When it comes to living a passionate life, few do it with the courage and aplomb of Willie Harcourt-Cooze. Follow the amazing path that took this modern-day adventurer from a London flat to the cocoa farms of Venezuela, in search of the perfect chocolate.
When Willie Harcourt-Cooze was a child, a whole island off the southern coast of Ireland was his kingdom. He spent his days fishing, growing vegetables, even filling big tanks full of seawater and setting it out in the sun, so that the liquid would evaporate and leave only a thick crust of crunchy sea salt.
It was idyllic. But, ever since childhood, Willie has had a different kind of paradise in his mind’s eye. And after his father sold the farm, he ditched his little London flat and struck out on a quest to find it – stumbling upon his life’s passion along the way.
“Something about South America always rang bells for me,” Willie explains. “It was so full of things I had never seen before – it had all the trappings of a fantasy. Through travelling there, I became a South America addict.”
Willie and his wife spent months bumming around on beaches, taking white-knuckle bus rides up and down the Andes, and drinking late into the night with journalists. It was during a particularly long stay by the Venezuelan sea that Willie and his wife got the tip-off that would change their life: a cacao farm up in the mountains was for sale. They decided to take a look.
Willie says, “I still remember walking down the dirt track on our first visit – it was out of a fantasy. The cacao was in full crop, pods of all different colours coming straight out of the tree trunks. At that moment I was struck.”
But what business did Willie have farming cacao? “I was a farmer without a farm,” says Willie. “So I made South America my farm.”
It took a lot of convincing, but the farm’s original owner agreed to sell. Willie’s adventure in cacao had begun.
He laughs, “The farm was one of the worst investments I’ve ever made, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done. It introduced me to my passion.”
Working with a little electric grinder, a roaster and a lot of free time – “I didn’t have a TV at first,” says Willie – he taught himself to turn his new crop into incredible bars of artisan chocolate. He hasn’t looked back since.
These days, Willie is known for the spectacular quality of his chocolate bars, down to where he sources every single ingredient. He’s a veritable encyclopaedia of cacao knowledge, and it’s a difference you can taste in the Willie’s Cacao Sea Flakes Milk Chocolate in October's Gin of the Month box, made with Venezuelan Rio Caribe chocolate and hand-selected Cornish sea salt.
“I didn’t realise how many different kinds of salt there were until I started looking for the right one,” says Willie. “This Cornish sea salt reminded me, I suppose, of those early days gathering big jugs of seawater just for the salt.”
“There are so many things special about this bar of chocolate,” he says. “I’m quite passionate about all of my chocolate – I find it all draws on different elements of my life. Most people who are passionate are drawing on their life experience, and I’m just the same.”
Willie’s Chocolate Do’s and Don’ts
DO always eat your chocolate at room temperature.
DON’T focus too much on the shine or the snap; the flavour should be the star of the show.
Do check the ingredients for a clear picture of how artisan your chocolate is – industrial chocolate will have vanilla and soya lecithin.
Get 25% off orders at williescacao.com/chocolate before November 3, 2017 with code GIN25