Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 43 seconds
Everyone has a story. For beautiful handmade chocolates there’s no better place than the bilberry-coloured shop on Camden Passage. Meet the owner and super–creative artisanal chocolate maker, Paul A Young, who gave Londoners the salted caramel, award-winning brownies, intense dairy-free hot chocolate and also makes incredible-flavoured truffles. Interview by Nicola Baird
After 21 years in London Paul A Young may have a celebrity address book, but he still appreciates his far from starry North East childhood. Paul was born in County Durham, and spent his childhood in Barnsley. Over coffee at the Elk in the Woods Paul A Young – his shops in Camden Passage, Royal Exchange and Soho’s Wardour Street share his name – reveals the many joys of being in the chocolate business.
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For starters Islington Faces is delighted to hear a slim, healthy looking Paul say: “Yes, I eat chocolate every day.” Tasting is part of a chocolatier’s job he insists, so, “There’s a lot of product development. But I don’t eat kilos, it’s definite moderation and I do enjoy it, especially fine quality.”
Paul trained as a chef working at The Criterion, in St James’, and then spent six years as head pastry chef at Quo Vadis in Soho. “It was an amazing experience and severe graft. We worked furiously hard,” remembers Paul. Of course he still does, but creating artisan chocolates has far more sociable hours. And now Paul’s the boss, employing 30 staff.
“I’m really passionate about training people,“ says Paul, 43, who is a self-taught chocolatier but added to his business knowledge working as a buyer for handmade food products sold by M&S and then Sainsbury’s.
While Paul was the head chef at a culinary school in Sussex he says he began “playing which chocolate”. And it might have stopped there if Chantal Cody from Rococo – the Chelsea chocolatier – hadn’t asked Paul if he’d make a cake for her window to celebrate chocolate week (if you want to make sure you’ve got the 2017 event in your diary, it’s 9-15 October). https://www.chocolateweek.co.uk/ Paul then made two batches of fresh chocolates laced with Taylors Port. Unsurprisingly they sold out and from then on Paul was drawn into the chocolate business.
It took a while before Paul and his business partner found a suitable site. But they’ve now been in Islington for over a decade. “There is such a mix of people here. I’ll see kids who save their pocket money for a chocolate; lots of people who work locally come in – we still have customers who came in on our first day and are still coming in 11 years later. We did have a lot of US and Japanese tourists, but that’s died off.”
Places Paul A Young likes in Islington
“Camden Passage: it’s the first place I opened my business. I opened my first shop here – a place that needs to stay eclectic, with a lot of history. It’s a unique bit of London.”
“The Charles Lamb, 16 Elia Street, N1 is a good pub where I take my dog – a mini daschound called Billington (Paul is a UK sugar ambassador for Billington’s). He doesn’t come to work because chocolate is incredibly bad for dogs, it kills them.”
“Rok on 149 Upper Street has a Scandanavian feel with foraged ingredients and easy creative food. It’s where the Gill Wing chocolate shop used to be, very small, so perhaps lots of people walk past it, but it’s good to have places no one else knows!”
“I have regular canal boat holidays and love the canal at Angel. I sometimes walk Billington here in the summer, but I also really love that time around Christmas and New Year when it’s really desolate.”
“The Elk in the Woods is the first place I ever ate in Camden Passage. I viewed my shop and then came here. It’s a mainstay and the food is consistently great. We have a lot of business meetings here too.” 37-39 Camden Passage, N1
Handmade chocolate shops can be very imposing places. But Paul is determined that his are easy places to visit. “You can just buy one chocolate: we have no problem with that,” he says. “We’re a local store and friendly. It’s not about the amount people spend, it’s about having an experience.”
Part of that experience is enjoying – and using – other shops in Camden Passage. It’s clear that Paul considers Camden Passage as the jewel in Islington’s shopping crown. “It’s important to keep Camden Passage alive, especially after the December floods,” he adds.
“We were so lucky on this side to miss the floods. We’ve been here 11 years, the Breakfast Club 10 years and the silver shop around 20 years but to keep the artisan feel the mix of shops needs to stay creative. All the shop owners care so much about the passage – it would be nice to be consulted when a shop closes and another business moves in,” says Paul adding darkly that he hasn’t seen his landlord for eight years.
With rates about to face another hike, it is no surprise that the independent shop owners, like Paul, are bitter about Islington’s high rent and rates combination. Surprisingly Camden Passage does not have a champion. This means that every one of those unique shops that make the street so special have to negotiate with landlords on their own. If only we could give our creatives, antique sellers and craftspeople bigger support – not just by buying their stock but also empowering them to keep the eclectic mix in Camden Passage. As for Paul, the shop he’d really like to see open in the little cobbled street is a baker. Clearly he doesn’t realise that the potent smells of newly baking bread and freshly made chocolate might be too much temptation for anyone. But then, that’s the point of good chocolate – it’s a delectable treat your senses thank you for.
- Find Paul A Young’s shops, courses and a list of some of his delicious truffle combinations on the website, here http://www.paulayoung.co.uk/
- Paul A Young’s shop at 33 Camden Passage is open seven days a week from 10am-6.30pm except Friday 10am-7pm and Sunday 10am-6pm
- Paul has written three books about chocolate including the award-winning Adventures with Chocolate (2009), How to make Chocolates (Lakeland, 2016) and Sensational Chocolates (60 recipes from celebs such as Emma Thompson, Darcey Bussell to raise funds for the Children’s Air Ambulance, a charity which has Paul as their ambassador
- Follow him on twitter @paul_a_young
Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com.