Pastry chef turned New Forest chocolatier Kerry Witt
PUBLISHED: 15:16 20 April 2017 | UPDATED: 15:16 20 April 2017
When it comes to dream jobs, Kerry Witt has hit the naughty but nice jackpot. The pastry chef turned New Forest chocolatier spills the (cacao) beans on her confections to Faith Eckersall
Kerry Witt believes that chocolate is for life, not just for Easter.
“It’s more like having a glass of wine after dark, a treat you should have little and often, like a nice whiskey,” she says. A drink, incidentally, which she insists should always be accompanied by: ‘A really lovely chocolate.’
Of course a woman who spends virtually every waking hour melting, stirring, blending and infusing mankind’s favourite food with an array of exquisite flavours would say this.
But who can argue with the idea of the Miss Witt Lavender and White chocolate bar which so charmed the judges in the Product of the Year category at the Hampshire Life Food and Drink Awards last year?
Talk to Miss Witt and you are whisked away to a heavenly world of Earl Grey ganache, espresso, Cornish sea-salted caramel, blackcurrant and star anise, and mulberry distillate (being used in her latest collaboration, with Bournemouth-based Pothecary Gin).
There’s more than a whiff of the alchemist about her which, she says, goes right back to when she was aged three and carefully standing on the stool in her mother’s New Milton kitchen, as she made fairy cakes. “I added chocolate drops to make them into polka dot cakes and I can remember being fascinated with the bite you got from it; the softness of the sponge and the sudden crunch,” she says. “Even then there was this texture and taste thing going on.”
After gaining NVQ Levels I and II in hospitality and catering at Brockenhurst College (“I could never wait to get back into the kitchen”) plus the Student of the Year title for Patisserie at Southampton City College, she became pastry chef at Brockenhurst’s Michelin-starred restaurant Le Poussin. She then moved to London to do the same job at the Bluebird in Chelsea.
“Pastry is basically chemistry; you change the way things are with heat and other techniques and the addition of ingredients,” she says. When a friend challenged her to make ‘proper chocolates’ in 2012; “She said the New Forest really needed its own chocolatier,” Kerry had her light-bulb moment and Chocolate by Miss Witt was born.
“Making beautiful things to eat is my true love,” she says. “And I realised that no one would be making chocolates like I do.”
She was right. Because almost no one – until very recently – has ever thought you could successfully make chocolate with water. “Water gives a purity of flavour, whereas cream can dilute that,” she explains. “It’s like the difference between ice cream and sorbet; mango ice cream is really rich and fruity and it is beautiful, but if you have a mango sorbet which has got the pure, intense flavour, it’s completely different.”
All her pastry chef skills came into play as she played around with her ‘couvertures’ – coating chocolate that contains a high percentage of cocoa butter – and Hampshire’s own Hildon Water because, says Kerry, ‘chocolate and water don’t mix well.’
It took her three months but she cracked it, and now uses her special ganache recipe in a number of delicious confections, including Earl Grey ganache made with white chocolate, and her caramel dark chocolate, which won the Bronze Award from the Academy of Chocolate in 2015 and is her best-seller.
Other flavours followed, including chocolates flavoured with bitter Seville marmalade and rose jam, made from real roses supplied by close friend and working neighbour, New Forest-based Naked Jam.
“Our units are on a little site near Lymington with views over the countyside and when we’re both making products the smell is amazing,” says Kerry.
She buys her cocoa beans for a fair price directly from farmers from a variety of regions, including areas of South America. “People don’t seem to know this but cacao plants are like vines – the taste of the beans from their pods varies with the terroir, the land on which they are grown,” she says.
Kerry uses her knowledge of this to decide which bean, and from where, would be best in each of her recipes. She now makes for a string of New Forest and Hampshire hotels and restaurants and is eagerly collaborating with Pothecary Gin to use their individual distillates in a range of chocolate for them.
She’s also working with The Coffee Mongers, artisan coffee merchants in Lymington, backing her own hunch that high-quality coffee is going to be the next big thing and developing an espresso chocolate.
“A few years ago I wondered about creating a tobacco-flavoured chocolate, but worried about the PC issues,” she says, “Then I heard recently that another company are bringing out a ‘cigar chocolate’ so maybe I should have rolled with my hunch over that one!”
Like all chocolatiers, Kerry’s product is more expensive than the bars we buy from the petrol station. But that stuff, in her opinion, shouldn’t be called chocolate but candy, because of its vegetable fat and sugar content. After sampling a few of hers, containing blackcurrant and star anise, bitter orange and the magical rose jam, they bear as much resemblance to mass-produced chocolate as a giraffe does to a cat. “Everything about my work is pure, with a clarity of flavour,” she says, which is why she was delighted to be nominated for the Hampshire Life Award.
“It’s important to spread the word about good quality, locally-produced food. My ambition is to get more people buying and eating the type of chocolate I create. Once they taste it, they know there is a difference.”
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