Bristol’s rich history has a sweet side with a proud chocolate making heritage.
The city’s chocolate legacy began with Joseph Fry and family, who, in 1795, patented a method of grinding cocoa beans and by 1847, invented the first modern day chocolate bar.
The last remaining survivor of this rich heritage in the heart of the Old City is Guilbert’s on Small Street, a family-run chocolatiers owned by Alan and Wendy White.
“I started here when I first left school 37 years ago,” says Alan, who began working for then-owner Frank Haycock doing odd jobs on what was meant to be a temporary basis.
The pair ended up going into partnership in 1988 and when Frank and his wife retired, Alan bought the rest of the business. Decades later, the operation remains a true family outfit, with five of Alan and Wendy’s six children taking an active role.
The chocolates they create are sent across the world sold to be sold at some very exclusive outlets.
Inside the deceptively large Grade I listed building is a world of pure imagination for any chocolate lover – from its Hogwarts-like exterior, to the magic created where the chocolates are crafted using methods that have worked for generations.
A relative newcomer that is fast carving out a name for herself in the world of chocolate is North Street-based Zara Narracott, owner and creator of the award-winning Zara’s Chocolates.
Once voted by her classmates as most likely to become Willy Wonka, the job was something of a calling for the Bristol-born entrepreneur who started out experimenting with flavours on her kitchen table after attending a chocolate-making workshop for her 21st birthday.
Offering a unique insight into the tricks of the trade, Zara is only too happy to talk through the process – from buying chocolate nibs from cocoa growers overseas, to crafting it into the artisan delicacies on display.
Tempering, she says, is the key to being a fine chocolatier – this is the process of heating, then cooling the product to get the desired finish – the chocolate is then tested before being moulded and flavoured into the final product.
“It is a dream job,” Zara says. “I love working for myself and it is a nice medium to work with. I love creating things, coming up with different flavours, and then seeing people’s reactions and watching them enjoy our chocolates.”
Zara will be just one of more than 30 exhibitors at Taste Chocolate, a two-day festival taking place at the Bristol Harbour Hotel on April 15 and 16. For more information, visit www.tastechocolate.co.uk