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Karen Daniel meets Somerset chocolate producer Lisa at her Congresbury headquarters

PUBLISHED: 20:32 17 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:00 20 February 2013

Making chocolates with Lisa Clarke (second from left)

Making chocolates with Lisa Clarke (second from left)

Let me make one thing quite clear before we get started - chocolate and I have never been the best of friends. I have always been more of a roast potato girl, happier with a lard-smeared Maris Piper than a chocolate fondue. Valentine's Day has nev...

Karen Daniel meets Somerset chocolate producer Lisa at her Congresbury headquarters





Lisa, it is important to state, is an unapologetic chocolate snob. Her enthusiasm for the stuff derives from a bedrock of considerable knowledge and a palate for chocolate on a par with that of her wine-merchant husband for the finest premier cru Bordeaux. And with Valentine's Day upon us, I cannot imagine a more perfect way to say 'I Love You' than by sending some lucky person on a voyage of discovery to Lisa's lovely Congresbury headquarters.


Lisa is evangelical about the ability of chocolate to enhance the quality of gastronomic life, and for the first time in my life I think I understand a little of what separates the cocktail of sugar and fat, which passes for the vast majority of chocolate confectionery, from the 'class' end of the market. It is this end of the chocolate spectrum that concerns Lisa, and to see it refracted through the prism of her knowledge and enthusiasm is like watching that most sensually gorgeous of French movies 'Chocolat', in which Juliette Binoche straightens out the psyches and sex lives of a small French village through the therapeutic application of her own expertise as a chocolatier. While Lisa holds no brief for the psyches and sex lives of Congresbury, her latest venture, The Chocolate Tart is providing the most therapeutic, relaxing and satisfying three hours one can enjoy while standing up!


The Chocolate Tart is a new adjunct to Lisa's main business, a successful catering company, Hedgehog Pie. And in this capacity Lisa has cooked for the best. In fact, The Chocolate Tart had its genesis in a prestigious dinner that Lisa's company prepared for Her Majesty the Queen, in the presence of her senior judiciary.


She explains, "We were advised by insiders that her favourite pudding was Eton mess, a whipped cream meringue and fruit concoction. We wanted to find a way of serving the dish in as imaginative a way as possible and came up with the idea of serving it in chocolate cups. It was researching methods of perfecting such a cup that led Lisa down a path that ultimately led her to launch The Chocolate Tart. It was a journey which saw her undertake tuition by one of the UK's leading chocolatiers, who initiated her into the mystery and magic of chocolate preparation and cooking.


There is, as Lisa explains, so much more to chocolate than meets the eye. It is a treat for all the senses - the crisp snap of good chocolate, its heady aroma, its feel on the tongue and in the mouth, the visual appeal of smooth, shiny virgin chocolate and its reaction to the touch of your fingers - all these things serve to demonstrate its beauty as a luxury foodstuff. And luxury, quality and class are the keynotes and hallmarks of what Lisa teaches at her workshops.


I was lucky enough to attend her chocolate-making workshop - three blissful hours making chocolates, packaging them in a selection of boxes or ballotins and sachets, tied with lush, pink ribbons with which to wow your friends and family. Each class takes place in a warm, beautiful, brightly lit kitchen workshop, set in a former Malt House barn. Wine and soft drinks can be enjoyed throughout the evening along with the tireless and helpful services of Lisa and her fellow chocolatier, Francesca, for whom nothing was too much trouble.


Up to nine places are available for this particular workshop and I shared my evening with a busy midwife, several young mums and a local guy who enjoyed the experience as much as the rest of us. This, you see, is one of the most important points to emerge from Lisa's workshop. The making of chocolates is not gender-specific. And while some cookery courses can prove tiring for the brain, the feet and the fingers, this course has a magical reviving effect. We stood for more than three hours, totally absorbed, fulfilled and preoccupied. You look up and it's after 10.30pm, and here's the weird part - you're not tired. The sense of pride which you feel at the end of the evening, when you turn out the tray of fondant-filled chocolates you have fashioned and flavoured yourself, cannot be exaggerated.




Lisa is evangelical about the ability of chocolate to enhance the quality of gastronomic life




As well as that tray of hand-fashioned chocolates, we made chocolate lollipops, twice-dipped truffles, marzipan dipped in a combination of milk and plain chocolate, all of which we lovingly boxed, beribboned and transported home in an elegant white carrier bag. And this is one of the touches which singles out Lisa's workshop as a class act. Much thought and preparation has not only gone into the devising and staging of the class itself, but into the packaging that accompanies it. The chocolate moulds, boxes, sachets, ribbons and sticky labels are beautifully designed and made. The truly jaw-dropping piece of confection, which Lisa saved until last, was an exquisite chocolate box, fashioned in the shape of a heart and covered on its outside by a marbled, pink 'polish' which gave it the appearance of a piece of contemporary French porcelain. It simply cried out for a small, perfect, solitaire diamond ring! We didn't make one of those, but its beauty amply demonstrated that, as with other art forms, when the chocolatier's skill reaches its peak, it is sublimely beautiful.


The chocolate-making workshop is just one in a series of group workshops available at The Chocolate Tart. Cooking with Chocolate offers one-and-a-half hours of demonstration and tastings, while the two-hour chocolate and wine-tasting workshops helps you train your palate to recognise quality. Also available throughout the year are Mums get-togethers, office nights out with a difference, hen parties and corporate team-building days - which have proved a huge hit.


It's a fabulous concept, beautifully executed by a true professional. If you love chocolate, book a course with her immediately. If you don't, ditto. Take it from someone who thought she hated chocolate - you'll fall in love! BY KAREN DANIEL


The Chocolate Tart can be contacted on 01934 876881 or visit


www.thechocolatetart.co.uk.

This Valentine's Day, take the opportunity to share your favourite chocolate recipes with other readers on the Forum.






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