Two Michelin-star chef James Close is enjoying the sweet taste of success with the launch of his own range of innovative chocolates.
The limited edition collection is a joint venture between the man behind the acclaimed The Raby Hunt Restaurant in County Durham and fellow chef Maria Guseva.
Simply called Chocolates by James Close and Maria Guseva, the selection of six slick, smart and edgy bite-sized confections and two bars are available to buy exclusively from Fenwick Food Hall in Newcastle until May 21 – or while stocks last, with just 1000 being made available to buy.
James and Maria, who work alongside each other at The Raby Hunt, have chosen to unveil their ‘Chocolate with Attitude’ as part of Fenwick’s month-long Meet the Artisans food event.
The pair’s beautifully fashioned, playful, yet adult chocolates offer a roller coaster of unconventional flavours that push the boundaries of tradition, are among a host of premium North East and British foods being showcased to the public over the next four weeks.
James says the gutsy, alternative and avant-garde assortment, made using the finest single origin chocolate and freshest global ingredients, has been inspired by the Gothic skull and Buddha pieces served as part of The Raby Hunt’s creative tasting menu.
“The dark chocolate skull and white chocolate Buddha have become an iconic part of The Raby Hunt dining experience,” the 37 year old says. “They are the final curtain call, the encore if you like, of what is a 15-course tasting menu, with each dish a perfectly executed culinary act in its own right.
“Just when you think the dining experience is over, you are surprised by one last melodramatic twist in the shape of the intensely dark and smooth chocolate skull presented alongside the serenity of the pure white chocolate Buddha.
“Diners are enchanted by them, and we are regularly asked if we sell them to take home.
“Launching the Chocolates by James Close and Maria Guseva collection has therefore been a natural progression.
“We are a very creative team at The Raby Hunt that likes to think outside the box. The chocolate collection is allowing us to bring some of those unconventional and offbeat ideas to the wider public in an easily accessible but very singular and thrilling way.”
The range comprises:
- Skull: honey, rosemary ganache and yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) gel
- Buddha: white chocolate, pine nut, Gianduju, crispy Dacquoise and smoked Maldon salt
- Almond praline and caramelised cocoa nibs
- Raspberry gel and Sichuan pepper ganache
- Black truffle caramel, with hazelnut and crispy Feuilletine
- Milk chocolate Earl Grey ganache with bergamot gel
- Black truffle caramel chocolate bar
- White chocolate, mango and passion fruit bar
Each piece is individually made by Maria and has been created to appeal to chocolate lovers looking for something new and unique.
The skull is of especial significance being James’ trademark. He has a large silver one on show in The Raby Hunt restaurant, a reminder that life is too short to waste your days and not push the boundaries.
The individual chocolates cost £1.30 each, the tropical mango and passion fruit bar is £.3.50, and the black truffle caramel block is £4.
Maria, 29, who originally hails from Moscow and has worked with James at The Raby Hunt for the past four years, says each showstopping chocolate has been designed to release unusual explosions of flavour to awaken the taste buds.
“Many hours of creativity have gone into crafting these deliciously distinctive, exuberant, irreverent, but always perfectly balanced chocolates. You could say we have gone rogue!” she says.
“The Buddha chocolate especially always surprises everyone. People think of pine nuts as a savoury rather than sweet ingredient. But once the nuts are blended with the salt and white chocolate, it just works. They bring a welcome change of pace and an interesting taste and texture.”
James says it is a privilege to be selling his and Maria’s chocolate range in Fenwick as part of the Meet the Artisans event. “It brings together two premier North East brands in The Raby Hunt and Fenwick. We are delighted that such a renowned store has chosen to work with us and that we have been given this opportunity to exclusively showcase our rule-breaking chocolates for the next month.
“Could this be a longer-term partnership? Fenwick customers, like those who dine at The Raby Hunt, are discerning connoisseurs, so who knows?”
For James and Maria the launch of the chocolate collection is another twist in what has been an incredible gastronomic journey for the pair.
Both are self-taught chefs who have reached the top of their game. James is a former professional golfer who didn’t begin cooking until he was nearly 30.
Yet in the eight years since opening The Raby Hunt he has taken the former drovers’ inn to the heights of culinary success, culminating in the restaurant last October becoming the first in the North East to ever be awarded a second prestigious Michelin star.
James is also the Good Food Guide 2017’s current Chef of the Year.
Maria fell in love with cooking after moving to Newcastle seven years ago and being inspired by the wealth of new, exotic and readily available ingredients on her doorstep.
She joined James’ team after completing a short basic cordon bleu cookery course and began making the restaurant’s chocolates 18 months ago.
Adam Barber, Fenwick Food Hall buyer, says: “It is a privilege to be able to bring such a unique product exclusively to our customers at Fenwick. James and Maria are extremely talented; their chocolates are exquisite.”