Award-winning Suffolk chef launches gourmet chocolate business
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
It’s safe to say the last two years have shaken up the food and drink industry dramatically. Some chefs have left the business. Restaurants have closed. New restaurants have opened in their place. And a whole raft of new enterprises have been launched by kitchen and front of house staff who found themselves suddenly rudderless in a lockdown world.
For Simon Woodrow from Diss, who’s just launched Wood Row Chocolate with partner Jessie Forbes, 2020 and 2021 were a wake-up call.
Simon had been leading the kitchen team at the multi award-winning Leaping Hare at Stanton, having worked at the vineyard’s eatery for almost 20 years, rising through the ranks from pot washer to head chef.
Jessie also had 16 years under her belt at Wyken.
“We’re part of the furniture,” jokes Simon who says after the first lockdown he went back to work and thought everything would be fine. But there were more restrictions to follow and, sadly, family members were lost.
“It made me re-evaluate my priorities,” Simon says. “I’d sacrificed a lot of time in the kitchen when I could have been spending it with my family. I was keen to get away from that.”
Not one to sit on his hands, Simon started to experiment in his home kitchen, and discovered a love for chocolate making.
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“It’s something I’d always wanted to try. I always wondered how chocolatiers got such exquisite designs onto bon bons. Being in lockdown though, I had no one to ask. I trawled the internet for answers and got stuck in. It [chocolate making] just appealed to me more and more as I went on and I found it really relaxing. A cathartic process from start to finish.”
Although there were, admittedly, a few disasters along the way, Simon was happy enough with the end results this year that he and Jessie decided to launch their own artisan chocolate business, building a dedicated chocolate kitchen at their home, and signing up to sell at Wyken Farmers’ Market on the first and fourth weekend of every month. Boxes are also released on his Instagram account Wood_Row_Chocolate for local delivery. And you can order by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Their first market didn’t quite go to plan. “It was terrible weather – usually the market’s heaving, but I think everyone decided to stay at home,” Simon reflects, adding they still managed to sell plenty of confections, including specials of dulce de leche miso brownies, filled chocolate bars and dark chocolate slabs.
At the heart of Wood Row Chocolate though are glossy, beautifully decorated bon bons, made with Callebaut and Cacao Barry chocolate, and high-quality fillings drawing on the chef’s expertise.
“I committed to buying the best ingredients from day one,” says Simon. “It’s all about making something truly delicious people will enjoy. I always worked that way in restaurants too. If you’re going to make something, make it the best it can be.”
The first chocolate Simon was happy with was his triple layer passionfruit cheesecake, and a variation on this will always be available from Wood Row. “It introduced me to what was possible, and how many flavours you could get into a chocolate. I add a passionfruit pate de fruit, a cream cheese and vanilla ganache, and a cookie base made with biscuits blitzed to a powder with chocolate and cocoa butter for a bit of crunch.
“And the passionfruit and mango marshmallow filling was an interesting one. I had to learn to make marshmallow without egg white to help with shelf life, and it was paired with a passion fruit and mango ganache.”
The rest of the menu reads like a dessert lover’s dream. Dulce de leche swirled with espresso. Blood orange cheesecake. Crunchy cocoa nibs with hazelnut gianduja. Baked apple pie (baked apple pate de fruit with honey and cinnamon ganache). And another which took Simon by surprise.
“It’s apricot pate de fruit with a layer of pistachio and crispy cacao and honey with cinnamon ganache on top. The taste is almost like a baklava. I thought it would be unusual, but it just works.”
While Simon fashions the chocolates, the business has also allowed Jessie to showcase her creative side. "She's very arty," Simon says. "For example she designed our logo and even pyrographed it into our wooden displays and boards. It looks great."
You can find Wood Row Chocolate at Wyken Farmers’ Market on March 26.
For now, the couple, say Simon, are keeping the business small and simple, to ensure excellence in everything they do. “We want it to be humble. We’re not looking to change the world. It’s just a great chance for us to do something creative. I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes us though.”