One of David Frear’s utterly incredible creations caught my eye on Instagram recently and I had to know more. How did he come up with something so fantastical as gravity defying chocolate drops from a wet walk in the woods?! His really is a life dedicated to chocolate!
DF: When I worked in restaurants I did enjoy it. I enjoyed the camaraderie of it, but I couldn’t be as creative as I wanted to. In any case, my love for food has always revolved around chocolate and working in restaurants doesn’t offer much opportunity to work with chocolate.
“There’s just something about chocolate. You can do whatever you want with it and it will always look extravagant even as a simple bar.”
SD: Why the fascination with chocolate?
DF: There’s just something about chocolate. You can do whatever you want with it and it will always look extravagant even as a simple bar. I love the flexibility of it – the seemingly endless shapes and colours you can create with it. You can buy all different colours of cocoa butter ready mixed or make it yourself with fat soluble butters. I paint every single shell by hand. First you have to polish the polycarbonate mould, then you paint it, then you pour the chocolate in and finally you make the shell. It needs to be really thin so that it cracks easily in the mouth. You can make the shells in white, milk, dark or ruby chocolate (from ruby cocoa beans). I like to work with ruby nowadays. It’s become more readily available and always adds an element of surprise.
SD: I saw that you are completely self-taught. What kinds of techniques did you have to learn and how did you start?
DF: Everything from tempering, moulding and filling to using different colours and tapping it out. I first got into chocolate when I came across the account Stick With Me Sweets (@swmsweets) on Instagram and couldn’t resist trying to create my own. That was a three years ago and I was 23. I was already working in restaurants, but I had to learn in my spare time. I built up a whole library of chocolate books and started to experiment.
SD: Your work is very artistic. How do you come up with the designs?
DF: I always like to push the boundaries and think outside the box. A recent Easter egg I created, for example, had a fried egg dripping down from the top of it. The one you picked out on Instagram was the rainforest drip. After a rainy walk in the woods, I wanted to try creating a rain effect. A lot of chocolate suppliers are very boring. I want to be as adventurous as possible.
SD: How do you achieve those spectacular upwards drips?
DF: Well I have to turn it upside down while I’m making it. It’s not quite as simple as all that, but I wouldn’t want to give away all my secrets!
SD: Where do you start with a new idea – the taste or the design? How do you come up with the flavours?
DF: It always starts with a flavour. I might have some thick passion fruit puree that I’d like to make a passion fruit vongon with. I’d probably choose milk chocolate to pair it with so as not to hide the flavour and then I’d think about what else to combine it with. I like to have more than one flavour in every chocolate so that it isn’t too boring. Only after I’ve decided on the flavours do I think about the colours and the design. You can’t really start with the colours, because I could say I wanted to do something brown and that could be anything! Texture is another important factor. A ganache needs to be smooth with a nice mouthfeel, for example.
SD: Do you think the trend for gastro art gone too far?
DF: There’s definitely in argument for that. Sometimes people want to make something look good before they even think about how it tastes. I’ve seen chefs placing microherbs on a plate with tweezers and thinking that somehow makes it better than it is. But then there’s a big pressure from Instagram these days. Two weeks ago one of my posts got 1000 likes and now if I only get 100, I’m disappointed. It’s as if we are not only catering for the real diners, but for the virtual diners too. At the end of the day, though, the real diners are the ones paying for it and they get to taste it!
“…there’s a big pressure from Instagram these days. Two weeks ago one of my posts got 1000 likes and now if I only get 100, I’m disappointed. It’s as if we are not only catering for the real diners, but for the virtual diners too. At the end of the day, though, the real diners are the ones paying for it and they get to taste it!”
SD: Do you have a standard range as well as one-off chocolates?
DF: I have a range on my website, but I’m just redoing the whole thing. That range comes from two years ago when I started. I thought it was good then, but now I know a lot more, including practical things about shelf life and packaging. I also do seasonal collections for Christmas and Easter.
SD: Is it expensive setting up as a chocolatier?
DF: Yes! I have about twenty moulds or more and each one costs about £20. On top of that I have an air brush, not one of the super expensive ones, but a decent one. The chocolate itself isn’t cheap either. If I didn’t do all the events and classes alongside, I don’t think I’d be able to manage. You’ve really got to have a passion to do it.
SD: How do people find out about you?
DF: Mostly through Instagram. I really have to thank Instagram for my career so far and it’s still propelling it in the right direction. I haven’t advertised, but a number of opportunities have come from there: The London Kitchen Social, for example, a networking opportunity for chefs and producers organised by a food photographer, A Table Outside, a pop-up dining experience celebrating local produce, participation in the Woking Food Festival, and even the opportunity to teach at a college in America! The Head of the Patisserie Department got in touch with me after seeing my work on Instagram and invited me to fly over and teach some classes as part of the college. We did a macaroons demonstration together and he’s offered me the same job for next year too. We’re also planning a trip for him to come to the UK.
SD: How do you find your ingredients?
DF: My chocolate comes from South America. I use a supplier called Cacao Barry because they have a good range of chocolates from 29-100% cocoa and really know where their pods come from. They make a real effort to ensure their cocoa comes from sustainable sources. Dark chocolate is my favourite because it has more flavour. I don’t use very sweet white chocolate, like the one from Alrona. The one from Callebaut is cheaper, uses less sugar, and in my view tastes better. I have so many bags of chocolate upstairs it’s outrageous!
“Eventually I’d like to do masterclassing full-time, but then I’d also love to have a shop and if I give away all my secrets, perhaps people wouldn’t need me any more!”
SD: What have you got planned next?
DF: I have a few events coming up where I’m doing petit fours at the end of private dinners and I’ve put my chocolates up for a few chocolate awards, so fingers crossed! I’m hopefully going to be doing a series of masterclasses soon and I’m lucky that people are willing to travel from Europe to come to me for them. Eventually I’d like to do masterclassing full-time, but then I’d also love to have a shop and if I give away all my secrets, perhaps people wouldn’t need me any more!