A world of chocolate in Grenada

I travelled to the island of Grenada recently for the second Grenada Chocolate Festival. It’s not the first time I’ve been to the Caribbean, or to a chocolate plantation, but Grenada had something different to offer – Grenada was the first cocoa producing country to do the whole cocoa bean to chocolate bar process. (You can find out more about the process itself in the video further down.)

Cocoa pods in window

(I was in Grenada for a whole week of chocolate related events so brace yourself for a long post. More to come on Grenadian culture, rum and cocoa tea. Meanwhile, you can read my posts on chocolate in the Dominican Republic here.)

The Grenada Chocolate Company

In 1999, something big happened for Grenadian chocolate. An American man by the name of Mott Green, born David Lawrence Friedman, founded The Grenada Chocolate Company. Like many people, Green had this idealistic vision of producing organic, fairly traded and sustainable chocolate. The only difference was that he made his vision a reality.

Grenada Chocolate Company

Using locally sourced organic cocoa beans, The Grenada Chocolate Company created the first bean to bar chocolate made in a cocoa producing country. The beans were as fairly traded as they could come – everyone in the company was paid the same salary as part of a co-operative system. The resulting chocolates were of such high quality that they won awards from the Academy of Chocolate in 2008, 2011 and 2013. Things didn’t stop there though.

Green wanted to increase the sustainability of his business in a big way. The chocolate company relied heavily on solar power whenever possible. Green also enlisted the help of Tres Hombres, reportedly the world’s only engineless sailing cargo ship, to transport his chocolates out of Grenada for sale. (They’re available online from the Chocolate Trading Co and a few other places.)

Edmund Brown outside Grenada Chocolate Company

Edmund Brown outside Grenada Chocolate Company

It was Green’s pioneering vision which really put Grenada’s chocolates on the map and enabled other chocolate companies on the island to follow suit. Unfortunately it was also a work-related accident which ended his life prematurely.

Grenada Chocolate Festival

Back to happier thoughts and the Grenada Chocolate Festival. I know what you must be thinking and you’re right – there was a lot of chocolate during my stay in Grenada. In fact, I have probably consumed more chocolate in a week than I do in a whole year. But it’s not just about the eating of chocolate but rather, the appreciation of cocoa.

Russ at Magdalena Fielden at Grenada Chocolate Festival

Russ at Magdalena Fielden at Grenada Chocolate Festival

This second Grenada Chocolate Festival was hosted by Magdalena Fielden at True Blue Bay and took place from the 8th to the 17th of May. Fielden is the owner of the boutique resort and the Honorary Consul of Mexico in Grenada. Thanks to Fielden’s influence, Mexican chocolatier, architect and founder of the Mucho-Chocolate Museum in Mexico City, Ana Rita García Lascuráin, was in town to lead tastings and talk about the health and beauty benefits of chocolate.

According to García Lascuráin, chocolate was thought to have been good for the head, the heart and the stomach. Of course chocolate in Maya Mexico was consumed rather differently from today.

García Lascuráin demonstrated how cocoa beans might have been ground with the metate (flat mortar stone) and mano (stone pestle) before being used in cocoa tea. She also talked about the different cocoa products used in beauty treatments today. Cocoa butter for example, might be used in lip balms. We had a recipe to make this and a couple of other beauty treats but it’s hard not to feel like the finished product might taste better on toasted crumpets.

There were other cocoa related activities too including expert led chocolate tasting, yoga and chocolate meditation, hash (run, or hike) along a cocoa trail and of course visits to the plantations.

Belmont Estate, Crayfish Bay and Diamond Chocolate Factory

I visited two cocoa plantations while in Grenada – Belmont Estate and Crayfish Bay.

Belmont Estate

Belmont Estate is a co-operative of farmers who produce organic cocoa beans and other crops, like the island’s famous nutmeg. It’s where the Grenada Chocolate Company is based and sources its beans. They have a huge restaurant on site with a visitor’s centre, museum, shops and a goat dairy where they make cheese. This is the place to go to if you’re visiting with children and want to learn about the bean to bar process.

Crayfish Bay

Crayfish Bay is a much smaller farm in comparison. Right now, their beans are shipped to the UK and made into chocolate by Pump Street Bakery but the estate’s owner, Kim Russell, is also building a chocolate factory of his own. It’s a real grass-roots sort of operation where the farm manager would roast the beans in a pan over open fire. The cooled beans are then cracked, winnowed with the help of a vacuum cleaner and then ground into paste. That paste, along with sugar, coconut milk and a shot of rum makes the best cocoa tea that you’ll ever taste. It’s something that you’ll probably be unlikely to taste, unless you stay in the little B&B on the estate. That is, until the chocolate factory is completed in 2016.

