by Michelle Chaplow
After an unforgettable introduction whilst flying First Class with British Airways, I was intrigued by the story of Lauden Chocolate, I decided to interview LAUDEN CHOCOLATES for my Hotel Essence blog. The company is co-owned by Stephen and his wife, Sun, who is from Singapore. Chocolates were flown across Europe for the photo shoot (one of my speedier shoots, due to the hot Spanish sun) and I had a great time with two of my true loves, photography and chocolate.
1. Is there a love story behind these chocolates?
Sun and I both love chocolate and good food. When we moved to Leeds we couldn’t find the kind of chocolate we liked to eat. We spent a fortune on chocolate from local shops, only to be disappointed with the high sugar content and poor taste. We’d end up going to London or Paris to buy chocolate. But this wasn’t often, so we started learning to make our own at home and attended a few professional courses for fun. We went on our own journey of discovery, experimenting with ingredients and techniques, making mistakes until we finally got the taste we wanted.
Then we made chocolates for our wedding and our guests asked where we bought them. This gave us the inspiration to start a business, which we’d both talked about while during the learning stage. I remember spending all Saturday into the early hours of Sunday morning making the first batch for the local Leeds farmers’ market. We must have had three hours´ sleep, and were not really happy with the final chocolates, but we took them to the market all the same. We sold out in two hours and only made £130, but it was the biggest buzz ever. We went home exhausted to sleep, but I was too excited and ended up cleaning the mess from our chocolate-making, as well as the whole apartment from top to bottom. It is incredible to look back at that first £130 we took five years ago and where we are now.
2. Where does the name Lauden come from?
Sun had a company for seven years based in central Java called Lauden, which manufactured beautiful solid wood furniture. I remember we were trying to decide on a name for the company on the way to London. During that four-hour drive we’d discussed all sorts of options, and we wanted to steer clear of a play on the word chocolate. Lauden kept coming into the conversation. Sun told me it came from the Latin phrase “cum laude”, which means “with honour”, and is normally associated with a high-level university degree, so it seemed a good fit and sounded prestigious.
3. When the order for BA arrived, what was your reaction?
We were both really excited when the first purchase orders arrived, but we didn’t really have time to enjoy the moment. We had a tight delivery schedule and a lot of chocolate-making to do. So we went into work mode to get all the ingredients ordered and delivered, the chocolates made, and shipped down to Heathrow. I personally drove the first order to Heathrow myself to make sure it was delivered safely, and to understand the processes. It was only after I had made the delivery, posted some messages on Facebook and Twitter, and started the drive back, that the sense of excitement and satisfaction started to sink in.
We got so many messages of support from all sorts of people, but one from a close friend really stood out and made me realise what we’d achieved. We’d gone from making chocolates in our apartment to supplying British Airways in five years – we got married on 29 March, and we delivered to BA on 30 March five years later. We were both so proud of each other.
4. Have you flown First and sampled your chocolates onboard?
Unfortunately we’ve not had the privilege yet; perhaps one day when we fly back to Singapore to visit family. A couple of friends have flown and been so proud to tell the cabin crew they know the people who made the chocolates. What is very humbling is we receive, on average, one or two emails a week from customers who’ve flown First Class, telling us how much they enjoyed the chocolates. We’re both amazed that people take the time to do this – even a few celebrities.
5. Of all the places in all the world, why Leeds?
I’d been staying with Sun (then my girlfriend) in Singapore when we decided to move to the UK. I’d always had a lot of IT contract work around Leeds and I knew it was a great, compact, cosmopolitan city. She was a city girl, living just off Orchard Road in Singapore, so it seemed a good fit.
6. Do you supply your chocolates to any luxury hotels?
Cliveden House (http://www.clivedenhouse.co.uk/)
Crazy Bear Group (http://www.crazybeargroup.co.uk/), eclectically-styled hotels in Beaconsfield and Stadhampton, Oxfordshire.
And in the past we’ve done some chocolates for the Four Seasons in Mayfair (http://www.fourseasons.com/london/).
7. Do you have any dark chocolate secrets that yourself or Sun would like to share?
Hmmm. We received a 2kg sample of very rare and expensive chocolate from South America, called Porcelana. The bean is white when cut open (rather than the black, as normal) hence the name, and it has a fantastic flavour, and at 75% cocoa bean is even quite sweet. We received the sample in November a couple of years ago and Sun wanted to experiment with it after the chaos of Christmas. I took it home to keep it in a safe place…
Then the chocoholic in me took over and I kept dipping into the bag for a little treat for myself whenever Sun wasn’t around. Well the 2kg didn’t last long and I’d no idea how to tell her I’d eaten the lot. We were so busy with Christmas I just hoped she would forget about it. Come January I could see her looking around the apartment, then the factory, until she asked me. She quickly saw through my feeble lies and hit the roof! Well it cost me a trip to London and lunch at one of the Galvin Brothers restaurants, to meet the chocolate company owner who was in London on business. He’d brought us a suitcase with 22kg of Porcelana chocolate – 20kg for Sun and 2kg for me and my addiction. The funniest thing was watching the Maître D’s face, as we had this large suitcase open at the table in such a fine restaurant, dealing chocolate!
Even if you’re not lucky enough to fly First Class on BA, you can still get some of Stephen and Sun’s delicious, beautiful chocolates at Lauden Chocolate. With their colourful, artistic designs, they make fantastic presents. My personal favourites are the passion fruit chocolate with 100% real passion fruit, and the combination of British raspberries and dark Madagascan chocolate. If you’re a chocoholic, like me and Stephen, you won’t be disappointed!