Tuesday, 18 February 2014

King George, the Chocolatier and Hampton Court Palace

Last week, I was privileged to preview the rediscovered ‘Chocolate Kitchen’ at Hampton Court Palace.  On a blustery, wet day my twin loves of history and chocolate fused (if there’d been a cat padding round - utter perfection!)
A blustery day at Hampton Court Palace
The story behind the rooms is that of a king who loved hot chocolate. Out of his own purse (rather than the publicly funded privy purse), King George I employed a personal chocolatier, Thomas Tosier. It was Tosier’s job to roast and grind the cocoa beans, mix them into the rich spicy blend and serve it to his king.
The room where the actual cup of cocoa would be prepared.
In recent times used as a storeroom and now restored to its Georgian function.
Way before the days of instant hot chocolate, to create the perfect cup of cocoa cost a small fortune and was a hallmark of wealth and opulence. The expenses incurred by the royal household paid for out of the Privy Purse were well documented, but because Tosier was a private employee, no such records existed. It was therefore a matter of detective work for the HistoricRoyal Palaces (HRP) restoration team to discover the location of Tosier’s kitchens.
The room where the beans were roasted
The rooms were eventually located in the Baroque part of the palace, the Fountain Court. This is a short walk away from the main Tudor kitchen, which prevented the precious cocoa beans from being tainted by the smell of meat and fish. In all, there are three chocolate rooms. The first for roasting and preparing the beans, has a rare Georgian folding table, original shelving, a smoke jack for roasting and charcoal ovens. The second room contains the equipment and spices for grinding and blending. The third kitchen was where the final cup of cocoa would be created, complete with authentic reproductions of Georgian cocoa cups.
Beans being ground over on a granite slab
over a low heat.
Tosier’s famous skill came from knowing if the finer he ground the beans, the more flavor was released. He used a saddle shaped granite slab with a low heat beneath, and a granite rolling pin, to grind the beans. Then he added spices such as grains of paradise, chilies, aniseed and all spice, to create the flavor favored by the king. Georgian hot chocolate was less sweet, and spicier than the modern palate is accustomed to. 
The Fountain Court -
away from the smell of the busy main kitchens.
Indeed, the modern visitor can use all of his/her senses and taste hot chocolate through the ages (Stuart, Georgian, Victorian and modern) by purchasing a tasting platter at the café. [As a chocoholic myself, I was surprised at how much I preferred the Stuart cocoa – with its chilli, pepper and cardamom taste – compared to the more familiar Victorian flavor that was sickly sweet to say the least.]
The hot chocolate tasting platter.
From left to right:
Modern, Victorian, Georgian and Stuart cocoas.
Hampton Court Palace is hugely evocative of Tudor history, but with opening of the Georgian Tudor chocolate kitchen a new dimension has been added. In contrast to the pies and meat associated with the impressive Tudor kitchens (worth a visit in their own right), the visitor glimpses the sophistication and opulence of the 18th century. The opening of the ChocolateKitchen is part of a wider celebration of the Georgians taking place across the Historic Royal Palaces in 2014 – to mark the 300th anniversary of George I’s Accession to the British throne.
Many thanks to the lovely people at the Historic RoyalPalaces for giving me the opportunity to preview the kitchens.

Next week’s post is a more personal look at Thomas Tosier and his wife, Grace.
Grace Tosier - wife of Thomas
More of her next week.

1 comment:

Due to the amount of SPAM I have been forced to moderate comments. If you are a spammer - please go away! You comment will not be posted and you are wasting your own time.