Ella Dove speaks to Kiri Kalenko, 28, who works as a Senior Chocolatier for Hotel Chocolat in their development kitchen, Huntingdon.
How did you first get into the chocolate industry?
I did a Home Economics degree at Liverpool John Moores University that was very practical and involved a lot of cooking. We did a module called New Product Development, which I really enjoyed, and then when I graduated I saw a vacancy for an Apprentice Chocolatier and I just thought, wow, who wouldn’t want to do that? I got trained up, and five years later, here I am as a Senior Chocolatier!
Were you always a chocoholic?
Oh definitely, from a very young age! I always did a lot of baking at home, and my sister and I used to help my grandma make this amazing chocolate cake. I just loved making anything chocolate-related.
Give us an outline of your job on a day-to-day basis?
I work in the Development Kitchen, so it’s all very practical, and every day is spent making chocolates by hand. The idea is that we have an initial brief, for example a Christmas selection, and then we have to think about and experiment with the key flavours that would go into that box. We then make the chocolates in the kitchen for development purposes, and present them to the buying team and CEO who either approve them or put them back into development. This all happens before the product is put into the factory to be up-scaled.
What is the best thing about your job?
It’s really good fun: very creative and hands on. You’re always making something new, so it never gets boring. A particular perk is the daily tasting session where the Senior Chocolatiers sit down and try all the chocolates that the apprentices have made to make sure that the flavours are as good as they can be.
“A particular perk is the daily tasting session where the Senior Chocolatiers sit down and try all the chocolates…”
Is there a particular technique for successful chocolate tasting?
Definitely. We have spittoons like in wine tasting, because you can’t keep swallowing every type of chocolate- it will affect your palette, not to mention make you feel sick after a while! For this reason, tasting should be done mid-morning ideally, and you have to make sure you haven’t had any strong flavours like coffee, spicy food or mint beforehand. With solid chocolate, you take a piece and let it melt slowly in your mouth, concentrating on which flavours you’re getting. We also cleanse our palettes between each chocolate with water and dry crackers, and when tasting, we always leave the strongest chocolate flavours until last.
How far in advance do you start preparing your Christmas range?
We try and work six months in advance, so at the moment we’re working on our summer range. Christmas starts very early for me!
Do you design new products every year for Christmas or are there some timeless classics?
We keep on the products that do well, such as the Ultimate Advent Calendars, the tree decorations and the table crackers- things that everyone always loves and needs as part of their Christmas. But we do also like to bring in something new and different each year to catch the eye. For example, this year we’ve developed a 500g slab called Mountain Mayhem, which shows a group of penguins having a snowball fight, and we’ve also got a really amazing piece called the Shooting Star which uses real gold.
What are your most popular products?
The slabs do really well because visually, they look brilliant hanging up in store, and there is such a variety that if you’re buying a gift for someone, you could easily find something suitable. We also do a range of Christmas-themed slabs in different sizes which are usually quite popular, and of course the ultimate and truffle advent calendars, and tree decorations sell well.
“With solid chocolate, you take a piece and let it melt slowly in your mouth, concentrating on which flavours you’re getting”
Is it true that a small amount of chocolate actually has health benefits?
Chocolate definitely does have anti-oxidant properties, and if you have a bar with a high cocoa content, for example 80% dark, you only need a small amount of it to get that cocoa fix, so you’re having more cocoa and less sugar, which is obviously also less calories.
What is your favourite type of chocolate?
My tastes have definitely changed over the years. I used to love the milk fruit and nut bars, but I now appreciate dark chocolate a lot more, and I really like chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa in it. We’ve got a bar called St Lucia 50% Milk that uses cocoa beans from St Lucia, which I love. I think the simpler the better, so that you get the full flavour of the cocoa.
For more info on Hotel Chocolat and their Christmas products visit hotelchocolat.com/uk/