Saturday, March 1, 2008

Willie's Wonky Chocolate Factory brings Venezuelan cacao to UK



New Channel 4 Series: "Raising the Bar: Willie's Chocolate Revolution"

A new four-part Channel 4 series called "Willie's Wonky Chocolate Factory" aims to introduce the UK to premium Venezuelan cacao. The programme follows William "Willie" Harcourt-Cooze, who bought an old hacienda near Choroni about 12 years ago, as he takes viewers on a trip from the lush forests of his cacao plantation in the Henri Pittier National Park to Devon, where he is trying to market his Venezuelan Black cacao bars.

There's something a bit Monty Python about Willie Harcourt-Cooze. Perhaps its his upper class accent, or the fact he's tall and a bit gangly. Maybe it's the unquenchable enthusiasm with which he leaps into his latest obsessions, or the hit and miss results of his endeavours.

But if Willie looks a bit like a Michael Palin character from Ripping Yarns, there's no denying that his larger-than-life character is TV gold.

It was an inspired decision by Channel 4 to give him, his wife and their three kids their own reality series. The result is like something between "the Filthy Fulfords" and orchid hunter Tom Hart-Dyke's attempts to save Lullingford castle.

The premise is fairly similar too. About 12 years ago Willie and his wife Tania bought a run-down hacienda on the edge of the Henri Pitter National Park in Venezuela's Aragua State. A glorious place between the cloud forest peaks of the park and the popular beach-resort-cum-fishing-village of Choroni, it is reached by fording a river close to the windy road that wends its way down to the sea.

After several false starts and stalled projects to reactivate the hacienda they finally hit on the idea of planting cacao trees, which produce the cocoa beans that chocolate is made from.

Living just a valley away from the isolated plantation of Chuao, they very cleverly chose to plant the same strain of criollo cacao that grows in Chuao, which is considered among the finest cacao in the world.

Now, despite setbacks in Venezuela, including an eco-posada project that never really got off the ground, Willie's Venezuelan Black chocolate venture in the UK is going quite well. The 100 per cent cacao bars went on sale in Selfridges in London on 18 February and Willie says he took £700 on the first day. He's been supplying chocolate to his mate Marco Pierre-White, one of London's top chefs, who has been experimenting with it in a number of recipes.

The three bars in the “Venezuelan Black” range are: Carenero Superior, Rio Caribe Superior and El Tesoro.

Carenero and Rio Caribe are named after the cacao beans used to make them, while El Tesoro (Treasure) is the name of Willie's hacienda and contains 100 per cent Chuao cacao.

Thinking big, Willie is hoping to become one of the first Britons since Cadbury to grow and produce his own chocolate from bean to bar.

The four-part documentary on Channel 4 certainly won't hurt sales.

It's been quite a journey. I first met Willie and his wife Tania when they were living on the beach in Choroni. Back then they were trying to buy El Tesoro and some of the locals thought they were just another pair of posh hippies passing through, trying to live the South American dream.

Later, I visited the hacienda and was blown away by the sheer size of the place, a thousand acres that stretched from a river near the road all the way to the high valley wall that leads over the hills to Chuao.

Willie had gained a reputation as a bit of a gentleman farmer with his shotgun and his hunting dogs and his more eccentric ideas of how to make the hacienda pay. Tania, or the Honourable Tania harcourt-Cooze, to give her full title, seemed to be the sensible one, but then she was pregnant in Choroni, so sensible was probably good.

Tania's background is almost as fascinating as Willie's. Her father is the fifth Baron Coleridge and she is a direct relative of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Lake Poet who penned Xanadu. She tried her hand at modelling and acting in Los Angeles in her twenties before marrying Willie and travelling to Venezuela.

At the height of her modelling career she appeared as the eye candy alongside George Michael in the 1988 video for his song "Father Figure" (just Youtube George Michael father Figure to see it).

Back in the mid-90s the plan was to set up an eco-posada and bring over high-end travellers who wanted to experience some the amazing plant and bird life of the National Park as well as the beautiful local beaches.

But incorporating the local tradition of cacao production and the internationally-recognized excellence of Chuao's criollo cacao beans into that mix is Willie's master stroke.

A few years ago, the economic downturn in Venezuela made things a bit tough for them on the hacienda. Tania's Coleridge connection brought the couple and their three children back to Devon, to The Chanters House, the Coleridge family's twenty bedroom estate in Ottery St Mary.

From there Willie was able to start buying the equipment he needed to process the beans into high quality chocolat, the basic ingredient in chocolate bars, cakes and hot chocolate, after sugar and milk are added.

So things are looking look good for Willie and Tania. From the amount of publicity the Channel 4 documentary is generating the business should do well and hopefully spark more interest in Venezuela and its natural treasures.

