“I count myself as one of the luckiest people around – to work every day in a business that lives by my obsessions for chocolate, true creativity and honest ingredients, and which also has a link back to my childhood in the West Indies through our cocoa estate in Saint Lucia”.
To say that Angus Thirlwell is passionate about chocolate would be an understatement because, as he willingly admits, it’s more of an obsession. Together with his business partner, Peter Harris, he founded Hotel Chocolat in 2004 with two specific aims – to make chocolate that really excites the senses and to make that chocolate widely available.
Angus religiously eats chocolate every day, tastes and approves every single recipe, and is as much at home in the development kitchen as he is in the boardroom or amongst the cocoa trees. It was a bold move to become a cocoa grower, a point underlined by the fact that Hotel Chocolat is one of very few to do it, but it was the natural progression of Angus’ passion for chocolate.
Fittingly, he was inspired to guide the company towards growing its own cocoa by one of his own customers, who sent him a book she had found while tidying her husband’s study. It was a 1920 edition of Cocoa & Chocolate, Their History from Plantation to Consumer. The history it told was of cocoa growing in the West Indies and it was particularly inspirational to Angus, having spent much of his childhood there. After an intensive search that took in several islands, Angus and Peter found The Rabot Estate in Saint Lucia, which they bought almost immediately in April 2006.
There, he has led the rejuvenation of the island’s oldest cocoa plantation, kick-starting a ‘cocoa renaissance’ on the island in the process, through the innovative Engaged Ethics Cocoa Programme. The rare Trinitario strains grown on Rabot Estate and by the Island Grower partners have already won several awards. The stunning setting of the plantation also inspired the opening of the boutique Boucan hotel and restaurant on the Estate, which fully opened in February 2012.
Set in the dramatic beauty of Hotel Chocolat’s own cocoa plantation in Saint Lucia, The Rabot Estate, the hotel has 14 stylish rooms for guests. With its stunning position 1,000 feet above the Caribbean Sea and with views of Saint Lucia’s iconic Piton Mountains, Hotel Chocolat’s aim is to create a place where luxury, wellbeing and style come together with, of course, cocoa and chocolate. Guests can stay in one of six luxury Lodges or one of the eight larger Luxe Lodges. They are all built in a blend of Hotel Chocolat’s contemporary style and traditional West Indian charm.
2012 was a big year for Hotel Chocolat, also marking a move into Europe with the opening of two stores in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, the launch of beauty range Cocoa Juvenate and the opening of Roast + Conch in London, an entirely new cocoa concept.
Roast + Conch meant that all three of Angus’ passions came together in a brand new concept in London’s Seven Dials district. Here Rabot Estate cocoa is freshly roasted every day for small batch chocolate making and new style cocoa drinks; ‘cacao cuisine’ dishes from Boucan are served; and Hotel Chocolat gifts and treats can also be found.
The brand new Cocoa Juvenate range of beauty products launched at the end of 2012. Developed at the spa of the same name at the company’s Boucan Hotel & Restaurant on Saint Lucia, the range makes full use of cocoa’s natural properties – being rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, with nourishing, softening and hydrating properties. And don’t expect these new products to smell of chocolate; they have been created to invigorate with a scent inspired by the refreshing, uplifting tang of a freshly cut cocoa pod.
As a cocoa grower and chocolate maker, Hotel Chocolat already has a deep understanding of the benefits of cocoa and latest step was a natural development.
Thirlwell said, “We know better than most about cocoa’s natural goodness and mood-lifting properties. At our hotel spa we began to create treatments from the cocoa growing all around to take full advantage of those properties, with great success. Creating this range felt like a very natural progression for us. So now you’ll understand if we no longer reserve all of our cocoa for chocolate – we like the idea that it can provide happiness on the outside as well as on the inside.”
From growing fine cocoa in Saint Lucia, to the exciting chocolate and beauty products available in UK and European stores, nine years on it’s clear that Angus’ passion is as strong as ever and that he’s on a mission to let the world know that British chocolate is once again a force to be reckoned with.