Book Review: Willie’s Chocolate Factory Cookbook – Willie Harcourt-Cooze
(Hodder & Stoughton) £20.00
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams
In so far as inspirations may be counted as vested interests, I ought to declare mine from the outset: the tale of Willie Harcourt-Cooze’s quest to produce his Venezuelan Black cacao from bean to bar, as it unfolded with all its highs and lows through the series Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory screened on C4 a year ago, was a key motivating influence in the development of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick. Retold in the first part of Willie’s Chocolate Factory Cookbook, with the addition of a contextualising back stories of Harcourt-Cooze’s equally extraordinary childhood and he and his wife Tania’s romantic courtship and wanderlust, in a mere 100 pages the tale which is already an heady mixture of Boys Own adventure story, love story, exhortative lesson in never foregoing one’s dreams, and instruction manual for starting a business, becomes even more compelling and potent in its fast-paced form; its primary ingredient is after all 100% cacao!
When Harcourt-Cooze was three years old his father, in pursuit of his own dream, bought Horse Island off the South West Coast with the intention “to create a self-sufficient idyll” for his family. “I spent most of my childhood in Ireland smoking fish, milling flour, making cheese and pickling fruit,” writes Harcourt-Cooze, “I was reeling in sea trout even before I had learned to ride my first bicycle.” Thus the seeds were sown, and skills learnt, at a very early age that would stand Harcourt-Cooze in very good stead when he and his wife put everything on the line in 1997 to buy and farm the Hacienda El Tesoro cacao plantation in the lea of Venezuela’s Cloud Mountains in pursuit of the dream to grow, and then import to Britain and produce their own chocolate, and in so doing be amongst the very few who have done so since the Cadbury family.
The second part of the book takes the ingredient and runs with it from breakfast to lunch to dinner using cacao in an eclectic mix of over 60 recipes including Huevos Rancheros, Bloody Mary, Sticky Chocolate Ribs, Porcini and Chocolate Risotto, and Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake. All of which reinforce Harcourt-Cooze’s campaign for cacao to become a widely used condiment “alongside the salt, pepper, chillies, and garlic that sit by the side of the oven.”
A hugely engaging and inspiring book with the added attraction that rarely has inspiration tasted this good!