Meanwhile, I just can't wait to get my hands on some real Venezuelan chocolate in London.


Click here to see Willie's new Chocolate Factory Cookbook







Chuao: In Search of World's Finest Cocoa Beans

Choroni: Tambores, guarapita and midnight dips

Video: Drum dancing in Chuao

My Blog about Venezuelan Food and Drinks

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

The idea sounds great but so often with these things the business guys take the monies for the cacao and the people in Venezuela get no finacial benefit.
I hope we can continue to have the best cacao in the world like you say but I want the people who make so much profits to invest more in Venezuela.
I like your blog.
Vanessa

VERONICA said...

It's been a surprise to watch my country on TV tonight! I wish Willie and family all the best with the business and hoping, of course, that all the hard work will benefit both parts...Venezuela is such a gourgeous country with so much to offer! It is really gratifying seeing people from abroad appreciating the quality of our products, enjoying our nature and mixing up with the warm spirit of our people...will go to Selfridges tomorrow to buy some of the El Tesoro chocolate!

Veronica

VERONICA said...

It's been a surprise to watch my country on TV tonight! I wish Willie and family all the best with the business and hoping, of course, that all the hard work will benefit both parts...Venezuela is such a gourgeous country with so much to offer! It is really gratifying seeing people from abroad appreciating the quality of our products, enjoying our nature and mixing up with the warm spirit of our people...will go to Selfridges tomorrow to buy some of the El Tesoro chocolate!

Veronica

Jennifer said...

Fascinating post! I had no idea of all that extra information. I met Willie briefly at the chocolate tasting which is still to come on the show (unless they cut it...). He seems a great guy. You're right about TV gold. I think the producers said something to the same effect!
I think I like the Rio Caribe more than El Tesoro. But i haven't made them into anything. Just smelt them and tried little nibbles!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic Post Russell,

It is great to hear that people are interested in setting up Business in our beautiful Venezuela and hope also that Willie and his family get a good profit out of this business as well as our people in Venezuela.

Thank you for letting me know about the Program I enjoyed.

Bruno Romero.

Anonymous said...

It's a fantastic post, I really enjoyed it and the TV program as well. It was amazing. At home we were astonished watching our beloved drums and country!!! We're delighted to see people from UK working in Venezuela and enjoying our nature, people and resources. Our best wishes for Willie and his family, also good luck in the cocoa businness.....not only for them but for the people working at "El Tesoro".

Orisava Innecco

Choco said...

Good television! I am really surprised the chocolate hasn't been flooded on the Market yet , So far I have only found it at Selfridges , Ebay and also online at http://venezuelan-black.co.uk/. Hopefully as the TV series progress' so will the supply! Its really nice!

Anonymous said...

I've just seen the programme and checked ebay and all I can say is that I am amazed that Willie got his wonky chocolate scam on Channel 4.
I've been to Choroni and Chuao and bought 100 per cent cacao in the form he is selling it but it was less than a pound not the 12 quid he's charging for it on Ebay.
What are people going to use it for? It's too bitter to eat.
The Venezuelans use it for hot chocolate but whos going to pay 12 pounds for his hot chocolate block?
the cheek of it all is that they are even pushing it on Ebay "As Advertized on TV!"
Love your blog. Hope you do other beaches like Los Roques and Mochima.
I miss Venezuela so bad and its great to relive old times and remember old adventures in crazy Caracas. Keep it up Russ.
Janet

Anonymous said...

This is just another example of Toffs on TV. Double-barrelled Tim Dim-But-Nice Toffs telling us all how hard life is as they flit back and forth to their cocoa farm in some tropical paradise by the beach.
And now they want us to finance their South American Shangri-La by buying their chocolate. Typical!

Anonymous said...

Venezuela is a paradise. English people should come and see it. Yo soy venezolana y me siento lleno de orgullo que pasan programas en la tele de inglaterra sobre mi pais. No se nada de esa gente Willie y su esposa pero Choroni si es bella y tocan tamores y pasamos una nota alla el fin de semana con guarpita y pescado frito con tostones y ensalada. You should try it once in the life.
Yuleizy

Anonymous said...

In response to ''I've just seen the programme..... not the 12 quid he's charging for it on Ebay.''

I am pretty sure you will find that this is not Willie selling his product on eBay, but someone else making a fast buck.

Free said...

all we now want is the recipe for the large cake he brought to Selfridges !

looks yummy !!!

Anonymous said...

Come on then give us the recipie for that delicious looking chocolate soufle

Anonymous said...

I love the show and i can't wait to buy the product but don't know where to purchase it in wales. Good luck for the future

Online Kitchenware said...

As a big chocolate fan it was great to watch this program and
would love to try the chocolate.
I wish the family all the bset with the business.

