Deborah Nash speaks to Walthamstow chocolatier Samantha Ward
As I stepped over the blue-tiled floor of Samantha Ward’s chocolate shop on Walthamstow’s Hoe Street I was reminded of a scene from a film.
The glass dishes filled with dome-shaped chocolates, hand-painted in vivid ruby reds, splashes of pink and deep orange, all in perfect rows, made me think of the ‘Nipples of Venus’ that appear in Amadeus, which Salieri uses to tempt Mozart’s wife.
“I’m so proud of my babies!” says Samantha, holding out the dish of pick-your-own to tempt me.
Naturally conservative, I plump for the almond and walnut praline in dark chocolate. My fingers slip picking it up as it’s like a very gorgeous flat-bottomed marble. I pop it into my mouth and find it tastes as gorgeous as it looks; finely ground nuts spread consistently throughout, darkly delicious. I start choosing dozens more in my head; there’s the Evie fig liqueur, the ‘New Black Orange’; meanwhile Samantha tells me how it all started.
“I studied patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu [in London] which covers pastries and creams and chocolate and sugar.” The words roll out like treats. “Afterwards, I had to get a job, but obviously we all want to work for ourselves, so I had to think of what I could do. With chocolate, you can paint them and package them, and there’s a lot of beauty that goes into this one tiny thing.”
Back to the pick-your-own range, I ask which of these beauties are the stars. “The two most popular are the ‘Cuban Dark Mojito’ [dark chocolate, rum, mint and lime] and the other is the ‘Push
It’.” At this point, Samantha starts singing something about ‘pushing it’ in a lullaby voice. “Which is dark chocolate, caramel, smoked Maldon sea salt, and black pepper. Sounds crazy, but it’s really good!”
The shop has been going three years and the chocolates are made on the premises, in a bowl, with a spatula and some moulds. “I don’t want to be stocked in Tesco and I don’t want a string of shops either. I’m a real maker, and kinda homey. Everything I do is totally small batch.”
The ‘fishes’ in gold foil are especially appealing to young eaters. “Everyone likes a chocolate fish, but these are very chunky and when children unwrap them, they cry: ‘It’s a fish, it’s a fish!’”
I ask Samantha to tell me something I didn’t already know about chocolate. She pauses and then says: “Chocolate will set to any shape. If you scrunched up silver foil and poured chocolate all over it and let it set it would be a perfect replica of the foil and look like coral from under the sea. You can carve and sculpt with chocolate. There’s a guy who makes larger-than-life-size gorillas using massive amounts of chocolate.”
I’ve heard that top chefs at Michelin-starred restaurants will just eat beans on toast when they get home at night, so I wonder if Samantha ever eats any of her own chocolate. “Just the left-overs in the piping bags. If you’ve got a bit of ganache or fig liqueur you can’t throw that in the bin, can you? You’ve just got to pipe a little of that into your mouth!
“Maybe I should make something from the left-over ganache? I could set it in layers and cut through it and then sell it in little bags to crumble over ice cream – you’d never know what you might be getting.”
And there we have Samantha’s philosophy: the infinite possibilities of chocolate.