Interview with Pam Williams, Ecole Chocolat Founder, and Lead Instructor by Victoria Cooksey

Note:  This interview first appeared on 11-4-16 on my original Blogspot site.

This week’s interview is with Pam Williams.  Pam is the founder of Ecole Chocolat, lead instructor, and co-author of Raising The Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. (Did I mention I got both my chocolate certifications from Ecole Chocolat?).

I want to thank Pam for taking time out of her busy work schedule to answer these questions.

Pam Williams, Ecole Chocolat Founder & Lead Instructor

Victoria Cooksey:  What originally influenced you towards fine chocolate making?

Pam Williams:  I was a baker starting in my teens and narrowed in on chocolate as my passion as it’s so creative and fun to work with – that happens with a lot of pastry chefs who become chocolatiers. 

VC:  What lead you to start Ecole Chocolat?.

PW:  I got so many questions from people wanting to know how to become a chocolatier at a time when there were only two training facilities that focused on chocolate: ZDS in Germany and Richards Researches in California. And both taught commercial/large factory techniques for the employees of multi-store and multinational operations, not the techniques and skills you need to be an independent chocolatier. As I was developing the program, the curriculum of that knowledge and skills grew so large that offering it online was the only affordable solution for our students. And I wanted to create an educational platform that would allow people to obtain that knowledge and learn those skills anywhere, anytime.     

VC:  When deciding on making a new flavored truffle, or chocolate bar, what exercises do you recommend chocolate makers follow for finding ingredients that match well to the chocolate being used?  

PW:  When deciding on making a new flavored truffle, or chocolate bar, what exercises do you recommend chocolate makers follow for finding ingredients that match well to the chocolate being used?  If you are committed to a specific chocolate for the product, we have an exercise in the Professional Chocolatier Program that we borrowed from award-winning Pastry Chef Philippe Conticini. Basically you make ganache using that chocolate and your favorite recipe, and then measure it carefully by weight into small quantities that you flavor with your ingredient in different concentrations. During the tasting you can decide which ratio of ingredient to chocolate gives you the flavor profile you are seeking. This gets everyone thinking and then each chocolatier develops their own way of doing this as they get more and more experience with recipe development

 VC:  I often see recipes on shows, or in cookbooks, that call for melting chocolate for making decorations (like chocolate curls), or dipping items into it, but with no mention of tempering the melted chocolate first.  At what point does a home cook need to consider tempering chocolate versus simply melting it, and why?
 PW:  Ok we first have to assume that your question relates to a recipe that specifically calls for real chocolate instead of chocolate coating (which doesn’t have to be tempered). If the recipe calls for real chocolate then yes, you need to learn to temper the chocolate for the perfect result. We give you a more detailed explanation on our Up to Your Elbows in Chocolate page on our website. Semi-success in using un-tempered real chocolate depends how long the decoration is stored or placed before the product is consumed. If, for example, you are making curls for a cake you are eating that night or dipping strawberries you are storing in the refrigerator until serving, then if the curls or strawberries develop fat bloom over time, it won’t matter as they would have already been consumed.
 VC:  What are your thoughts on deodorized, versus, non-deodorized cacao butter being used in bars?  Do you prefer the texture of bars with, or without, additional cocoa butter added? 
 PW:  Personally I prefer a higher cocoa butter content in my chocolate for velvety mouthfeel, so the addition of cocoa butter is not something that bothers me. Also as fat in any food is the carrier of flavor, I tend to find those chocolates with a higher cocoa butter content have a richer finish. And sometimes that velvety mouthfeel doesn’t necessarily mean that more cocoa butter has been added to the chocolate. Some cocoa beans such as Marañón Chocolate’s cocoa beans from Peru naturally have a higher cocoa butter percentage.
 VC:  When chocolate bars are listed as being made from rarer cacao beans, such as Criollo, how true is that? Do you find that makers are having beans genetics checked?
 PW:  This is a very long answer that we address in our book Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate so I will try to sum it up in a short article answer. Transparency is hard to judge unless the maker has had the trees from which they get their beans tested for their DNA and confirms that on the label. My opinion is that our reliance on overall cacao type terms such as “Criollo” to denote fine flavor, are overused and not an indication of quality. There are some not so good flavored criollo beans out there. So these terms, while interesting, aren’t perfect indicators of quality or flavor.
 VC:  So many bars are being promoted, and labeled as “raw”.  Does raw chocolate really exist?  What should consumers really know when considering purchasing raw bars?
 PW:  Again, to give this issue its due requires a long answer as the term is used to denote many different things, not necessarily that the beans adhere to the general requirements of the raw movement. We go over this in more detail in the book. 

My position is that consumers should stay away from chocolate that is promoted as “raw”  i.e. not having been subjected to heat over 116 degrees Fahrenheit. Cocoa beans that haven’t been cleaned and debacterialized by the application of either heat or steam at 160+ degrees 
Fahrenheit can be dangerous from a health perspective as they could still contain microbes and bacteria such as salmonella or listeria, etc. There are so many “good for you” chocolate choices out there so staying away from raw won’t curtail your chocolate enjoyment.

VC:  With single-origin bars being so popular, what are your thoughts on bars of mixed beans/origins?

PW:  I like both and neither term denotes better quality and flavor than the other. Chocolate made with blended beans have a huge place in a chocolate makers, chocolatiers or pastry chefs chocolate arsenal as they provide a consistent flavor and workability. That consistency allows the maker to produce the same exact bar, bonbon, confection or dessert over and over again. Consumers love their favorite products and expect them to taste the same time after time.

 VC:  How can consumers improve their tasting palette in order to further appreciate, and pick out flavors in fine chocolate?
 PW:  Easy, by simply trying and tasting. Just like we develop a liking for a certain brand or type of coffee and wine, over time as we try and taste more and more fine chocolate products, we will pick out the ones whose flavor and texture we like the best.

VC:  When putting together Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate what message were you most hoping for readers to take away from the book?

 PW:  That if we are not careful, the biodiversity of cocoa trees will disappear – as happened to tomatoes and strawberries. In the future our chocolate could all be mediocre and taste exactly the same. Not a good future for us chocolate lovers.

The vast majority of cacao farmers live below the poverty line.
 If we want diversity in fine chocolate flavor, chocolate makers have to be willing to pay farmers a premium for good quality cocoa beans so that the farmers aren’t motivated to rip out their cacao trees to grow more lucrative crops such as rubber, palm or bananas. And in turn, consumers have to support the farmer by being willing to pay more for high quality fine chocolate from those good quality beans.

 VC:  What can consumers do to help ensure the survival of fine chocolate?

PW:  The only way to keep that from happening is to support the fine chocolate makers and chocolatiers by buying those products you adore.

VC:  With so many amazing up and coming chocolate makers to choose from what bars do you currently have in your private chocolate stash?
PW:  It depends on where I have traveled lately. Right now I have Manoa and Madre chocolate from Hawaii. Valrhona bars from France. Felchlin bars from Switzerland. Harper Macaw from DC and Dancing Lion from New Hampshire via FCIA meeting in NY in June.

To learn more about Ecole Chocolat visit:  

Raising the Bar:  The Future of Fine Chocolate:

Victoria Cooksey:  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.