Anonymous said...

Great marketing on TV - BUT WHERE CAN I BUY SOME????!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

You can buy it in Selfridges in Oxford Street, it's selling for £7. Inside the label are some recipes including the chocolate cake he makes on the TV, I've already tried making it - it's yummy!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Willie's wife is always banging on about how poor they are when they have this MASSIVE house and she's obviously got loads of inherited wealth. So they are by no means poor. Tyring living on a council estate on a low income, not some 8 bedroom mansion in Devon!

I also question Willie's business accumen. I mean the man has a TV series and you can't by his product on-line!!! The man's a nutter. Get a website now Willie.

Also Selfridges might be good PR but I've sold stuff into there and the volumes are crap. If Willie wants to shift volumes he needs to get into an upmarket supermarket like Waitrose

Anonymous said...

recipes on channel4 website

Rachel said...

I copied the recipe down from the programme as i recorded it. Not sure how many eggs the almond recipe had in it so i will try 6. The souffle is virtually the same i think, just differant sugar. Has willie got a web site as i cant find it? Wouldnt it have been prudent for him to have left us his recipes on it, even if he cant sell us his chocolate. I WANT SOME OF HIS CHOCOLATE!

Anonymous said...

Well Will Willy don a top hat and fly around the world. or am i spoiling the end of episode 4

Anonymous said...

The Venezuelan Black cacao is back on ebay and it's gone up!
£12.50 for posh cocoa powder is pushing it too far.

Anonymous said...

Not really. If you knew more about Cacao, you would probably be aware of the fact that Chuao's "Criollo" variety is one of the finest (and most expensive) cocoas in existence. Try asking a Chef or a Chocolatier

Anonymous said...

I think the Observer had the best comment when it said Willie was like a cross between Keith Richards and Prince Harry.
But cmon guys... twelve quid for cooking chocolate?

Anonymous said...

Found this website that has loads of recipes and useful info:
http://www.squidoo.com/VenezuelanBlack

Anonymous said...

CLOUD FOREST CHOCOLATE CAKE
Serves 4
Ingredients
· 180g Grated Cacao
· 6 Eggs
· 125g Caster Sugar
· 50g Light muscovado sugar
· 100 Ground Almounds
· 250g Butter

Instructions:

1. Melt grated cacao and butter, half the caster and muscovado sugar in a bain-marie.
2. Add almonds.
3. Blend half the caster sugar and eggs until tripled in size.
4. Fold into the cacao mixture and cook for 25 Minutes at 160C
5. Cool in tin
6. Ice with truffle mix ( See Truffle Recipe and double the amount of cream)

Anonymous said...

Black Beans and Arepas
Serves 6
IngredientsFor the black beans
4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 red peppers, de-seeded and finely chopped
300g black beans (turtle beans)
Chicken stock (about 300ml)
2-3 tbsp cacao

For the arepas
600ml warm water
½ tsp salt
450g Masa Harina (corn) flour
Method: How to make black beans and arepas
1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onions, garlic and peppers and fry until soft.
2. Tip in the black beans and pour over enough chicken stock to cover. Simmer for 45 minutes.
3. Meanwhile prepare the arepas. Preheat a griddle pan. Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and gradually add the warm water, mixing to form a stiff dough. Leave to stand for 5 minutes.
4. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes then form into small balls. Flatten with the palm of your hand.
5. Place the arepas in the hot pan and fry 3-4 minutes, either side.
6. Before serving the black beans, stir in the cacao. Season and serve with the arepas

Anonymous said...

Chocoalte Brownies
Serves 4
Ingredients
80g Plain Flower
250g Grated Cacao
300g Butter
8 Eggs
100g Raw Sugar Cane

Instructions:

Preheat Oven to 180 C
Melt the Cocao and the butter in a Bain-marie
In a separate bowl mix together 6 whole eggs and only the egg yokes from the remaining 2 with the Sugar Cane
Add this to the melted chocolate and then fold in the flour lightly
Pour into a baking tin and place in over for 25 Minutes

Anonymous said...

Chocolate Truffles
(For about 40 truffles)
Ingredients:

* 250ml double cream
* 150g caster sugar
* 180g cacao, finely grated
* Cocoa powder, for dusting

Instructions:

1. Heat the cream and sugar in a small pan until almost boiling.
2. Stir in the grated cacao, then remove the pan from the heat.
3. Transfer the truffle mixture to a plastic container. Cover and place in the refrigerator until cold and firm.
4. To shape the truffles, scoop a teaspoon of the mixture and roll quickly between your palms. Dust the truffles in cocoa powder and store in the fridge until ready to serve.

Anonymous said...

