Discover an exclusive interview of Chef Phillip SKINAZI, Executive Pastry Chef at The Gleneagles who developed with Valrhona a stunning bespoke chocolate to be proposed in the restaurant menu of the Hotel and Gleneagles & Co Chocolate Bar.
1-What prompted you to develop your bespoke couverture?
When I joined the Gleneagles team as Executive Pastry Chef three years ago, I set out my vision to elevate the pastry and dessert offering across the whole estate. We have a fine foods range, Gleneagles & Co, which sees us collaborating with makers and producers to create artisan store cupboard products – jams, chutneys, shortbread, whisky cake, oatcakes and oils and vinegars – which celebrate quality ingredients, family recipes and the heritage of traditional cooking methods. Adding our Gleneagles blend of Valrhona chocolate to this range seemed like a natural evolution.
2-Why did you choose the Valrhona bespoke offer?
Valrhona is renowned for its quality ingredients, product scope, flavours and innovative approach, and Gleneagles is a market leader in creating exceptional hospitality experiences, so it’s a great brand partnership and the creation of our own Gleneagles blend was an ideal opportunity. It’s important to Gleneagles that we source and manage our supplies responsibly, so Valrhona’s focus on responsible trading and developing meaningful, beneficial and lasting relationships with growers, was also a key deciding factor. Additionally, before we launched the Gleneagles & Co chocolate bar, I had embedded Valrhona chocolate across all our menus, so creating the couverture to sell in our Retail Arcade and online was a natural choice. Our guests can now purchase one of the chocolate bars as a memento of their stay, or they might purchase it as a gift for someone after having enjoyed their dessert in one of our restaurants.
3-Can you quickly tell us about your experience and the history of your bespoke chocolate?
At the outset of this journey to create the Gleneagles & Co chocolate with Valrhona, it was important to us that it would appeal to the wider market. Gleneagles is a family hotel, and represents unstuffy luxury so the chocolate bar had to reflect that ethos. We didn’t want it to be too heavy or rich or something you’d only want to eat once a year; we wanted it to be luxurious, but we also wanted to appeal as an everyday treat. I took inspiration from the flavours of Perthshire – the sweet local strawberries and tart raspberries and blackberries that grow in abundance here, and the rich earthiness of the land that surrounds the hotel – so the chocolate has a strong connection with the local landscape and celebrates Gleneagles’ strong ties with the natural and cultural heritage of this part of the world. Looking to the surrounding landscape for creative inspiration is something we have done across the hotel over the past few years – from our culinary offering and drinks menus to our events programme and interior designs.
4-Did the idea you had when you start to develop your bespoke couverture evolve with the Valrhona support?
The Valrhona team are passionate about chocolate, which is obviously important, but they’re also interested in the broader commercial and brand picture, which is equally important. On a day to day basis as I was developing the couverture, the Valrhona team would always try to find an answer to any questions I had, whether that was in relation to ingredients, science, technology or product.
5-What is the aromatic profile of your chocolate? Tell us about your bespoke chocolate (origin, taste…)
We’ve chosen South American cocoa for the red fruit top notes, and African cocoa for the drier, earthy base notes. In 2018 when we started developing the couverture, vanilla was becoming a big thing, so I chose Madagascan vanilla for that incredible potency of flavour and those heady, aromatic and floral notes. Our use of brown sugar, with its rich and comforting taste of molasses, is a nostalgic nod to the heritage of home recipes in Scottish kitchens and the traditional dishes my grandmother used to make, like Scotch pancakes, treacle scones and cloutie dumplings.
6-What impact has the creation of your bespoke chocolate had on your business?
The Gleneagles & Co Valrhona chocolate has been tremendously well received and is one of the best sellers in our Retail Arcade. It’s a great talking point when we’re entertaining VIPs or journalists – there aren’t many hotels in the world with their own premium couverture – and after they’ve finished a dessert containing the chocolate, we can bring out a bar of the chocolate as a departing gift, so it’s a lovely way to bring together their whole experience at the hotel. In terms of how we utilise it within our menus, it’s an incredibly versatile chocolate and we use it across the full culinary spectrum – whether that’s a really rich, fudgy chocolate gâteau served with coffee in our Garden Café; a Black Forest Gâteau-inspired dessert in our fine dining restaurant, The Strathearn; a simple tasty chocolate mousse in our family-orientated Clubhouse restaurant, The Dormy; or an exquisitely delicate afternoon tea pastry best enjoyed with Champagne! It’s done so well that we’re exploring developing a second couverture range!
7-How would you describe the bespoke chocolate couverture experience with Valrhona?
This is my first couverture, so to have the opportunity to make that journey, creating a chocolate product in collaboration with Valrhona, has been tremendously exciting.