An Interview with UK Chocolate Master Stephen Trigg
An Interview with UK Chocolate Master Stephen Trigg
Most people switch careers 2 or 3 times during their working life, and many people dream of trading their keyboard and computer for a tempering machine. Stephen Trigg may not have had his sights set on a chocolate shop, but an open mind, a head for planning, and a willingness to go all-in has led him on an incredible chocolate journey.
We chatted with Chef Stephen the day after Valentine’s day and asked him how the day had gone for him, referring to the grueling production schedule of a chocolatier on this chocolate-centered holiday. Stephen’s answer was an excellent summary of his approach to life and to business. He replied that he and his partner had had a pleasant, quiet evening, that they do nice things for each other frequently, and didn’t really see the need for a special day to do so. No mention of late nights or production nightmares; Chef Stephen’s focus is on what truly matters to him. And a business approach that involves careful planning and prediction allows him to maintain this focus and concentrate on learning, growing, and connecting with others.
Your previous career was in IT. To go from that to competing in the World Chocolate Masters Final is a big leap. What was your journey like?
I’m a chocoholic, first and foremost. I remember my mum would buy my brother and me each a 400g bar. He’d portion it out, having a square or so a day. Not me! I’d often end up working my way through his bar as well before he could get to it. So chocolate has always been a part of my life. I even remember watching World Chocolate Masters the year that Ruth Hinks from the UK competed; I was still working in IT at the time.
I met my wife in Singapore, and when we moved to England, I encouraged her to find something to do that would make her happy. At the time, the options at chocolate shops tended to be overly sweet with lots of artificial flavoring. It hadn’t ever occurred to me that a person could make their own chocolates, let alone that I could. When my wife came to me and said, “We’re going to start a chocolate company,” I’ll confess I took it with a grain of salt. She had started successful businesses before, and at the beginning, I was kind of on the periphery. I was involved with the business side, not so much with production, while still maintaining my full-time job.
At some point, I realized it was time to make a decision. We were growing; we’d agreed to make chocolates for 1st class flights on British Airways. It was time for me to either jump in with both feet or watch the business wither and fail. I chose to jump in, and the more effort I put into the business, the more I got out of it. At first, I continued to focus mostly on the business side of the operation and was involved in production only when we really needed it. We realized that when it came to interacting with the public and being on camera, I enjoyed that kind of thing, and my wife would rather be in the kitchen, so I started to do more of that sort of thing, much of which required me to be able to produce chocolates! I competed on Bake Off: Creme de la Creme (now Bake Off: The Professionals) in 2016, which was an incredible experience and great exposure for the business.
Tell me more about your experience with British Airways. I’ve heard, for example, that our taste buds don’t work as well at high altitudes.
That’s true. Our ability to taste things is diminished considerably. But that’s one of the reasons we got the job. Subtle flavors are really common in high-end chocolates, but my wife prefers stronger flavors, and that was something that attracted BA to our products.
The experience of producing for them was incredible, but I didn’t let myself really feel it at first. My head was down, making sure it all got done and was perfect. We packed our first order into a van, and I drove several hours to deliver it myself. It wasn’t until the product was officially delivered that I felt it and could take a minute to realize what a big deal it was.
Did you need to significantly ramp up your operation to take the job? How did you handle the increased demands?
I’ll say, in general, it’s important to have a budget and a plan. I track cash flow, not P&L, and I have a spreadsheet that I keep up to date. It’s allowed me to stay on top of the business and predict what we’ll need.
What was the World Chocolate Masters Final like for you?
World Chocolate Masters was, to some degree, a journey of validation for me. What I really wanted was to be in the room, to compete, and to be able to hold my own. I was there to give it everything I had, win or lose. And to maintain full energy no matter how things were going. When you watch competition shows, you see competitors who get frustrated when things don’t go well, who are visibly rattled. You also see those who are able to keep their energy up, to smile, and to support each other and their fellow competitors. That’s who I wanted to be: to smile, never complain, and create a supportive atmosphere for the competition. And I loved every single minute of it.
Did you have some moments where things didn’t go as planned?
