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Northern Echo  |  Charlie & the Chocolate Factory  |  19 April 2011
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Charlotte Pears-Wallace has taken her passion for the sweet stuff a bit further and now has the job of her dreams. (meet our new apprentice)

Easter is a time for chocoholics to overindulge. Charlotte Pears-Wallace has taken her passion for the sweet stuff a bit further and now has the job of her dreams.

IT might seem that working in a chocolate factory would be a natural career progression for someone named Charlie. But actually, it took a degree in French and Cultural Studies, a year in France, and an obsession with food to make me think very seriously about what I wanted to do.

Initially, I wanted to be a baker, a dream quickly put aside when I discovered that I would have to get up at 2am every day. Luckily, I found out about the possibility of a part-time job as a chocolatier... The penny dropped, and at 24, I began my training as a chocolatier with Davenport’s Chocolates, in North Shields.

Being a trainee chocolatier is everything and nothing that you might think; it is wonderful, tedious, repetitive and meditative.

So, I’ll begin by clearing up a few things. Firstly, I use a little artistic licence when I say I work in a chocolate factory. It is a factory, in the sense that we have a production line, I wear an apron, and there are a few things I could burn myself on. But that is probably as far as it goes.

Hairnets and heavy lifting play no part in my day.

Secondly, Davenport’s make chocolates, not chocolate. You might be surprised to hear that chocolate is actually a bit of a nightmare to make, and thus we order it from Belgium or Switzerland.

Obviously there are massive advantages to my job. The first? Well, I’m working with a substance that I have loved my whole life, and I spend my days smelling it, moulding it, melting it, and eating it. Chocolate is moody, temperamental, and complex, which is part of the challenge, and the chemistry involved in mastering it is intriguing. And after a morning of chocolate-making meditation, some lunchtimes I could almost fall asleep, I’m so chilled out.

As a person with slightly obsessional tendencies, the repetitive activities – folding boxes, labelling tubes, packing boxes – are very satisfying.

As are the seemingly straightforward tasks, which I take pleasure in perfecting, such as spreading a thin layer of chocolate on the underside of the fondants.

You know when you used to watch Handy Andy on Changing Rooms doing plastering and think ‘I can do that’? Well, I had a similar arrogance when I was first entrusted with this job. Now, I know to use a similar method as I do when applying St Tropez fake tan. I do it in sections, layer it on, but don’t overdo it.

Before you think it’s all perfect, there are some disadvantages to the job. The factory has no heating. I was fully aware of this situation when I took the job, but thought that vast quantities of tea and two pairs of socks would see me through. It maybe would have, had the North- East not had a December comparable to the Ice Age. One day I even wore sallopettes to work.

And while the sad, obsessive part of my personality enjoys the repetitive nature of my job, after I have packed 2,000 chocolates into boxes, I get a variety of bizarre aches and pains.

Training is beginning to get very interesting. As a woman of simple pleasures, I have enjoyed pretty much everything I have learnt so far (except ribboning boxes, I just can’t do it. However, since I couldn’t even tie my shoelaces until I was about 11, I think it was to be expected), but I’m now beginning to learn the actual processes.

Last week, my boss showed me how to use the enrober. The enrober is the machine which allows us to give the fillings their beautiful chocolate coating. It churns the chocolate, keeps it at constant temperature, funnels them into a curtain, leads them through, and shakes off the excess... if it behaves itself.

Luckily, my boss is a chocolate whisperer. No matter the problem, she can almost always sort it out, be it with the industrial heat gun, by adjusting the springs, or simply staring it in the eyes. I am absolutely terrified of it, mainly because I know that when it was bought new, it cost the same as a new Mini. Hopefully though, like reverse parallel parking, I’ll get the hang of it.

I have also started to learn how to make the centres, which is very exciting, because not only do I love cooking, but I quite enjoy the science of it. A fondant, for instance, involves some complex temperature control, as a good crystalline structure is essential. I have also been entrusted with the switch (that’s on the conveyer belt), and I am very happy to report that there was only one collision, and only about ten raspberry rose truffle casualties, which is small fry in chocolate terms.

Really, the most exciting thing about my job is the fact that I’m doing something I truly love. I can’t wait to make Easter eggs, I can’t wait to do trade shows, and I can’t wait to learn more.

• The Chocolate Studio, 31 Evans Business Centre, Orion Business Park, North Shields, Tyne and Wear, NE29 7SN. Tel: 07813-954-368; davenportschocolates.co.uk. Opening hours: Mon-Fri, 9am to 5.30pm. You can order online and chocolates will be posted on the next working day.

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