Jane Williams (nee Davenport) has worked as a professional chocolatier since September 2000. She has travelled extensively throughout Europe, gleaning much from a wider European dedication to chocolate. Not only has she visited various chocolatiers and exhibitions in the course of her work, she has also previously lived in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Extremely passionate and dedicated to chocolate, Jane tells how she became a chocolatier:
A passion for chocolate has been a thread running through my life.
My father’s job took us to Switzerland for a couple of years during my childhood, and I developed an appreciation of their silky smooth milk chocolate. My childhood treats were ‘branche’ – a milk chocolate praline bar with crunchy nut fragments on the outside. Back in England my parents would let me ‘play’ in the kitchen on my own from the age of about 6, creating weird and wonderful concoctions which they dutifully ate! As a young girl, my mother taught me to bake and cook, and I would be quite happy to cook for the family at the age of 12. Soon I wanted more of a challenge, and my mother found me a ‘confectionery’ book which I would spend hours pouring over and deciding what to make next. Toffees, fudges, jellies, truffles, marshmallows – nothing seemed impossible. I also managed to get hold of some chocolate moulds, and now I could create sophisticated looking chocolates of my own – a proud achievement for any young girl!
Seeing my potential, my father offered to fund setting up my own business. However, having achieved well academically, I also had the choice of universities before me and didn’t want to miss out on furthering my qualifications and the opportunity of student life. Four years later, I obtained a first class honours degree from Exeter university, also studying at Graz university in Austria for a year. Now the question really was at my feet; what am I passionate about enough to spend every day of the foreseeable future doing? The graduate jobs I looked at applying for were all within the food industry. I looked at many corporations… and ultimately decided that even marketing jobs in the food industry were all far too removed from the actual food to be of much interest. I wanted more hands-on involvement.
I wrote a letter to a Swiss patisserie in Marlow where I had previously had a summer job. I asked if they would train me as a chocolatier, and offered to bring my young but enthusiastic mind to help the business in any way I could. Amazingly, Bernard and Philippe Burger, the two brothers who own the business invited me to come and chat through my proposal. After the most informal and relaxed interview a person could have, they said they’d take me on! I was delighted. I became Philippe’s protégé – and was taught with much encouragement and patience for which I am hugely grateful. Master chocolatier Philippe Burger had worked with chocolate all his life. He trained in Switzerland, and learned much of his craft from his father Eric Burger, who had set up the patisserie after moving to England just before the Second World War. It was an amazing heritage to be part of. I was also given the opportunity to travel to chocolate Trade Fairs in Paris, Bern and Brussels, and to research other chocolatier’s work in several European cites. Whilst I was given much freedom in the job, I also did my best to respect and preserve the heritage of traditions passed on to me. This is still a great influence in my work today, as I still believe the craftsmen who have gone before us had many skills which are being lost over the years. I worked at ‘Burgers of Marlow’ for over seven years, and Philippe was able to take semi-retirement during this period, whilst I carried on the chocolate side of the business.
In 2006, however, a change was coming – as I had fallen in love with a most wonderful man (Michael Williams: now in charge of creative design and marketing for Davenport’s Chocolates), and we were due to be married the following year. After much discussion we also decided that we would settle where he was living; which for me involved a move to the other end of the country – near to Newcastle upon Tyne. After much planning and researching, I decided that it was the opportunity I had been looking for to set up my own business. This would also afford me the exciting chance to have more creative input into my work. Finally I felt that I had the confidence, experience and craftsmanship to start up on my own, that I didn’t have at the age of 18. We launched ‘Davenports Chocolates’ in September 2007, refurbishing a factory unit to become a high spec chocolate studio. The business is named after my maiden name, which my family have been very proud to see become established as a chocolate company. With the support of ‘Burgers of Marlow’ I was able to take with me several pieces of equipment, and carry on making chocolates for the patisserie.
The creation of Davenport’s Chocolates is an amazing opportunity to experiment and develop new ideas, whilst having the skills and recipes that have stood the test of time at my fingertips.
Today Davenport’s Chocolates is something I am immensely passionate about, and thankful for. I realize only too well that not everybody gets the opportunity to do something they love. With the support of my husband, we are able to create chocolates which we believe stand out as a very unique product in the market today. We hope you will enjoy them as much as we do!