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Food Quarter  |  The Sweet Life  |  08 March 2010
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Her passion is creating flavours to appeal to a new gourmet generation.

Jane Williams is a lady so happy in her work. She might be wrapped in layers of clothing to stave off the cold but she's cocooned by chocolate as well.

Her labour of love in this small industrial unit near the Tyne Tunnel is the making of exquisite chocolates. It's romantic to think that such delicacies evolve from some charming chocolate emporium like that depicted in the movie Chocolat but in this country, thanks to the rigours of food hygiene guidelines, that doesn't happen.

The inspiration, passion and creativity is there though and there are still touches of the romance of the chocolate making world from that sweet film. Jane, 32, is in full flow making chocolate Easter eggs using lovely sliver antique moulds that were passed on to her from the chocolatier with whom she trained for several years.

Elsewhere in the building you see sturdy copper pots filled with hot water for steam to melt the edges of eggs halves to then stick them together. There's a machine quietly buzzing in the corner. It ladles and circulates lashings of molten chocolate into a kind of chocolate bath. Watching it is a mesmerisingly gentle and addictive pastime. It's easy to envy Jane, chocoholic or not.

Shelves and benches are home to rows of handmade chocolates with their mouth-watering fillings waiting to be packed into the stylish boxes that contain Jane's range called Davenport's. The boxes in themselves are an art form. Every ribbon is hand-tied by Jane.

For most people chocolate is a treat and it has been Jane's intention since setting up her company to raise the bar just a little bit higher and make the experience reach another level. Hence her passion for creating new flavours and combinations that are exciting and appealing to a new gourmet generation. She still makes the violet creams though. They are one-off for a specific customer and look dazzlingly pretty with their violet tops. A bite takes you back to the parma violet in the playground - or a visit to grandma's house. Sweet in every respect. They live alongside arresting flavours like raspberry and rose and cinnamon toffee apple. There's some space too for tradition in the form of chocolate ginger or marzipan.

When we meet she is preparing a huge order of Ester eggs for the North West supermarket chain Booths. It is a triumph in terms of business and she intends to personally deliver the 300-plus eggs to Cumbria rather than trust them to the post.

"I just need to know they will arrive in the right condition", she says, also conceding that it will probably mean more than a few late nights too packaging them all up and trying those ribbons. Easter in chocolate is like Valentine's Day for a florist. A test of everything. A time when all has to be right. For Jane the Booths order is the culmination of much hard work in less that two years since she set up Davenport's (the name is her maiden name). Though she studied geography and German at university, when it came to choosing a career she was drawn back to chocolate time and again. Not just because she loved the stuff but because there was something calling her to the creative processes involved.

Jane was born in Stockton-on-Tees and her family moved away when she was a child and she spent her formative years in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It was in Switzerland, arguably the hoe of the best chocolate in the world, that she got a taste for a more sophisticated chocolate, appreciating its luxurious texture and real taste. She remembers how the family would have a massive chocolate bunny at Easter time rather than eggs.

"There would be this anticipation about the chocolate bunny", She laughs. "It was huge - I loved the ears - the chocolate was really think and solid. It is such an evocative memory. "Chocolate is more then just a food. There are antioxidants in there which create happy feelings, the taste, the smooth texture, it's all very comforting."

She is not a chocolate snob though - she loves milk chocolate as much as the deep rich dark chocolate with the high cocoa solids count.

"The memories associated with milk chocolate make it special but I really enjoy dark chocolate for the way it bursts with flavours and melts in the mouth."

Jane trained with a Swiss master chocolatier Philippe Burger, who had in turn been trained by his father at their family business in Marlow, Buckinghamshire who took her on as an apprentice. He has passed on much of his specialist equipment - the enrobing belt, moulding machine and chocolate kettles - to her and thus remains a very real part of the Davenport's story.

It's a story ready to run. People are liking what Jane is doing and though chocolate is always a nice thing to be involved with, Jane's touch is special. "I wanted the chocolates to be creative and inspiring, always bringing something new. The flavours are so much purer, with a lot less preservatives, and a lot fresher. All the ingredients are the best of ingredients and my chocolates have a shelf life of three months compared with 18 months for many shop-bought."

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Davenports | creative artisan chocolates