“Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew
Cover it with choc’late and a miracle or two
The Candy Man, oh the Candy Man can
The Candy Man can ’cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good” [Writers: Chambers, Karina / Monaco, Katherine / Schjolin, Morten / Ingoldsby, Denis Noel]
Some songs make you happy. Some people bring smiles too. Chef William Poole, Chocolatier, brings both together for me… a song & a person. And Chef William definitely – “mixes if with love and makes the world taste good.”
I ‘met’ Chef William on Twitter when he was posting about his experiences as a competitor on Food Network Spring Baking Championship. He kindly agreed to participate in Diva Foodies Tweet Chat #FoodTVChat. From there we became friends.
When I was visiting family in MA a few years ago, William treated me to a chef-made meal at his beautiful turn of the century farmhouse. It was a deliciously, fun time.
In our interview Chef William tells us what it was like to be a pastry chef on the luxury American Orient Express, he talks about what led him to pursue a career as a chocolatier, gives a few tips to new chocolate cooks, tells us what he would have told his younger self, and much more. Please meet my friend – Chef William Poole, Chocolatier.
Chef William Poole On Chef William Poole – I am on a life long journey to better understand how culinary-specifically the world of confectionery unites people, from ancient origins of chocolate and sweets to how sweets have adapted and continue to evolve for special moments and celebrations today.
Diva Foodies: Your career has taken you on an amazing, literal ‘round the world journey. Let’s start our chat with your experiences as the Patisserie on the luxury train, the American Orient Express. In an atmosphere of old world, luxury and romantic rail travel, I would expect passengers expect their dining experiences to be at the same level.
What was it like creating in a ‘train kitchen’ and what was the favorite sweet delight?
Chef William Poole: (laughing): Toby, it was truly a unique experience serving 105 passengers three times a day, from a train car that held four other chefs, a dishwasher and a prep person, all at 79 miles per hour.
Space was limited for everyone, so accuracy and planning were all keys to success in the creation and even ordering of stores along the routes. The expectations were high from our executive chef and staff, in addition to the eager passengers looking for inspiration and themes from the journeys they took.
There are two favorite treats or moments, one was to create mini presentation cakes for passengers celebrating (birthday, anniversary, achievement). The second was to ask the engineer to stop the train briefly during dinner service, so I could exit the train and pick wild berries and forage in front of the dining car windows, the passengers got a treat from watching that.
Diva Foodies: Brilliant idea to pick wild berries while the passengers looked on!
What was your inspiration to concentrate your talents in the direction of a chocolatier versus that of the world of pastry chef? Or to be more direct – why did you decide to concentrate on chocolate?
Chef William Poole: I have always been fascinated by candy. Halloween and Easter have always been my favorite holidays. When I was young, my grandparents would take us all shopping for winter clothes in a huge department store, which had a massive candy counter. They would always let me pick out two, 1/4#’s of whatever I wanted. The colors, shapes, tastes and even the foil wrappers fascinated me, and still do.
I do love the pastry world, and continue to use it in my personal and consulting life, but chocolate and candy is where it’s at for me. My true turning point was working for a restaurant in Denver years ago, my chef asked me to temper and dip some treats for a reservation booking for that evening….I had never done it before, but nailed it the first go round to the delight of the guests.
Seeing their faces, smiles and joy in what I had created sealed my fate as a chocolatier.
Diva Foodies: Are you surprised your career took the chocolate path and what would you have told young Chef William as he began his culinary adventures?
Chef William Poole: Not really surprised, call it a natural development for chocolate path. I would have told a younger William to start earlier (I entered culinary academy at 37!).
I would have told him that if you are good at something, do not let it fall by the wayside, or be deterred by others that tell you that it is no good, as they are only projecting their own worth, insecurities and value on the things you create.
And finally-play with your food, literally-it will open doors.
Diva Foodies: Developing new recipes are part of the work of being a chef; it is similar to the challenges of a performing artist. The work you present has to be consistent time-after-time-after-time.
How do you ensure the remains exciting and still meets your customers’ expectations? Does making the process for you same product get boring for you?
Chef William Poole: Nice question! There is no boring in my life as a “performance artist” as you so beautifully stated. The products I provide have to be consistent, and that’s a facet to being reputable.
In addition to recipes and formulas, I keep track of product origins (terroir plays an important part to all ingredients we work with in culinary) to attempt to maintain consistent results. I look forward to the seasonal changes in the world of chocolate, Halloween through Easter is my “on time”, and there’s never a dull moment.