Diamond Chocolate Factory

I also visited Diamond Chocolate Factory, which, from what I gather, doesn’t have its own plantation. Instead, the focus is on producing chocolate from locally sourced beans. It’s perhaps the most technologically advanced of all the chocolate producers, offering a full factory tour. It’s also producing the smoothest chocolates of those that I’ve tasted.

Check out this video I made of a shortened version of the bean-to-bar process at Diamond Chocolate Factory:

Tasting Grenadian chocolate

As I’ve already mentioned, I tasted a lot of chocolates over the course of the week. They were all dark chocolates with upwards of 60% of cocoa, each with their own distinctive character. It’s apparently a special feature of Grenadian chocolates that they contain no dairy products.

Finished chocolate, Diamond Chocolate Factory

There were two things that I noticed about Grenadian chocolates. In the main, the chocolates left a drying sensation similar to that of tannin although the flavour is perhaps closer to that of cigar or sometimes black tea. The second is a textural thing.

I’ve tried a lot of chocolates from two years of judging for International Chocolate Awards and one of the things you have to look out for is the smoothness of the chocolate (think of that Galaxy advert). Grenadian chocolates always left this slightly grainy mouthfeel, which is perhaps that tannic deposit on my palate.

I’m not sure whether this was because of the length of conching, the lack of dairy in the chocolate or something else altogether. In general, a longer conche time (emulsifying with the help of giant wheels) means a smoother and richer tasting chocolate but this can also be manipulated by adding other ingredients such as dairy and fats. Either way, there’s was a rawness about the chocolates that I’m not quite used to. But then again, just as for wine, just because you’re not used to something doesn’t mean it’s not good. By and large, these dairy-free Grenadian chocolates are much better for you than the over-processed over-adulterated stuff that we see so often.

And, as I wrap up this post, I feel like I’m missing a little chocolate in my life.

In Pursuit of Food travelled as a guest of the Grenada Tourism Authority. If you want to find out more about what this means, please see our Editorial Policy.

Eating out in Liguria

I know I extol the virtues of fine dining a lot and, when I travel independently, I always try to squeeze in as many of “those types” of restaurants as I can. But there are times when really good food isn’t found on top of starched white linen tables or presented as part of a 20-course meal.

Instead, it might be the flat bread, freshly made by the side of the road in Tunisia; or the ice-cold silken tofu, touted by a man who’s carrying two barrel loads on his shoulder. I can appreciate this, and I know this to be true. There’s something deliciously authentic about that traditional cuisine when it’s made really well, even if it’s more rustic than a French country kitchen.

I found this in Liguria.

Focaccia with cheese in the making, Restaurante i Tre Merli Porto Antico, Genoa

In Liguria, the small trattorias and osterias serve up dishes that your grandmother might make – if she was Ligurian and had a no-nonsense approach to great ingredients. It’s the sort of comfort food that you want to eat when you need a day off from boundary-pushing flavours and textures. It’s no avant garde fanciful fare but you’ll find yourself missing it when you leave.

The freshness of the ingredients was definitely one of the things that I loved about Liguria.

Pesto ingredients, Ristorante Il Genovese, Liguria

Italy has this reputation for hyper-local cuisine and in Liguria I really felt this to be true. For example, in Portovenere it was all about the mussels because they were cultivated along the coast there. In Genoa, trofie al pesto avvantaggiato (trofie pasta with pesto, potato and green beans) is the thing to order. In Sestri Levante there’s the Bagnun, where anchovies, cooked in a rich tomato soup, are ladled over dried breads that help to soak up the juices.

Bagnun in three parts

Making pesto at Niasca Portofino

Of course, the thing that Liguria is really famous for is its pesto. I made pesto by hand at Niasca Portofino after a little picnic overlooking the wonderfully picturesque bay.

The traditional recipe involves grinding the young basil leaves with garlic, pine nuts and salt. Olive oil is slowly added throughout to make the sauce and parmesan cheese is also stirred in.

They say that the thing which makes it the true Ligurian pesto is the basil grown by the coast. It’s smaller and sweeter, giving the green sauce its distinctive flavour and colour. I have a feeling that the gradual mixing by the pestle and mortar helps too. If nothing else, it adds to the romance of slow food.

Where I ate in Liguria

i Tre Merli Ristorante Porto Antico, Genoa

Bar Deck Zeus, Vis a Vis Hotel, Sestri Levante

Osteria Cantine Cattaneo, Sestri Levante

Portivene Un Mare di Sapori, Portovenere

Palmaria, Grand Hotel Portovenere

Ristorante Il Genovese, Genoa

In Pursuit of Food travelled to Liguria as a guest of Liguria Tourism Board. To find out what this means, see our Editorial Policy.

