Barry Colenso – Master Chocolatier
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 April 2020
In a career that has spanned over 40 years – including Head of Patisserie at a top London hotel, Master Chocolatier at Thorntons and making cakes for royalty – Barry Colenso is an expert on all things chocolate.
It all began when he left school and enrolled on a general catering course at college, becoming particularly interested in the pastry side. He says, ‘I’m creative and am always looking at things in a slightly different way, thinking how I can recreate them in chocolate. I was subconsciously drawn to the patisserie side – the most creative side of the kitchen.’ Barry moved to London where he developed his skills at a patisserie kitchen, before working at several five star hotels. He then landed a job at The Savoy Hotel where, at the age of just 27, he became Head of Patisserie. Whilst there, Barry created and presented the Queen Mother with a chocolate cake to mark her 85th birthday and created a chocolate cake for HM The Queen.
Barry’s reputation for working with chocolate did not go unnoticed and he was approached by Thorntons to become its Master Chocolatier, a career move that brought Barry and his family to Derbyshire where they settled in Holbrook. He worked for Thorntons for 22 years and since 2008 has run his own chocolate consultancy business as well as producing his own range of chocolates – mainly truffles made with fresh cream and single origin chocolate.
It’s a small-scale operation as every chocolate is handmade by Barry. For Easter, he’ll create just a limited number of hand-decorated chocolate eggs that come with buttons. The eggs are made with Luker Chocolate from Columbia. Barry says, ‘Top quality chocolate is quite hard to find. When I tried this I was really impressed by the taste. I also liked their story and was impressed by their ethical stance.’ Luker produce their chocolate in the country where the cocoa is grown and work closely with farmers, describing their chocolate as ‘a tool for change’.
Each Easter egg is formed using a traditional-style mould. Barry pours liquid chocolate into one half, places the empty second half on top, then spins it around for a couple of minutes before the chocolate begins to set. After half an hour he removes the now solid chocolate before decorating each one. His wife Lucy then wraps them all by hand before adding a ribbon to give a final flourish.
The most important part of chocolate making however is tempering. Barry says, ‘To guarantee chocolate is perfect every time, you need to temper it. It’s about creating the correct crystal structure within the chocolate and is absolutely critical if the chocolate is to look shiny and have a nice snap when you break it.’ Tempering involves melting the chocolate to 45˚C, cooling it down to 28˚C then warming it back up to 29˚C, which Barry does in a microwave. He adds, ‘As long as you don’t burn the chocolate you can melt it down and start all over again if it goes wrong!’
Barry Colenso Chocolates are stocked in Libby’s in Chesterfield but most are sold directly to customers through corporate events or commissions. Barry also creates bespoke chocolate sculptures, which often involve hours of planning, designing and making. His most high profile commission came in 2011 when he helped to design and make the royal wedding cake for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Working with McVities Cake Company, the chocolate biscuit cake was made from 12 kilograms of chocolate and 1,700 McVities Rich Tea Biscuits and included intricately handmade white chocolate leaves, fronds and flowers, which took Barry over 37 hours to create.
Much of Barry’s work today is consultancy – both at home and abroad. From small artisan businesses to multinational companies, Barry can be commissioned for everything from creating new chocolates, improving existing products, or advising on breaking into new markets and taking manufacturing to other parts of the world. He is also inspiring individuals through one-day chocolate making workshops. Whether it’s aspiring chocolatiers or simply individuals with an interest in chocolate, they learn not only how to make chocolates but about the raw ingredients. Three participants have even gone on to set up their own chocolate businesses. Barry says, ‘I like to help people. I’ve had a good career and want to give a bit back.’
When he’s not working with chocolate Barry is a keen fan of Burnley Football Club and also enjoys gardening which, just like chocolate making, he finds creative and challenging. He also visits the gym twice a day, training in the morning and swimming in the evening, but never stops thinking about work. He says, ‘Sometimes the answer to something I’m working on comes straight away or I might be on my 30th length and get a eureka moment.’ He adds, ‘I enjoy work – why wouldn’t you be interested in working with chocolate?!’