Chocolate, an addictive treat that we at Ruark Audio like to indulge on. Which is why we thoroughly enjoyed catching up with chocolatier Phil Landers and learning more about the humble cocoa bean. Phil takes us through his journey of visiting cacao fields and how he moved from the BBC to start his own confectionary brand, LAND Chocolate.
Hi Phil, tell us a little about land chocolate, how did you first get into the industry?
I started in the chocolate industry back in 2013. I’d just come back from a trip to Central America where I came across cacao for the first time and learnt about where chocolate came from. The obsession was instant! I was ready to work anywhere in chocolate and started as a sales assistant at Paul A Young Fine Chocolates in Soho.
You previously worked for the BBC, and some could say if you hadn’t of left you wouldn’t be creating chocolate now. What made you decide to step away from that career and go travelling?
I’d been working in Radio since I was 14 years old. I was lucky enough to work at the BBC at a young age and work across most of my favourite stations. However, I remember thinking that before I lose myself to a career, it would good to spend time away and see the big bad world. Little did I know that I would come back and decide to lose myself to a completely different career!
You’ve been creating chocolate for over 2 years now, have you ever looked back?
I look back and miss the days of being in a cacao field in Nicaragua back in 2013. Since the business started I’ve been trying to make more time to go back and visit new origins, but turns out, having a business is pretty full on. This year though I’ve finally made plans to visit Kablon farm in the Philippines, where they grow the cacao which goes into my 75% Filipino dark chocolate.
What’s the inspiration behind the name ‘Land Chocolate’, is there any back story or significant meaning?
It helped that my surname was Landers so we knocked off the ‘ers’ and turned it into ‘Land’. It was a nice nod towards the fact the chocolate I make is all about the origin and where it comes from and who it’s grown by. The spectrum of flavour you can get from chocolate is all naturally coming from the cacao bean, and I wanted to make sure the brand represented this properly.
You always use the finest of ingredients, how do you source them?
Each cocoa bean I’ve sourced has come about in slightly different ways. The emphasis is on making sure I’m working as directly as I can with the farmers/producers and also making sure they’re getting paid the premium they deserve for having some of the best cocoa in the world. Which sadly, is not always the case for the majority of cocoa farmers out there.
Creating the chocolate is just the beginning, you then perfect every detail of the bar itself, please could you tell us a little about the process of ‘bean to bar’?
From bean to bar takes about 4 days to create a batch of chocolate. Firstly, we manually sort through the beans to make sure we don’t have any sticks/stones etc. These beans have come straight from a tropical farm and you can find all sorts of interesting things inside…finding dead bugs is always a treat. Then we have to roast. Every bean has a different roasting profile and it’s my job to find the best roasting profile. The cocoa bean has 400 natural flavour compounds inside and it’s my job to help bring those out during the roast.
We then do a process called ‘cracking and winnowing’ which involves cracking the bean and blowing (winnows) away the shell which leaves behind the cocoa nib which is what will eventually be turned into chocolate. We then put the nibs in the grinder for over 72 hours until the cocoa nibs turn into a smooth liquid enabling us to add other ingredients e.g. sugar, milk powder etc.
Finally, we conch the chocolate. This process involves kneading the chocolate while blowing in hot air which drives off volatile acids which might be in the chocolate, the shearing process also improves the mouthfeel of the chocolate.
How do you decide on the flavours to create?
With my chocolate range the flavour is coming from the cocoa bean itself so I don’t have to think about adding flavours. I just have to make sure I’m using the best and most interesting beans I can source. I’m always sampling new beans from all over the world waiting to come across a bean which has a profile which shocks and surprises me…in a good way.
What’s your most successful flavour to date?
After talking so much about the cocoa bean having so much natural potential flavour it turns out we still can’t get away from enjoying white chocolate which has no cocoa solids in it at all. I made a toasted white chocolate with crunchy cocoa nibs inside and I’m constantly running out of stock.
Have you ever tried to create a flavour that just doesn’t work?
Coconut. I know a lot of people love it but I just can’t enjoy it with chocolate.
Would you still consider yourself a fully-fledged sugar addict?
Yes, although I eat less now than I did before I became a chocolatier. If you have good quality chocolate, you shouldn’t have the urge to eat as much. But saying that, I’ve proved that theory wrong many times.
And lastly, being surrounded by such delicious chocolate all the time, how do you stop yourself from eating it?!
I eat other people’s chocolate! I always have a stash of chocolate made from other makers from all over the world and I nibble away at that throughout the day.
If you too have a sweet tooth and would like to indulge in some premium goods, check out LAND Chocolate online.
For insight on other professions and crafts, read more of our ‘5 Minutes with…’ series.