Q&A

CREATIVE CONVERSATIONS: Sophie Jewett, managing director, York Cocoa House

By Anthony Myers contact

- Last updated on GMT

CREATIVE CONVERSATIONS: Sophie Jewett, managing director, York Cocoa House

Related tags: Creative Conversations, Cocoa

Sophie Jewett lives and breathes chocolate. From starting out by making chocolate in her kitchen 10 years ago to opening the York Cocoa House, then York Cocoa Works, she is continuing the city’s rich tradition of cocoa manufacturing and keeping it at the forefront of innovation, research & design.

Name:​  Sophie Jewett

Job title:​ Managing Director

Company:​ York Cocoa House

Website:www.yorkcocoahouse.co.uk

Twitter url:@yorkcocoahouse@yorkcocoaworks@sophiechoclady

Linkedin url:sophiejewett

Tell us about your job/company/role?

I am founder and now Managing director of York Cocoa House Ltd. We started with the original York Cocoa House in 2011 and over the last four years have been developing and building our own chocolate manufacturing, visitor and educational facility the York Cocoa Works, which we opened in 2018. As well as leading the team, my role is focused on the R&D side of cocoa and the chocolate making process, working with our clients to develop recipes and applications with a range of cocoa and chocolate making ingredients for different markets and requirements.

What drew you to working in the confectionery industry? (Apart from the free chocolate!)

I fell in love with chocolate from a very young age. I was fascinated by its history, its impact and the wider chocolate making process as well as working with it to create beautiful, decadent desserts, cakes and flavours. Studying and working in York, my career developed working with fine food and community engagement, when I first moved there the whole city would smell of sugar from the sugar beet refinery or chocolate from the large factories, everyone you would meet would have a fantastical story to share about their experiences working at Cravens, Rowntree's or Terry's. I would keep asking why York didn't celebrate the amazing chocolate and confectionery history and skills, when no one could answer those questions I started to imagine what it could look like if we created a business in celebration of the chocolate I loved and the history and heritage of the city. I started from my own kitchen over 10 years ago, wanting to learn how chocolate was made and things kind of ran away with themselves from there.

The York Cocoa Works has been many years in the dreaming, planning and building, it has only been possible through the support and hard work of so many people who have shared and learned with us

What do you love most about your job?

Sharing the chocolate making journey with our visitors is the most rewarding part. Today we welcomed over 60 school children to visit the manufactory to learn how chocolate is made and to create their own. Seeing how open their minds and tastebuds are to exploring new flavours and ideas is really inspiring, they always have such amazing ideas and imagination for how things could be made. From school groups, to work experience to local colleges, it’s been really rewarding to connect with fantastic young people who are embracing the first stages of their careers and their work experiences.

What do you dislike most about your job?

There are not enough hours in the day to dedicate to every area I would like to. The thing I have grasped about chocolate is that every stage of the process is the most important stage, from farming to fermentation, drying, sourcing, roasting, refining, conching, tempering and packaging - to have oversight and dedication to the whole process requires an obsessive mind-set, while I am fascinated by the whole process and the minute detail, I would love to just disappear into the factory and just focus on the chocolate, but with a business to run that's an indulgence that can't always be afforded. I'm lucky that we have a great team though, we have worked together to learn together and keep making progress.

What is your biggest creative achievement so far?

The York Cocoa Works has been many years in the dreaming, planning and building, it has only been possible through the support and hard work of so many people who have shared and learned with us. Raising the finance while running and growing the business and designing and building the facility simultaneously over the last three  years was definitely the biggest challenge so far, so when we made our first hot chocolate using the first batch from the system there was an enormous relief that it tasted as good as it did.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

It feels like we've gone through our own big upheaval just as the industry is going through its own. My fascination is with lots of interesting and exciting ingredients that enable us to see and understand the potential of chocolate production and applications, using plants differently, understanding sugar and sweetness more creatively and re-imaging how we can enjoy and use chocolate and the production process. Meanwhile, on the other side of the production process, the opportunity to understand cocoa its qualities and ability to capture dynamic flavour experiences is a fascinating side of the sector that is relatively unknown. It's clear when you delve into the history of cocoa and the science behind the process that there's so much more to it for our health and social impacts than how we have conventionally treated it over the last 150 years. The more I learn the more fascinated and in awe of cocoa and the chocolate we now make - I don't think I will ever be bored of discovering more about its use and potential. I am sure in five years I will certainly still be learning about cocoa and hopefully have been able to contribute some wider benefits to its production and our perception of it.

