amazing’. Paul A. Young.
Paul A. Young (not the 80’s pop-star) is a high-end chocolate company with four stores in all the really posh areas of London, so we were surprised to find out that this mainstream business has great vegan options!
A non-vegan friend of mine @missmoneypolly discovered its Soho branch when she was out with some friends. She just happened to hear another customer asking the staff if there was anything vegan; Polly told me that the staff sounded really helpful and that I should check it out. She had a hot chocolate from Paul A. Young on her visit and said it was one of the best hot chocolates she’s ever tasted, high praise indeed from a hot chocolate addict!
On my way to and from the train station every morning I happen to walk past a different branch of Paul A. Young (the Goodge Street branch, outside Heal’s department store), so I popped in to have a closer look at their products. The store’s interior is very sharp, modern, and impressive — giving the brand a premium feel, but it has the effect of making you wonder if you will be able to afford anything!
I had a look around and then asked one of the staff what was what, in vegan terms. They were just as helpful as Polly had described, taking me round the store to show me exactly what I could eat. They were well-trained and knowledgable about all the products.
I bought some salted nut chocolate rocher truffles, but as expected, they weren’t cheap – nearly £8.00 for just four truffles. I decided to take the plunge, I had to find out if they were worth this kind of money. Yet I admit you do get what you pay for; they were delicious. In fact, I ate the two I’d bought for my husband as well!
This experience makes me very excited that a mainstream, high-end chocolate company located in all the posh, trendy pockets of London is catering for vegans. So I wrote to Paul himself and asked him for more information about how it all began and why they appear to support veganism when a lot of other confectioners and food retailers ignore us.
Paul told us he has been working with chocolate his whole working life and it was while working as head pastry chef for Marco Pierre White that he realised it was the chocolate dishes he most enjoyed preparing. ‘Chantal Coady of Rococo then asked me to develop chocolates for the first Chocolate Week in 2003. My love affair is continually evolving as chocolate is such a wonderful medium to work with, and the flavour combinations are endless.’
Paul A.Young now have four stores, 143 Wardour Street in Soho, 33 Camden Passage in Islington, 20 The Royal Exchange in Bank and most recently at Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road (where I first tried them). We quizzed Paul about the price of his chocolate, and asked him what justified this kind of expense: ‘chocolates are an affordable luxury! I use quality ingredients with no preservatives or additives and all the chocolates are made by hand, fresh in store everyday’.
Paul said ‘Most importantly, I believe that farmers should get paid a fair price for their cocoa. The chocolate producers I use pay on average four times the price of fair trade’. Paul’s response satisfies me because, as well as being vegan, I also want to support fair-trade throughout the supply chain.
We asked Paul why he prepares his chocolate in such small batches. He said he is ‘the only chocolatier in London who, with my team, makes each creation by hand. I enjoy incorporating unusual flavours into chocolate and developing flavour combinations that are original and experimental, as well as working with classic flavours to give them a modern twist’. Each chocolate is tempered on granite and marble slabs, on-site and then made by hand and even wrapped by hand. ‘I can be more creative in small batches and so much more diligent with the ingredients I use’.
Then I got down to the vegan nitty-gritty, I wanted to know if some Paul A. Young chocolates are vegan by accident, or if it is deliberate. Rather than aiming specifically to please a vegan audience, Paul is instead driven by what’s best for his final products. ‘The aim is always to create the best tasting chocolate I possibly can. If I choose to use water to make a ganache rather than dairy it’s because water will go better with the ingredients I’m using. Also, the absence of dairy maintains the deep flavour as there is no extra richness and the flavours are undiluted’. So admittedly this isn’t the best answer from a vegan perspective, but still we think it’s great that he has a good understanding of what constitutes vegan food and then marks his produce accordingly, meaning his chocolate bars, truffles and drinks are suitable for me and my kind — the vegan kind!
Many chefs just outright don’t agree with a vegan diet and often refuse to cater for them, but Paul, although not a vegan himself, doesn’t ‘frown upon food choices, the important thing is that people make choices that make them happy’.
When we asked for a list of which of Paul A. Young products we vegans can feast upon, Paul told us that their range changes regularly so if you do go to his stores then his staff will be ready and waiting to talk you through the options. ‘We use chocolate from small artisan chocolate producers who don’t use any dairy in their dark chocolates’. Paul also creates some chocolates with a water ganache so ‘these are all suitable for vegans’.
Below is a list of the vegan products I found in Paul A.Young:
-Hazelnut, pecan & almond, salter rocher.
-A selection of dark chocolate bars
-hot chocolate drink
For now, Paul is focusing on the UK, but I got the impression that launching in New York was in his not so distant sights. ‘I try and visit New York once a year. I launched my book ‘Adventures with Chocolate’ in New York last year and I love the city, so you never know…’
Paul said it was difficult to say if he could pick a favourite from his chocolates ‘it changes all the time, we’re always creating new chocolates. I eat one of my sea salted caramels every day – it’s our best selling chocolate and it’s been voted the best Sea Salted Caramel in the World in the International Chocolate Awards two years running’.
One last thing we asked him was if London was a leading city for chocolate – ‘The chocolate industry is definitely very focused on the UK right now, we’re very innovative and creative in London and we’re winning lots of awards. We’re leading the world in terms of chocolate’.
So, yes, in conclusion, of course Paul A. Young is not a vegan company which is not perfect for us. But if the high-end stores start to bring vegan products and awareness out in to the haute cuisine world daylight, then we should praise them.
A good percentage of Paul’s range is dairy-free and fully vegan-friendly, so that means fewer animals being used and abused. Here’s hoping Paul keeps up the good work, continues to offer a good vegan-friendly selection, and paves the way for other high-end food companies to be more and more vegan-friendly.