Taeke Oosterwoud, Master Chocolatier of Chocolate Art, Starkholme

Amber Locke visits local speciality producer Taeke Oosterwoud of Chocolate Art

Set in Starkholmes on the side of the helter-skelter road that runs from Riber to Matlock, Chocolate Art must have one of the finest workshop views in the country. The studio and workshop of Dutch-born chocolatier Taeke Oosterwoud is spectacular inside too, with a wealth of multi-tiered, ornate and sculptured chocolate creations adorning every surface and exuding the most amazing smell.

Taeke started his culinary career in Holland where he attended catering college for five years and worked as a chef in various hotels and restaurants before moving to France to work in a restaurant in the Dordogne. He then moved to the UK where he worked as head chef at the Red Lion at Stone Edge near Chesterfield before setting up his own restaurant Raffles (now Le Mistral) in Wirksworth. Here he made all the chocolates for the restaurant and when he decided to sell the business 10 years later, it was this skill that he decided to use as the basis for a new business.

Taeke set up Chocolate Art and he now creates a huge range of unique chocolate-based masterpieces that are commissioned from across the country. His amazing work consists mainly of celebration cakes for weddings, birthdays and family celebrations but he makes a selection of hand-made chocolates for corporate gifts and wedding favours too.

He buys his chocolate from Belgium and France and uses his extraordinary skill to turn it into the most stunning works of art, which include three feet high sculptures, chocolate cakes with cascading ruffles, spikes and flowers and towering croquembouche pyramids.

Before being carefully transported to its intended destination each cake is photographed and the pictures take their place in an enormous album of previous commissions. Looking through this fascinating record, every cake is entirely bespoke with its own exuberant twist, all telling very different personal stories. There's a footballer sculpture which was commissioned for a bar mitzvah, a chocolate bed designed for a local furniture company, fairytale castle wedding cake and innumerable birthday cakes in every shape and size imaginable - handbags, rugby balls, ballet shoes, dragons, totem poles and an Empire State building ... the mind-boggling list goes on!

Taeke explains that when commissioning a cake customers usually first visit his studio to discuss suggestions. Then he puts his creative talents to work and magically transforms these ideas into stunning works of art. He also personally delivers each commission to the customer or venue to ensure that it arrives in perfect condition, jokingly telling me that his lovely wife Sue says he drives considerably more carefully when carrying a cake in the car than when he's driving her!

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I spent an intriguing few hours with Taeke in his studio, watching him temper chocolate, pipe decorative wording, dip (or 'enrobe') chocolates, discussing the best way to melt chocolate in a domestic kitchen (by short bursts in the microwave if you're interested), flicking through foreign chocolate recipe books, tasting his chocolates and special recipe chocolate wedding cake and learning all about the cocoa growing and chocolate making process - all in all it was a pretty wonderful way to spend a rainy winter morning.

With this in mind Taeke explained that he has tentative plans to open a chocolate school where members of the public or chefs wanting to understand a certain chocolate making technique could come and spend time in his studio. He does occasionally give highly popular chocolate demonstrations at local hotels and restaurants and regularly has stands at regional wedding fairs.

Chocolate Art also make chocolates for local restaurants and hotels including Zest in Derby and special occasion chocolates for Hart's in Nottingham.

For more details visit the website: www.chocart.co.uk or telephone 01269 581291

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