Award winning luxury confectionery by Éponine patisserie and chocolaterie
PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 February 2017
Divine chocolates from Chadderton's Éponine look almost too good to eat. Emma Mayoh tried, and failed, to resist.
You would think Chris Sibthorp was handling a priceless relic in a museum. With soft black gloves, he moves the chocolates he creates with partner, Natalie Windsor, a millimetre to one side on the plate as he eyes it up ensuring the perfect position. This is not just chocolate making. This is an art form.
Chris, 31, along with fiancée, Natalie, have been dreaming up luxury bites to go in their beautiful bowed boxes since 2013. They had been making them for fun – as well as doing patisserie and baking – for a long time but it was encouragement from friends that made them think about it longer term.
It was quite a shift in career for both of them. Natalie has studied a degree in physics with astronomy and Chris had done a degree in biochemistry and a PHD in genetics and microbiology, both at Liverpool. But they were so fatigued with their subjects by the time they reached the end of their studies – and not wanting to get stuck in a rut before financial responsibilities kicked in – they took the chance and set up their first stall at a farmers’ market. And while most young couples save for a deposit on a house, Chris and Natalie used their savings to buy expensive equipment for the business. It turns out it was the right decision.
Together, in the kitchen of their rented home, they create chocolates to impress. Chris gets to use some of his academic qualifications in the science of developing new recipes – his favourite part of making chocolate. They use blends of almost 50 different chocolates to create the individual chocolates, bars, boxes of chocolates, confectionery and drinks. They also make amazing patisserie, wedding favours and host chocolate workshops. They are totally uncompromising on quality and insist on a fresh product – their chocolates stay fresh for four weeks. It is a move that has cost them distribution to larger retailers but they are determined to stay true to themselves.
‘We don’t want to start adding preservatives into our products,’ said Natalie. ‘It’s not right for how we do things and how we want to continue doing things. We are producing a luxury, high end product and we are using the best ingredients.
‘Also, by sticking to our morals it means we are also working ethically. For a bar of chocolate to cost £3, it means the cocoa farmers have been paid the absolute minimum to survive. When we see them in supermarkets for £1, it doesn’t bear thinking about the conditions people have been in. We want to produce the best in the best way possible.’
Valentine’s Day is a busy time for Eponine, which has a production site in Manchester. While some might think the gift of chocolates for February 14th is predictable, the delicious and decadent creations produced by the young couple are anything but. Gin and tonic infusions that look like sparkling marbles, the perfect pairing of peanut butter and raspberry and chocolates and pralines so expertly blended, mean these are no ordinary chocolates. They also have a Tonka bean and pear chocolate that is becoming very popular. For Valentine’s there are special creations, too, including ruby red, glossy chocolate hearts, a giant heart that melts in a pan for hot chocolate for two and salted caramel delights dusted with a shimmering of gold.
‘It’s our opportunity to do some really cutesy things’ said Natalie, 27. ‘We love developing new lines. We’ll starting planning back in October to get ideas before Christmas which is so busy.
‘It’s non-stop really. There’s always some event or occasion for us to help people celebrate with our chocolates and patisserie. It’s a lot for the two of us to do. We just never stop. We’ll have dinner at half one in the morning!’
But their efforts were rewarded last year when several of their products received awards from the prestigious Academy of Chocolate and The Chocolate Awards. Their Gianduja drinking chocolate, which is also their bestseller, took the gold prize at both events making it officially the best hot chocolate in the world. Their peanut and raspberry praline also took gold, their gin and tonic and crunchy praline chocolates took silver and their house blend was awarded a bronze and a silver at the different events. It was the first time they had entered awards and each item they put forward received an accolade.
‘We never expected to win anything, although we hoped,’ said Natalie. ‘We sent our samples off and it was months before we heard anything. We started to think nothing was going to happen. But then we heard.
‘To have all of our chocolates receive awards was truly amazing. It also meant that people started to know Eponine and who we are which is something that will really help us.’
Natalie and Chris, who have travelled across Europe visiting different chocolatiers and patisseries, sell their chocolates at several farmers’ markets as well as being stocked in a few delis. They also get a lot of online orders, some internationally – just before Christmas a last minute despatch was made to Rome.
The pair have big ambitions to open their own patisserie and café. But perhaps their biggest challenge will come later this year when they produce favours for their own wedding.
‘We’re very excited,’ said Natalie. ‘I love purple so there will definitely have to be some of that somewhere. I’m excited to create something that’s for us. It will be pretty hectic trying to plan a wedding and carry on with Eponine. We’ll be making the chocolates just a few days before.
‘We would love to have our own place, it really is the dream for us. We want to start in the north west but it would be great to have one in London, too. We’ll see.’