Diva Foodies: Our community includes both professional chefs and home cooks.. Would you please give us 2 or 3 tips for the home cook who wants to experiment making chocolate candy?
Chef William Poole: 4 Chocolate Making Tips
- Water is not your friend in chocolate work. A bain marie is great to melt chocolate at a low temperature, but remember to wipe the bottom of the bowl (and underside rim), and to place the warm bowl of chocolate on a small towel on the counter top/work surface (heat transfer from a cold counter to a warm bowl could screw up your efforts.
2) If you are tabling (using tools and a solid surface counter top to temper the chocolate), work with only what you need for the moment, and not the entire batch, unless you are dipping a batch of things (dried fruit, fillings, or filling molds).
3) Inclusions (adding fun things to the chocolate to enhance the flavors, or texture, like nuts, other candy, dried fruits, fizzy candy powder, cocoa nibs, etc.) only what you are working with, so you don’t adulterate the batch…there are so many things considered to be an allergy to others.
4) Paper piping cones are you friends! Make these from parchment/baking paper and you can use them to pipe fillings into chocolate shells, or to decorate, or to precision-fill small chocolate molds.
Diva Foodies: In addition to delicious treats of course (!), it appears there has been a common focus of you being involved with the local community. Would you please tell us how chefs and culinary shops can bring people together and the importance of being an integral part of that world?
Chef William Poole:
Food is what brings us together, and probably one of the best ways we can learn about each other.
My advice is to get involved in your community (we have been sponsoring a middle school robotics team, and are developing a robot chocolate tile to utilize as a continual giving program).
If you are a chef, restaurant owner, purveyor, farmer-get involved as a guest speaker at a local school, tell your story to inspire others to consider their community contributions, and their impact on society.
Diva Foodies: Now you’re off on a new and exciting venture. Please tell us how your next chocolate venture will be different from WEN Wow, seeing those on paper has some weight, as it Chocolates in Denver Porter Hill Sweets in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, and your B&B in New Orleans?
Chef William Poole: Wow seeing those on paper has some weight, as it has made me reflect on my journey- all of those businesses were relevant at the time and made their brand known as a company (the word WEN means to “exist”, and I was just starting out in the industry, the B&B was a historic revitalization project for New Orleans after Katrina, and Porter Hill was an opportunity to experience a home occupation business while restoring the farmhouse as a small inn).
With this endeavor, I’m at a place in my life to put my name to the brand for the products I make and represent.
Diva Foodies: Our community also includes food makers aka foodpreneurs. What experiences and advice can you share for folks who want to open a retail store?
Chef William Poole: Start your idea small and grow.
One of the biggest mistakes I made with WEN was to open with over 105 different items, which included chocolates, truffles, pastry items and 5 different types of bread! At the time I wanted to show Denver what I was capable of, and the menu continued to expand. I also had a staff of nine very talented individuals who could produce and sell products in my absence.
Have milestones written down in a business plan, on a white board- somewhere you can see them every day. Know your limits and have the ability to say “no” and “no, thank you” once in a while, and keep true to your vision.
Diva Foodies: Through the last year many of your culinary and agriculture colleagues were hit pretty hard. What do you see as some of the lessons learned that you feel will impact food businesses going into the future?
Chef William Poole: I’m still numb by the effects of the last 15 months, and I feel for so many others who are hurting, or have shuttered their business, or have put others out of work in the process.
I am putting education out there as the biggest lesson-in that we (as humans) tend to take things for granted and we have to take a harder look at sustainability, traceability, core ingredients and function and how we deal with customers over the counter….e commerce, take-out and delivery all seem to be exploding markets, in-store experiences are returning with a cautious reflection of where we were not that long ago.
OTC sampling, for example is something we will not be able to offer any longer.
Diva Foodies: As is Diva Foodies’ tradition, please wrap this any way you’d like.
Chef William Poole: Thanks Toby, and by that I mean thank you for what you’re doing in getting culinary stories and voices out in your beautiful and unique way.
In the short years I’ve known you, and those first phone calls and emails, I’ve watched someone with a passion and vision bring their world to light, and I’m humbled and happy and proud to be a part of it. You’re doing a great job and I’m always on the lookout for the next story you want to show the world. Continue to grow and be incredible.
Diva Foodies: Thank you for your over the top kind words. It’s been a joy and pleasure getting to know you… and taste your delicious food!