Q&A: Pete Gardner, Director Cocoa Amore ( chocolate heaven)

With Christmas less than three weeks away, I must ask… have you got all your presents sorted? I’m in the middle of doing my shopping. One of the places I’ll be popping into, is Cocoa Amore. I first discovered it earlier this year whilst visiting a friend in Leicester. The first thing that hits you is the scent of chocolate. I love cafés and that coupled with chocolate is veritable heaven for me. I caught up with director Pete Gardner; here is what he had to say about the Cocoa Amore experience and inventive chocolate making.

Tell us a little about yourself please Pete.

At heart, I’m a bartender thriving on surpassing customer expectations and making people happy with food and drink. Chocolate allows me to do this in a more creative and less saturated market place.

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I fell in love with your cocoa butter pearls (they’re great over steamed asparagus) and will most certainly be getting some more for Christmas. How else can I incorporate chocolate into cooking?

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so I much prefer experimenting with the savoury side to chocolate. I have a granulated cocoa butter which is great for searing things like steaks and scallops. I have 100% blocks of Willie’s Cacao that I use in gravy and chilli. Most recently I started making a white chocolate and smoked mackerel pâté which is great with toasted sourdough.

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When you walk into Cocoa Amore, it feels like a magical experience. (I was in a few months ago, to buy a giant truffle-filled cocoa pod for a friend’s birthday). How do you want visitors to feel when they step foot into your gorgeous store?

Cocoa Amore is designed to be a full sensory experience and not just your average chocolate retailer. I wanted something that caught your eye with the theatre of chocolate-making going on in the window. Once you walk in, you are hit with the smell of fine Colombian chocolate drawing you in to taste some of our samples, which then leads you into a conversation with our knowledgeable staff. This is all in the hope that it captures your imagination enough to book in on one of our workshops where we educate and build an ongoing relationship with our customers moving forward.

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How did you become the chocolatier that you are today?

I got tired of bartending and I’m not qualified for anything else so I taught myself chocolate-making using online videos. I opened my first store eight years ago, with a real focus on customer service – the same way I was trained in hospitality (I’m not a retailer).

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If you weren’t a chocolatier, what would you be doing?

Probably still tending bar.

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What would you say to aspiring chocolatiers wanting to get into chocolate-making?

Come by for a chat, I’m always happy to help people that want to run their own business, whether it be chocolate related or not.

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Describe a typical day at Cocoa Amore.

On a typical day we usually have a couple of workshops running, chocolates being made either for a client or to restock our shelves after a busy weekend. We’re also developing ideas for the next season (I’m already thinking about Easter now). I have a lot of meetings now with people wanting to be involved in our growth plans over the next few years, so I’m spend a lot of time working on that.

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How do you feel when you make chocolate (happy, relaxed, etc.)?

I don’t get to make it as much as I used to. When I do, I’m very focused and get to switch my brain off from dealing with accounts, meetings and making sure we’re profitable to secure my staffs jobs as well as looking at growth in the future. It’s a nice creative escape that I get to step in to whenever I want.

What are your bestsellers?

Peanut Butter, Salted Caramel, Caramel Pralines, Eton Mess. The classics are still popular and simple things like truffles still sell well.

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What is your favourite chocolate in the whole wide world?

I’ve tried a lot of chocolate over the years but the Kokoleka semi-sweet is still my favourite.

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Chocolate is inspirational and coveted the world over. From chocolate afternoon teas (inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) in luxury hotels, to featuring in wedding favours, chocolates seem to be everywhere. What is the most inventive chocolate you have made?

We’ve created some weird and wonderful things over the years but I really enjoyed creating our Nostalgic Afternoon Chocolate tea lunch boxes from a few years ago. I had three generations of a family sit there and open them and each one of them identified something from their own childhood memories of school lunches. That’s what chocolate should be about, capturing the imagination and taking you back to your childhood.

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With Christmas around the corner, what festive treats has Cocoa Amore got in store for us chocolate lovers?

Our chocolate shoes have been really popular this year as well as our winter flavours like Apple Strudel and Mince Pie Cups. I have a Gingerbread Spiced Hot chocolate with Whipped cream and Toasted Marshmallows on as a special and have a few seasonal desserts coming to our menu over the next few weeks.

Cocoa Amore have also increased capacity to deliver workshops in the new year. What better way to make someone’s Christmas Day by gifting them a voucher for two people? To find out more about Cocoa Amore and their gorgeous selection of chocolates, go to website www.cocoa-amore.co.uk now.

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