Fresh from a sell-out masterclass at the Birmingham Whisky Festival, where he paired three of his chocolates with whisky, I spoke to Neil Hughes about how he became a chocolate maker.
For Neil and his wife Gaëlle, it was a meal at Simpsons changed their career path from book binding to creating handmade chocolates.
Neil says: “We have always been passionate about food and wine and we often dreamt about creating our own food-related business. Some years ago the Birmingham firm we worked for put us on short time due to the economic climate. Instead of going on two holidays that year my wife and I decided to try fine dining as we are big foodies. The second dining experience was at Simpsons in Edgbaston and that is where my world changed. The end of the meal experience was eating some beautiful handmade chocolates that had a wow factor that stuck with me.
“A couple of months later I attempted to make my own chocolates for a friends 40th birthday. I didn’t research anything and so didn’t know about tempering – luckily the chocolates were eaten before they started to melt! I then experimented on my work friends and family that Christmas.
“I went on to study the art of chocolate making at the Chocolate Academy in Banbury, where I learnt so much and will always be grateful to Beverley and Julie my tutors for their teaching, mentoring and understanding.
“By the start of 2012 we were up and running and haven’t looked back since!
“Our selling point is simple: made in Birmingham, using locally sourced ingredients, no added sugars or sweetners aimed at prolonging shelf life.
“We are now regular producers and sellers at our local farmers markets. I also take part in local food festivals like The Independent Food Fair and The Birmingham Whisky Festival where I do a whisky and chocolate pairing class alongside a whisky expert.
“I have managed to get into several independent shops and keep trying to improve packaging and appearance but at the same time never compromising on the most important thing – the taste and quality of my chocolate.
“Last year we won two Great Taste awards, which really mean the world to both my wife and myself, fingers crossed again for this year!”
Sea salt caramel truffles, chocolate fudge, lemon meringue, Eton mess and tiramisu whatever takes your fancy, you can find Kneals Chocolates at
- The Eight Foot Grocer and Jake’s Coffee Box in Birmingham
- Squisito Butchers & Deli in Crick
- Wenlock Edge FarmShropshire
- Hillers Farm Shop in Alcester.
You can also catch Kneals at Moseley, Kings Heath and Stirchley markets.