Ruth Hinks is the UK World Chocolate Master and entrepreneur behind the multi-award winning chocolatier and patisserie near Edinburgh, Cocoa Black. Alice Cooke caught up with her to talk all things chocolate.
With the BBC’s Bake Off Crème de la Crème the word on everyone’s lips, all things baked and beautiful are experiencing something of an upsurge. Hinks says her newly-revamped Cocoa Black Chocolate and Pastry School in Peebles, near Edinburgh, is “riding a wave of popularity, which is of course fantastic for business”. Originally a warehouse and a shop, the school used to be on the same site, but now stands in its own unit a few miles away.
On the day we speak, Hinks is, by her own admission, rushed off her feet, or as she puts it, “Everyone wants a piece of Ruthie today!” But she’s far from concerned, and says she’s enjoying every minute. No stranger to the attention, Hinks was placed in the top five of the World Chocolate Masters 2013, the highest ever place achieved by the UK in the history of the competition.
Originally from South Africa, Hinks has been a chocolatier and pastry chef for 25 years – she made her first chocolate creation at the tender age of 12. “My dad was a dentist and deprived me of sugar,” she laughs, “so I had to rebel. Also, though, I really needed a job, because I wanted to buy a double tape-deck radio. I could have grown vegetables but I didn’t have the patience to wait for them to grow. I found an Easter egg mould at home and the rest is history!”
Hinks teaching at Cocoa Black
Hinks started her own company that same year, selling chocolate creations to friends and family. Now recognised as one of the top chocolatiers in the world, her chocolate and pastry expertise has been showcased on national television many times – most recently, she got down to the last five to be a judge on Bake Off Crème De La Crème. “It was all very exciting,” she says of the process. “I was delighted to be approached.”
The opportunity came through international pastry expert and friend Martin Chiffers, who is a consultant on the show. And although Hinks didn’t end up being involved, she says the show has done wonders for Cocoa Black, as so many people now want to learn the arts of patisserie and chocolate. “I absolutely love teaching it, and showing people what I’ve learnt.”
And what next for the chocolate empire? “A holiday! I’m going to Australia for six weeks, but when I get back, I just want to have the chance to enjoy the school. I can’t wait for that.”