Food bursaries, competitions, awards and more

One of the things that I’m often asked is how I got into food, though perhaps more pressing is the question which follows, “how can I get into food”.

Well there are no straight roads into food – everyone finds a different route and some get lost along the way. But here are a few bursaries, competitions and awards, available to UK entrants, which might help you along your journey.

It’s a working list so please do leave comments about others.

For writers and aspiring writers:

Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards

  • Various categories available
  • For professional and aspiring writers

Guild of Food Writers Awards

  • Various awards available
  • For professional and aspiring writers

Les Dames d’Escoffier International Legacy Awards

  • Food and wine journalism mentorship
  • Up to $2,000 for travel expenses for the mentorship opportunity

M.F.K. Fisher Award

  • Up to $1,000 for culinary writing
  • Women residents of United States, Canada, Mexico or Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland)
  • Entrance fee required

Oxford Symposium

  • Various awards available
  • For professional and aspiring writers
  • See also The Sophie Coe Prize and The Cherwell Studentship

Shepherd Neame 1698 Award for Best Beer and Food Writer

  • Up to £1,000 for writing or broadcasting on matching beer with food and/or cooking with beer
  • Entries can be from national, local or regional media, books, trade publications or online.

Sophie Coe Prize

  •  £1,500 for writing on food history
  • Submissions of up to 10,000 words

Yan-kit So Memorial Award

  • £2,500 for travel and research with a focus on Asian cuisine
  • For UK residents
  • You must not have already published a book

For photographers:

Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year

  • Various categories available
  • Entrance fee required

For chefs:

International Association of Culinary Professionals Awards

  • Various categories available

James Beard Foundation Scholarships

  • Various scholarships available
  • For culinary study in USA

Les Dames d’Escoffier International Legacy Awards

  • Stagiaire experience
  • Up to $2,000 for travel expenses for the mentorship opportunity

For producers:

Great Taste Awards

  • Various categories are available
  • Entrance fee required

Les Dames d’Escoffier International Legacy Awards

  • Food producer mentorship
  • Up to $2,000 for travel expenses for the mentorship opportunity

Young British Foodies

  • Various prizes are available

For young people:

Cherwell Food History Studentship

  • $1,000 for research into food history
  • Must be under 30
  • Must make a presentation at The Oxford Symposium

Graeme Kidd Bursary

  • Up to £1,000 for people aged 16-25, looking to build a career in food or drink
  • For people residing within the Ludlow and the Marches area


AJ Banks Award

  • Up to around £1,500 for food science, engineering and technology related travel
  • For PhD and postdoctoral researchers
  • Must be a member of SCI

Chocolate terroir at Valrhona’s Loma Sotavento

Over the last few years the provenance of ingredients has been something of a fevered trend. Ingredients seem to spring from increasing obscurity and arguably at the expense of common sense. Sometimes, it’s hard not to feel like we all have a bad case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

While sorting through some old photographs I stumbled across a small collection from my trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago. I was invited by Valrhona to discover their new cacao plantation, Loma Sotavento.

Loma Sotavento

Loma Sotavento Cacao plantation, Dominican Republic

At the time, Loma Sotavento was the first plantation to be owned outright by Valrhona. Located to the northeast of Dominican Republic, it was run in partnership with Risek, a local cacao grower.

Using the beans produced there, they were going to get into the minutiae of the bean to bar process and research the effects of cacao processing on the final flavour profile of the chocolate. This included how long the beans were fermented, how they were fermented (whether covered or uncovered, how regularly they were turned etc) and how they were dried. Apparently the fruit, acid, bitterness and other chocolate notes could be enhanced or subdued by manipulating how the cacao beans were treated after they’re plucked from the tree. The blend of the bean varieties, the conching and the rest of the chocolate production comes later.

It’s food nerdism at work.

After reminiscing over the photos, I was curious about what happened next and discovered that Valrhona were producing vintage specific chocolate!

A bit about Valrhona

So far I have assumed that you know a little about Valrhona but perhaps that’s not the case. Here are the basics:

Valrhona was established in the Rhône Valley in France by a pastry chef, Alberic Guironnet, in 1922. Their headquarters are still based in Tain l’Hermitage where they have recently opened a chocolate museum. I haven’t been but I’ve been told it’s something of a wonder.

