With the rejection of festive pyjamas in favour of a chocolate making workshop, Kala King’s dream to become a chocolatier was finally on firm footing.
It was 2011, a decade after a visit to a cocoa plantation in Venezuela had first planted the seed for a chocolate business, and Kala had a Christmas present idea that would pave the way for her vision to at last become a reality.
“I said to my husband, ‘I don’t want any more pyjamas and sweaters,’” she tells me. “I just said, ‘send me to one of these chocolate making workshops’. I went and fell in love with it and retrained to become a chocolatier.”
When I visit her in the 300-year-old cottage in the picturesque North York Moors village of Hutton-le-Hole where she now lives, she is shaping silicone putty around a model steam train.
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It will create a food safe mould, she tells me, and she’ll later pour in tempered chocolate. She has 42 edible trains to make, a gift for each guest at a forthcoming Autism Plus charity fundraising event. “I have to get this right,” she says. “Once I get the model right, then I am good.”
Kala is working in the kitchen of her family home, which she shares with husband Peter and their youngest daughter, Charlie, 13. It is from here, around a central island, that she crafts her sweet treats and runs artisan workshops in chocolate making, desserts and French patisserie.
Their frequency depends on the demand, though it’s something she’d like to do more, making this the focus of her business. “I really enjoy teaching,” she tells me, as she coaches me through my first attempt at a milk chocolate shell filled with raspberry ganache. “I’ve learned a lot over the years and it’s a shame not to share it with anyone. I like sharing my knowledge.”
She had a lot to learn when she first turned her hand to the craft. It was a far cry from the oil industry she previously worked in, back in Malaysia where she was born. It was here that she met Peter, an engineer in the trade, whose job had temporarily taken him from Britain to South East Asia.
When his contract ended, he secured work in Venezuela and the couple moved there with eldest daughter Sarah, now 26, in 1998. While over there, Kala paid a visit to a cacao plantation.
“A group of us went and I just fell in love with it and learnt to understand the process. We visited this very small cacao plantation and were shown how to harvest, how the fermentation process took place and how they dried the cocoa beans. It was interesting.
“Everything was quite traditional. Because they don’t have a lot of investment, you don’t see machinery or anything like that. Everything is done by hand.”
For Kala, the visit stirred a desire to work with chocolate. But, despite South America’s contribution to global cocoa production, she says it was a passion she struggled to pursue.
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“There’s no jobs for women (in Venezuela), foreign women especially,” she claims, “because they don’t have enough jobs for their own people... I approached this one lady who had a chocolate shop and said can I come and work for you? She asked why and I explained I was really interested in chocolate and wanted to understand the processes around it but she said no.”
Her chocolate dream was put on the back-burner for the best part of a decade. After the family moved to the UK in 2003, the focus was on renovating their North Yorkshire cottage and they then had their second daughter.
Peter later took up a contact in Tunisia and the family spent four years there before returning to their home in 2010. The chocolate making Christmas present put launching a business back in Kala’s thoughts.
She trained with Callebaut and Cocoa Barry in chocolate and patisserie and in the years that have followed has undertaken a chocolate centrepiece course and studied the shelf life of chocolate and ganache.
After her initial training, Kala set about making chocolates and desserts to sell at food markets. “I wanted to make a life for me here in England,” she says. “Around here, there’s not a lot of jobs and my passion was food. I said I’d start with a market stall and see how it goes.
“The thing with a market stall though is that you have to go on a very regular basis to really make a difference and I didn’t know if that was the way I was going to go. It was good in that it made me more focused. I realised I wanted to take the business further and I opened a shop.”
She ran that in Helmsley for three years. But she began to work from home four years ago, relinquishing the unit – and the price that came with it. Where we are is very, very seasonal so having a shop was,” she pauses, “well, if you don’t generate enough income, then all the good months don’t pay for the bad ones in winter.”
At first glance, Kala’s workplace is identical to any other family kitchen. But behind her dark blue cupboard doors lie rows of moulds and mixing bowls. On one worktop sits a Game of Thrones inspired dragon centrepiece, next to a delicately crafted book, the detailed chocolate work even marking out its pages.
On another stands a tempering machine. It is designed to keep the chocolate at an ideal workable temperature, but when it comes to her workshops, Kala says she isn’t keen on using it.
“When people come to me, I don’t like to use the machine because I like them to be able to go back home and recreate what we’ve done without having fancy equipment. So I use the microwave to temper the chocolate.”
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Using Belcolade, Cocoa Barry and Callebaut chocolate, Kala makes artisan and bespoke creations including desserts, patisserie and individual chocolates of all flavours and textures, with a range of fillings and toppings.
She has recently launched an online shop, offering chocolate selection boxes, vegan treats and brownies, and, as well as running her own business, Kala also works as a chocolatier for Autism Plus enterprise Ampleforth Plus, making artisan chocolates alongside people with autism and learning disabilities.
Kala King: Artisan Chocolate and Pastry is a small-scale operation, a one woman band so to speak. But Kala hopes the business can grow, expanding to take on staff from her local community. “I feel like it’s my time now and there’s real direction for me to take it to the next level,” she tells me.
“There’s not a lot of jobs around here and if I can create some, why not?...With my qualifications I could work anywhere in hotels and restaurants but I like to work locally and if I can grow in the community, that would be my ideal situation.”
“People don’t need to be a super-duper chocolatier,” she adds. “They just need to have an interest. That’s where I started...” For more information go to kalaking.co.uk