Forbidden Love Collection – Arcane Chocolate – Erik Van der Veken Interview

Erik Van der Veken is one of the top Chocolatiers in the World, after working in some of the best Michelin Kitchens, he fell in what could be called a ‘forbidden love’ with a Saudi Arabian woman, which led to some complications in a still very conservative country. This led him to follow his love to Ireland where she was finishing her studies in University College Cork.

After partnering up with Redmond Fine Foods, Erik used his ‘forbidden love’ inspiration to create Arcane Chocolate where they don’t try to please the masses in the pursuit of profit, rather they aim to create something that represents our core beliefs: respect for the skill, respect for the ingredients and a deep appreciation for the raw ingredient ‘Cacao’.

We hope you enjoy the interview below…

Tell us what inspired you to cook and what age you started ?

Well, As a kid I liked making cakes, cookies and so on, when I was 12 and had to decide what I wanted to do in Secondary school I chose Culinary, very much against the wishes of my parents as they thought I didn’t understand what I was getting myself into at that age, but I was hard headed and convinced them to let me have my way.

The first two years we got a little bit of everything, hot kitchen, butchery, bakery and pastry.

In the third year we had to specialize and that’s when I chose first pastry/bakery and later chocolate. I remember seeing some students of the higher years make sculptures and get ready for competitions and that grabbed my admiration. I really wanted to be able to do similar things.

What is your favourite food memory?

Well, it must be the first time I had ‘Gaufre de Bruxelle’ or ‘Brussels waffle’. It’s still my favourite dessert despite how simple it actually is to make it.

It’s crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and usually served with icing sugar, whipped cream and ice cream. I’m very picky when it comes to waffles and it makes my skin crawl when I see people refer to things that don’t even resemble a real Belgian waffle as ‘Belgian Waffles.

Where \do you draw inspiration from for your chocolates?

It can be a wide variety of things, sometimes I’d be on a long drive home after teaching a masterclass somewhere in the countryside, I’d have some melodic house music turned up to the max and ideas would come flowing. Sometimes it’s after eating something and having a lightbulb go off in my mind thinking geez that would be really good with x chocolate I tasted. It can also be life experiences, my Valentines collection is inspired by my own story of a ‘forbidden love’ in Saudi Arabia which led me to Ireland and setting up shop here with Arcane Chocolate.

Have you any suppliers/ producers that stand out to you and why?

I moved to Ireland in December 2015 and started working with Redmond Fine Foods in January 2016, with whom I’ve worked the 4 years leading up to the birth of Arcane Chocolate. 

The owners of Redmond’s have taken a punt on me when I arrived in Ireland, when I arrived here with no contacts, no reputation, no job lined up or anything I could fall back on, and have continued to back me now still with Arcane Chocolate as co-founders following me in my dream, so naturally I feel a great deal of loyalty to them, aside from the fact they have great products and produce I’ve always enjoyed working with even long before I moved to Ireland. 

By extension, I also built up a very solid relationship with Cacao Barry, the fine chocolate couverture producer work with and became a brand ambassador for in 2018.

What, in your opinion are some of the most underrated ingredients available to us in Ireland?

Ha! I actually think chocolate is massively underrated in Ireland. There are exceptions but in general there doesn’t seem to be that appreciation people have for wine and coffee, while in chocolate there are also an endless amount of flavour profiles waiting to be discovered.

It is changing though and I see more and more pastry chefs valuing quality chocolate for their desserts and seeking to up-skill. It’s an exciting time to be a chocolatier in Ireland. I believe we are on the verge of seeing a similar trend in the world of chocolate as we have seen on the world of coffee.

How do you stay motivated and relevant within your role?

I keep challenging myself, take regular courses with industry leaders and try to improve my product a little bit every time.

I’ve also applied to compete in the World Chocolate Masters, which you can view as the Olympic games for chocolatiers and pastry chefs, something I’ve dreamed of for many many years, that’s a massive motivation for me to keep that development curve going in the right direction.

What is your ultimate food indulgence? 

Hmm If I wanted to have the ultimate indulgence, I would probably go to the Greenhouse in Dawson street with my partner and have the tasting menu with matching wines. Mickael has never failed to impress us.

What are your favourite restaurants, who are your favourite Chefs?

The Greenhouse in Dawson street would be my number one destination in Dublin and I definitely admire Mick’s incredible focus and drive.

In my hometown I love a place called ‘Het Gebaar’ (translated: ‘The Gesture’) it’s a lunch restaurant with a michelin star and the chef, Roger Van Damme, comes from a pastry background and has incredibly complex desserts that look like pieces of incredible skillful art.

Other chefs that I really admire are Frank Haasnoot, a winner of the World Chocolate Masters competition, an extremely talented and funny guy and Ramon Morato who from a purely technical/scientific point of view may very well be the best pastry chef in the world.

Your job in undoubtedly both physically and mentally demanding, do you have an outlet that helps you refresh & re-energize your mind and body?

I try to go to the gym at least 3 times a week, more if my schedule allows for it. I try to eat healthy most of the time and intermittent fast several days of the week.

When the opportunity permits I also like to chase some adrenaline rushes like track driving or go-karting.

Tell us what you love about working in your current role and why it is the right fit for you?

It’s a creative outlet, it may sound a bit cliche but there really is a little piece of me in every chocolate I create.  I also want to build something and see how far I can take it (with my business partners). My dream is to build an international brand with branded stores in all the major cities. At this moment we’re far removed from that and I don’t know if we will achieve it, but that’s what I’m aiming for and that’s what gets me up in the morning.

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