What Makes an Exceptional Artisan?

I’ve been rolling an idea across my mind over the past few days, ever since I conducted a small interview with Paul A. Young, a rather famous British chocolatier (or infamous, for those of you who’ve had his Marmite chocolate truffle). Sometimes interviews go exactly as one would expect, where the interviewee says everything you’ve expected, and no new insight is learned.

I often take this as a failure on my part, as a good interviewer will find the question, or an approach to asking questions, that allows the subject to feel at ease and open up. It is at this point new information is uncovered.

Talking with food producers, it’s rare to get an insight that is new or different. They’ll either boast about their innovations, their bottom lines, or the quality of their food. Mr. Young was quite different, and in the midst of the interview I realized that he was not being interviewed. What he was doing was teaching – teaching me, as a matter of fact.

His lesson was simple. When it comes to chocolate, less is more and simple is better.

As I sit here, several days later, looking at the ingredient list of his 66% Caraibe bar, I find that there are only five ingredients listed – cocoa beans, cocoa butter, sugar, soya lecithin, and vanilla.

For a point of reference, Hershey’s Dark Chocolate ingredient list reads as such: Sugar, Cocoa Mass, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa processed with Alkali, milk fat, lactose, soya lecithin, e322 and polyglycerol polyricinoleate, E478, vanillin, artificial flavors, milk.

The result of Paul’s effort is a chocolate which is more “succinct”, for lack of a better term. The flavors of the chocolate are far more apparent, and play the role of a soloist, rather than part of the chorus as found in the Hershey bar.

Honestly, I could sit here all day and talk about his chocolate’s, but there’s a specific point I want to make here that has only a tangential relationship to chocolate.

There is a difference between a good artisan and a great one. Both produce good food. But the great artisans out there advocate for their wares. They take the time, not to promote, but rather to teach the general populace, about their creations and what makes them better than what the food industries are providing.

By that measure, Paul Young is more than an advocate. He is as close to a preacher as food producers can get. And after tasting his wares, I can say that I am a convert.