For the #BONBON challenge, I had just gotten my mold the night before. I had practiced with something similar, and I wasn’t really worried about it, but that added a little stress. Then the room temperature at the competition was very different from the shop, and things weren’t setting, and there was a sort of domino effect. I had to come up with a backup plan. The pressure was tremendous, and I’ll confess I was on the edge of a breakdown. In the end, I pulled through and was able to present something to the judges. It wasn’t exactly what I’d wanted, but I’d made it happen.
You mentioned looking to the competition for a sense of validation.
It’s true, I have had a hard time thinking of myself as a “real chef,” in spite of all the success that we’ve had. I didn’t expect to win WCM. I went for the experience, to push myself, and to prove to myself that I could hold my own.
Two moments stand out to me:
The first: my brother came to the competition to support me. At some point, he introduced himself to one of the judges who recognized our last name. The judge said, “He’s not going to win, but he’s making a big impression.” And another chef’s supporter confessed that I was his favorite competitor! I wanted to bring a good attitude to the competition and give it everything I had, and people noticed that. The fact that my creations and my work caught peoples’ eye enforced the idea that, yes, I did belong there.
Let’s talk about sourcing things locally: I understand that’s a big part of your business. What sorts of products are you able to get locally?
To be clear, while we have relationships with and purchase from local growers whenever possible, we’ve focused on supporting other local businesses. So for things like die-cutting, printing, or packaging, we’ve looked to businesses in our area to supply those things for us. We’re in a somewhat industrial area, and I’ve knocked on doors and introduced myself, looking to see if anyone had a fuse we needed, things like that.
One really cool way we’ve incorporated a local business is through our trash collection. We have a company that collects food waste and uses it to generate electricity. In fact, I set up a special bin at World Chocolate Masters, and all of my food scraps went back to Yorkshire! None of the chefs had heard of anything like it.
So what’s next?
That’s something I need to really sit down and think about: what do the next 5 years look like? I’ll be honest, sometimes I think about it and I want to reach for the stars; then sometimes I think I’m really happy with how things are, and I want it to stay this way. I went into the business with three goals: I wanted to be happy, and I didn’t want any investors because I wanted freedom.
I’ve found I love the technical aspects of working with chocolate. There’s a reliable technique. If something doesn’t work, you can step back and analyze what happened. I’ve learned that it can be necessary to adapt flavors and that, a lot of the time, you need to trust yourself.
What’s amazing to me is the incredible experiences I’ve had because of chocolate: I’ve been on yachts with the owners of sports teams, I’ve traveled all over the world, provided bonbons for multi-star Michelin restaurants. Chocolate has opened so many doors for me and I’ve had incredible experiences. The camaraderie among chefs and the connections I’ve made have made a real impression on me.
I’ve been able to connect with people through chocolate that I might never have otherwise. One time that stand out: I was working a bit late one night close to the WCM finals, and there was a faint knock at the door, then something came through the post slot. It was a card from one of our customers wishing me luck. She’d taken the time to select a card, write a nice message, and deliver it to the shop. Those kinds of connections, just as much if not more than the ones I’ve made with millionaires and celebrities, are the most valuable to me.
*Chef Stephen's responses have been expanded for clarity and to provide more details. Any errors are on the part of Chocolate Academy™, and we encourage readers to contact us with questions or concerns.
About Stephen Trigg
Passionate about crafting with chocolate, Stephen founded his own chocolate company, Lauden Chocolate, with his wife, Sun. During the past decade, they have won over 40 awards, and are responsible for supplying some of the finest establishments in the UK with their chocolate creations. Stephen’s personal philosophy is to create chocolates that he would enjoy eating himself.
Stephen represented the UK & Ireland in the 2022 World Chocolate Masters Final.
About World Chocolate Masters
The World Chocolate Masters is the only competition in the world solely dedicated to the creative talent of professionals with chocolate. This is the place where you will meet the new leading generation of chefs in the pastry and chocolate world.
You can re-watch the livestreams of each day of the competition, learn about the contestants and jury members, and see recipes from each chef on the World Chocolate Masters website. And be sure to follow them on Instagram for all the latest news about the chefs and future competitions.