Although they make a serious selection of premium chocolates, they’ve sort of been “undiscovered” for a long time as they made chocolates exclusively for chefs. You’ll find them in the kitchens of many fine dining restaurants, a prized ingredient of the pastry chefs. They’ve started making chocolate for consumers too though their primary focus, at least when I visited them in Loma Sotavento, was still chocolates for cooking.

Vintage chocolate

Valrhona Loma Sotavento Vintage 2013 chocolateAnyway, back to this vintage specific chocolate. (I haven’t tried it but you can buy it online.)

Estate grown, terroir based, chocolate is pretty widely available as a premium product now but here was a chocolate bar that was not only from a single estate but also from a single year. Is it too much?

Actually, I would be very interested in a vertical tasting of the chocolates though I don’t think they will keep and mature like wine. It’s an interesting idea nontheless.

It also made me smile – trust a French company to introduce vintage indication to chocolate.


Plantation in the making

Eating out in China, Part Four: Shanghai

Shanghai was the final stop on my lengthy China trip that began in Chengdu.

There’s something about Shanghai that switched on the European bulb in my vision of dining. Perhaps it was when I crossed the river from Pudong (where I was staying at the Mandarin Oriental, home of Richard Ekkebus’ Shanghai outpost), came out of the tunnel on to The Bund, and thought, “hey, I’m back in London”. It’s not just the buildings that were Western though. Many of the city’s best, and most expensive, restaurants were name tagged by some of the world’s best chefs. There were exceptions of course.

And then there’s the promise of being able to eat on my own without having to order a banquet – something that’s quite difficult when eating in Chinese restaurants.

So half armed with the World’s 50 Best list and half checking off the Michelin guide of other cities, I made my reservations.

The Western restaurants

First stop was a late night supper (11pm) at the almost ridiculously loud, and very, very busy Mr & Mrs Bund by Paul Pairet. Downstairs had just hosted a gallery night for, I think, YSL, and upstairs was having some sort of VIP club night launch. That lemon and lemon tart, 72 hours to make, I get it now.

As it was the late night menu, it was marginally cheaper than the real menu (Pairet’s signature dishes are more expensive), and about ten times less than Pairet’s other venture in Shanghai, Ultraviolet. Incidentally, at upwards of RMB$3,000pp, Ultraviolet was already fully booked when I checked in August for November. Not that my budget would have stretched that far anyway.

Lemon and lemon tart, Mr & Mrs Bund, Shanghai

In the heart of the French concession was Restaurant Martin by Martin Berasatgui. I had met Berasatgui briefly at San Sebastian Gastronomika a while ago, but never made it to his restaurant on that trip (I went to Azurmendi, Mugaritz and Arzak), so was curious to see a version of his offering. Housed in the old Pathé building, it’s really an impressive set up. And the flavours showed amazing authenticity.

I would say the one issue that all the Western chefs have in China is that Chinese chefs don’t quite have the same set of skills. This was most obvious in the ice cream which came with the dessert – anywhere else it might have been a rocher but here, it was a roughly scooped ball that lent a most disappointing finish to an otherwise wonderful meal. For upwards of RMB$500 a la carte, they really needed to step up.

Santiago tart with lemon sorbet and mango sauce, Restaurant Martin by Martin Berasatgui, Shanghai

I got word that there was a Nordic seafood pop up at Henkes by the name of Saltvand. The chefs, I heard, had once worked at Noma. It was also ten minutes walk from the Ritz Carlton Portman where I stayed for the final two days of my trip. So of course, I had to go.

The front of house and the food had been put together almost entirely by a Danish couple, with some support, and the result was something impressively close to what I found elsewhere in Scandinavia. And the service was spot on. The guests were 90% Westerners – it would be presumptive for me to offer thoughts on this though apparently it was an area heavily populated with expats.

Yoghurt sorbet, malt, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, mint, Saltvand at Henkes, Shanghai

8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana had been on my list for a long time but by the time I got to Shanghai, it’s really so far north of my budget you can’t even see it from Siberia. Instead, I went for an early supper at Jason Atherton’s Table No 1. It’s been open for a while but, as I loved Pollen Street Social in London, and the early supper is about a third of the cost of a dinner in London, I made my final reservation. South of the Bund, it’s actually a bit of a trek, but it made a nice full stop.

Slow cooked egg in veal consommé, Table No 1 by Jason Atherton, Shanghai

The local fare

Of course there would be no stop in Shanghai without trying some of the local food and much of those I found near Yu Gardens. There was a great concentration of food outlets around there but more authentic, perhaps, were the street food stalls just a little out of the way on Sipailou Street. And as luck would have it, a friend’s mother brought me a pair of hairy crabs, with a dipping sauce of vinegar, sugar and ginger that she made herself. My journey was complete.