Expect some wonky chocolate madness as Willie floods the market with cacao products. According to the Trade Mark registration for Venezuelan Black it includes ice-creams and drinks.
Willie's Wonky Rum and Black perhaps?

VENEZUELAN BLACK No. 2461407 Cacao, chocolate, chocolate drinks, ice creams and chocolate confectionery; all included in Class 30. William Harcourt-Cooze, Prescott House, Rackenford Road, Tiverton EX16 5NB.

Anonymous said...

watched the program brilliant cant wait to try the chocolate

Mike Townsend said...

Thankfully Willies Wonky Chocolate Factory has now ended, so hopefully my blood pressure can return to normal.

What I found most distasteful about the series is the blatant misrepresentation by both the tv producers and the Harcourt-Coozes of their supposed financial poverty. Much was made throughout the series of the ‘financial hole’ that the family are in, yet this is the very same Willie and Tania who lived at Chanters House in Ottery St Mary until 2006 when their ‘trust’ sold the house through Knight Frank for several million pounds. The contents were sold separately by Sothebys for another £1.5 million. They still own several other houses around Ottery St Mary. It is scandalous to suggest the family are anything other than very wealthy. The size of their rented house should be enough to raise alarm bells that all is not quite as it seems.

As for the series itself? Awful and totally contrived is the best way I could summarise it. The whole series amounted to nothing more than a four hour advert to launch Willies product. I suspect the programme maker and Willie were good friends before filming even commenced.

Mike Townsend

Here is an article Tania wrote about living at Chanters House - http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20040317/ai_n12773773

About the sale and Tania’s father making it clear whose decision it was to sell - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/columnists/columnists.html?in_article_id=377355&in_page_id=1772&in_author_id=230

About the sale of the house contents - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/6079558.stm

Anonymous said...

It was greate to watch the last episode of your programme. It's a shame that you do not want to become a millionaire from doing what you love to do and are so passionate about. ( Something I read on the channel 4 website). You have come this far there is no point to let the ball fall now. Go get a BUSINESS PARTNER, someone with experience who can peddle the stuff and structure a business and give him the job of doing all that. Then Stay away from the sales side of things and deal with the production. You seam to have a flaire for chocolate production and how cocoa comes to life. So why not stick to that and get someone who is as passionate about business and selling as you are about chocolate. And hopefully I will see your products in a shop next to me. Best of Luck Mark.

Anonymous said...

love the series and facinated with this. I lIve in Scotland and it is impossible to buy this product. Waitrose dont deliver in Glasgow only edinburgh and when I try and access it on their website i can't. Can you tell me how I manage to get it?

Anonymous said...

All I can say is Well Done to Willie. Whatever people say about him - you can't deny the fact that he works really, really hard. How many people do you know who work 24/7 - sleeping in a car, etc etc..... I wish him all the luck in the world and I hope that his chocolate succeeds.... He is a dedicated, dynamic, focussed individual who should be praised rather than other blogs I have read where he has been slated. Willie - you are inspirational.

Anonymous said...

I though the program was absolutely a credit to willie and his wife. It made me call my sister in london who is 10mins walk from selfridges unfortunately they had sold out but the salesman is gonig to call when next delivery comes in. After reading the blogs i must say that that guy Townsend seriously needs to get a life whoever he is he certainly has had soem previous delaing with willie and his wife and is obviously frustrated - keep the feelings to yourself Townsend not the rest of the worlds problem - KEEP COOKING WILLIE AND THANKYOU FOR OPENING ALL OUTS INTO WHAT ELSE CHOCOLATE COULD BE USED FOR. Townend your a looser!

Anonymous said...

Great programme, I,m a good cook too, But where can I buy Venezuela Black........NO WERE. Looked on Web......No address, and I,m not going to drive from Penzance to Tiveton....and back...looks like it Selfidges then.....No wonder he can,t make money.

Anonymous said...

CLOUD FOREST CHOCOLATE CAKE

"...most expensive cocau in the world", and one of the most expensive cake in the world too.

£12.50 for 180g for the cocau for inside and another 180g for the icing + ingredients extra. Nearly £30 for a cake that serves 4 - surely you must be joking! No wonder you claim to be broke, if you think is an acceptable cost for a desert.

Bet Cadbury's cocau powder sales have increased.

Mrs Info Biz said...

In response to 'anonymous':
Willie's not some jumped up toff on the telly.. he's a man with a dream and a mission... more power to him and all like him I say!

Venezuelan Black pure cacao can be obtained from Waitose at a reasonable £5.99 (it goes a long way).

I especially recommend it for diabetic chocolate desserts.

And for an *incredible* Game Pie (PM me on twitter http://www.twitter.com/MrsInfoBiz for the recipe)

All success to Willie's chocolate ventures!

Debs