Describe a typical work day

I don't think I ever have a typical work day, I'm mostly confined to our development facility where I can play with recipes and techniques rather than interfere with the main production in the manufactory. My main role is in working with our clients to understand and translate their requirements for the production team so my time is often split between working with clients, studying our latest production data and working with our production and sales teams. The Cocoa Works has an open cafe and retail space and we host workshops and manufactory tours daily so there is always an element of engagement with our regulars, school groups and visitors, which is always a special part of the day. It's great to have direct relationships, feedback and discussions with our customers and to share the findings of our latest creations, it can be challenging when you're on a deadline, but it also reminds us that ultimately it’s the customers opinion that matters. When we first opened the Cocoa House I would try and make chocolate during the day, but I'd get so many interruptions every time I'd have a perfectly bowl of tempered chocolate I'd get called away and come back to a solid bowl of chocolate with the spoon buried inside! So I would instead work in the shop during the day and come back to make chocolate at night. Thankfully things have moved forward from there but I still enjoy being able to come in at night and crack on with my own recipes and production without the interruptions every so often.

What do you do enjoy doing outside of work?

I've never seen chocolate and what I do as work, it’s my area of interest that I feel so fortunate every day to be able to spend my life doing something that I love as much as I do. There are certainly sides to it such as the social history, scientific exploration and a love of food culture that are more of my general interests that I get to indulge in every so often through travel, research and reading. 

What do you think will be the next big thing in the confectionery world?

I think the chocolate and confectionery sector has an interesting role to play in the debate and progress around public health, be it with fat content, sugar content or exploring the wider health impacts that can be delivered through these techniques. When we strip the processes back to their essential components there are so many ways we can understand confectionery and chocolate differently, there's a lot more potential for these processes to contribute wider benefits than they are currently doing.

Apple or Android?

Apple

What is your favourite book or podcast?

The WKND Chocolate Podcast by Lauren Heineck​ - Lauren interviews a fantastic array of women in the cocoa and chocolate sector that are focusing on innovation, she's also brought a great community of chocolate makers and cocoa growers together with the platform Well Tempered – it’s a great source of support, information and inspiration.  

Where do you stand on social media – can’t live without it, or an evil necessity?

Both! It's such an invaluable, accessible and free tool but can so easily drain time away.

If you could change one thing in the confectionery industry, what would it be?

That we could spend time seeing, valuing and sharing the full spectrum of the supply chain and production process more. While competition is healthy I don't feel it’s leading to progress in addressing innovation or concerns around farming, sourcing, processing or consumer health, I feel there's a lot more that could be achieved with more collaboration and co-operation.

What’s the biggest misconception about working in confectionery?

The question I always get asked is "do I ever get sick of chocolate?" I certainly don't eat it in the way I used to, but it's not like we go around all day licking our fingers.

What advice would you give to other people looking to get into the confectionery industry?

Remember to be inquisitive, learn by doing and don't be afraid to be creative and make mistakes, you will never fully know everything. It either makes it impossible to work with or just part of the wonder, you'll need to get used to there always being something more to learn.

Time’s up! Thanks Sophie

  • CREATIVE CONVERSATIONS is Confectionery News’s new online series profiling influential people working in the confectionery industry. We want to discover what makes you tick and to inspire others to follow your path.
  • Please contact CN editor Anthony Myers​ to put yourself or a colleague forward.

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