I am obsessed with food. It's practically all I think about. And I do eat chocolate every day. I could count the number of days I haven't eaten chocolate in the past eight years on two hands.
As well as running Chocolate Ecstasy Tours, I am currently consulting for various small and large businesses on cost analysis and strategy, taste analysis and recipe development. I'm also continuing to write reviews and hatching plans for future projects.
Born in England into a family of chocoholics, I was raised mostly in the Australian countryside, miles from any shops. This meant that if I wanted anything sweet to eat I had to bake it myself, or sneak an extra mini Cadbury Dairy Milk or Twix that made it into my school lunch every day. I'm sure we always had snack-size chocolate treats for school because it gave my mum a legitimate excuse to buy them. I definitely wasn't the only one sneaking into the cupboard!
The only way my parents could get me to drink milk (which they believed essential for calcium) was to add chocolate to it. I started every single day with a hot chocolate, and came home to Milo after school. Mostly that was a mug half-full of Milo, stirred with a tablespoon or so of milk. If you left it for twenty minutes it became like a malted chocolate mousse.
I decided I wanted to become a vegetarian not long after I turned eight. This was primarily because we only ever had poor-quality meat at home back then (sorry, mum) and because of a particularly disturbing incident with roast chicken and a blood clot at a friend's house. After hiding meat up my sleeve for six months and feeding it to the dog after each meal, I was finally allowed to stop eating meat on two conditions: one, that I went to see a dietician every three months to make sure I wasn't malnourished (I was already a tiny child) and two, that I cook my own meals. And so began my fascination with nutrition and cooking, as well as baking. I was never as popular again with the dog though.
Aged fourteen, on a school trip to "the city", I encountered Lindt chocolate for the first time and I was completely enamoured with its texture and taste. My meagre pocket money didn't buy enough so I started selling my baking and organising cinema trips to further fund the chocolate, and to save for future travels. I also raised quite a lot of money for famine projects.
I studied Business, Spanish and Psychology at the University of Melbourne (B.Comm./B.A.) and then left to explore the world, starting with the US in a sales role that took me to six states, eating a lot of burgers and burritos along the way. After passing through Asia and Europe I finally decided to settle back in England. My passion for food and flavour had been further fuelled by experiencing so many different cultures. In London I found such a melting pot of cuisines - and an easy port to get to many other places - that it felt like the perfect place to call home. I explored it with the same tourist's enthusiasm that I did every other town I'd passed through and discovered (and am still discovering) countless incredible food experiences.
In December 2004 I tasted La Maison du Chocolat's Quito ganache for the first time, and had a flashback to the first time I tasted Lindt chocolate, though this was so much better. This haughty-looking European boutique was well worth the intimidation to enter. When I realised other people might feel the same nervousness, as well as the same ignorance of the existence of such incredible chocolate, I decided, at 23, this was a perfect opportunity to fulfil my dream of starting a business. I figured that even if it never made a profit it would be a great excuse to walk around this beautiful city, meet new people and eat chocolate. I also thought I would probably learn a lot. I certainly did. It was a lot tougher than I first imagined it would be, but, more than eight years on, Chocolate Ecstasy Tours now offers four different chocolate tours around London and they run 3-4 times a week. Plus, I still love showing people around London. I get to meet wonderful, fascinating people, and I eat more amazing chocolate on a daily basis than I ever did. This is a very good thing, in case it wasn't clear.
As well as leading me to meet some of my now closest friends, I am sure the tours' existence played a part in me getting a full-time job in the food industry, first as a Food Buyer at Marks and Spencer and then as a Product Developer at McDonald's, where I worked in the mainstream end of the chocolate scale, with everyday brands that I grew up with, Cadbury, Nestle, Mars and more. I'm sure all of this also helped in being recruited as a freelance reviewer for the online restaurant review site, ilovemygrub.com in 2006. By this point I had long since given up on complete vegetarianism, realising I was missing far too many food experiences by forgoing this category entirely. Then the ultimate job offer came at the end of last year: to write the British version of Great Cake Places London. Eat cake, write about it and get paid? Alright then! This one is currently on hiatus but you can see the progress we made on the website: www.greatcakeplaces.com.
Every moment in the day (and night) I am either eating, cooking, reading about or thinking about food. When I'm not consulting or guiding chocolate tours, I spend my weekends and holidays at food fairs or travelling to cities to look at chocolate shops and to eat at interesting restaurants, or adventuring to far-flung places to look at cocoa plantations. All of my notes and pictures finally have a home at worldchocolateguide.com that I set up with Dom Ramsey of Chocablog.com in October 2010. There are over 600 shops mapped there so far. I haven't been to all of them yet, or even finished adding my comments and photographs to the ones I have visited, but we will keep chipping away.
I am honoured to be on the Grand Jury of the International Chocolate Awards as well as a technical judge at the Academy of Chocolate Awards and one of Cocoa Runners two official tasters. I've also helped out Which? magazine and the FT in judging chocolate products.
If you want to know more about my past, current and future projects, it's all on this link. If you would like to get in touch please do so, all of my contact details are here. To return to the homepage click here.
Thanks for reading!
Copyright 2011 Jennifer Earle