PUBLISHED: 15:17 04 December 2008 | UPDATED: 15:38 20 February 2013
A one-time classical scholar, now turned chocolatier has won a coveted food and drink award only three months into her business.
'Ooh La La' as the song might have said, 'c'est absolument magnifique!' To win a prestigious Food and Drink Award in the Taste of the West Producer's category after only three months in business is quite some going, but that is just what Alderbury-based chocolate manufacturer Ooh La La did with their Gold Award winning Earl Grey Tea chocolates.
To be the best you have to use the best, and Antonia Corp was in no doubt that she had the best ingredients to hand when she came up with an award-winning recipe for a chocolate that is as intriguing as the title suggests. Who would have thought of marrying tea with chocolate? As a chocolatier, Antonia is no less intriguing herself since she started out as a classical scholar, as far removed from the world of food and drink as it is possible to get, give or take a Roman debauchery or two. She started studying Greek and Roman literature, language and art, moved onto a masters in Classical Archaeology, and got into food and drink almost by default before she'd even thrown a pilum in anger, as it were.
"I was studying for the masters in London and since everything was so much more expensive there I had a couple of part-time jobs to help pay the bills. One of them was in Selfridge's Food Hall, surrounded by the best-quality food and drink, and I learned a lot about the provenance of food. After I finished my degree, I carried on working there for a year before moving on to Haagen Daz, the ice-cream manufacturers, another top-quality brand." Another year on and Antonia took yet another path, becoming an English teacher, teaching English as a Foreign Language. "Basically, it was an extended holiday, since I did my training for that in Prague," she told me. All holidays come to an end though, and she spent the next6 years teaching EFL in London and running one of their schools there.
"One day I asked myself, 'do I want to be teaching English for the rest of my life?' The answer being 'no', I had to decide what I wanted to do. I felt I wanted to be a bit more independent and to run my own company, and since I'd always been interested in cooking and foodie things that was a natural direction to take. I'd always cooked for my friends and they call me the 'dessert queen', so that was the direction I took."
Again, concentrating on chocolate as a forte was another serendipitous thing. "My mother gave me details of a competition that Green and Black were running in Good Housekeeping magazine to find the best chocolate recipe, so I experimented with a lot of chocolate for a long time, entered the competition and ended up winning it."
She started making chocolates for friends and family after that, which were very enthusiastically received, and from there the scene was inevitably set for Antonia: chocolate became her business.
She discovered that there was a whole industry built around it, took herself on a few courses, learned as much as she could, put it into practice and ended up making mouth-watering chocolates and chocolate cakes selling from home and online.
The whole ethos of the business, as with that of any quality food and drink, revolves around the concept of fresh ingredients. That applies just as much to chocolate as it does to anything else.
"If you go to a supermarket and buy a box of standard chocolates it has probably been in a warehouse for six months, in production before that and goodness knows how long on the shelf waiting to be bought. Consequently, they have to contain an awful lot of sugar and fat as preservatives.
"Mine are just chocolate, cream, honey and perhaps fruit liqueurs as a flavouring rather than a preservative (I use liqueurs from Fonthill Glebe Wines in Wiltshire). I avoid using any synthetic flavourings at all. All my chocolates are made from fresh ingredients. That's the direction in which I want to go: I want to give chocolate a higher profile in the fresh food chain. After all, you think nothing of going to a baker and buying a confection to be eaten at a dinner party there and then. Why should you treat chocolate any differently? Although my chocolates have a theoretical shelf-life of six weeks (depending on the type), I always tell my customers that shelf-life in terms of chocolate is largely irrelevant because it will be eaten long, long before the shelf-life has been reached."
When we spoke, Antonia was working on her Christmas range, whose actual shelf-life will be Boxing Day if my chocaholic household is any criterion. As well as chocolates, Antonia also makes jams, marmalades and chutneys, but that is only a hobby, really.
Gold Award for a tea-flavoured chocolate three months into the business and Bronze Award for making jam which
is only really a hobby? Ooh La La. Merveilleux!For more information (07730) 602840