Under the Tanzanian sun. Part 1: David Girard talks about his cocoa plantation experience
There were three very lucky pastry chefs who took a flight, pardon - two flights, with Cacao Barry’s Victor Griffiths and landed in Tanzania - the land of cocoa. They had a very intense few days there visiting the cocoa plantations and discovering all the steps from cocoa to chocolate, which for most of us are hidden. But not anymore. They have agreed to share their experiences with us. The first one to enlighten us was David Girard, the Executive Pastry Chef of the Dorchester.
David, was this your first trip to a cocoa plantation?
Yes, it was my first time.
What were you expecting from the trip before you left and how are your feelings now, when looking back at your experience there?
My expectation was to meet the farmers, learn from them and understand their way of thinking. My expectations were high, but what we experienced was much more than I could ever have imagined. The day with the farmers was very emotional - the whole visit was fantastic, but sitting down with the farmers under the cocoa tree exchanging our experiences and trying to explain to them what we do with chocolate made out of their cocoa was like a dream - I will never forget those moments.
The farmers grow the cocoa beans but they have no idea about what happens with the chocolate later on - they had never seen our creations. Tanzania is a beautiful unspoiled piece of the world. Very different from what we know and I couldn’t ask for a better experience than this.
David's picture which captures his memory of Tanzania
You were introduced to Biolands (our direct sourcing and farm services organization) and visited the offices, you practiced cocoa posthandling procedures, you visited Demoplot plantation, the social projects (a primary school) and a coffee farm. Anything else?
There was also a lovely boat trip on the Malawi lake.
What was most fascinating and why?
For me the visit to the cocoa plantation and the farmers was the highlight of the trip - I did not expect the cocoa to grow wild. The plantation is not a field but a forest! The cocoa trees grow everywhere in this part of Tanzania and listening to the farmers talking about them was really fascinating. All they do is completely natural and organic.
Was anything different from your expectations?
I did not expect that the role of Biolands is that important. It is the key to the best quality of cocoa and also a way to improve farmer’s life quality. It also takes care of involving the community into social events.
How were the people that you met there?
Everybody is so welcoming! They are really happy to meet people from Europe and exchange experiences. The staff from Biolands were great, they tried to show us as much as possible in the time we had and they were very open and honest.
Did you try any typical Tanzanian food? What did you like about it?
I tried variuos dishes: Ugali (maize porridge dish), Ndizi Kaanga (fried bananas or plantains), Nyama choma (grilled chicken) but the most surprising and really delicious were the Green pies with tomato and coconut. I really enjoyed them!
Tanzania grows a huge variety or fruits and vegetable so their cuisine is very fresh and diverse.
What was most valuable about this trip for you?
I think I really understand all the fragility of the cacao business now. We all know about the shortage of cocoa. They are trying to increase the volume by reorganising the plantation but modernisation happening around the corner makes the balance very fragile.
People at Biolands are essential for the future of plantations - with their passion for cocoa and care for the farmers. They are taking care that farmers are paid correctly, they are creating a nursery for the plantation to be able to exchange the old trees that don’t bear fruits anymore with the new ones, they are taking care of the new generations with their schooling and they also take care of the quality of cocoa beans.
Did this trip change your view on chocolate?
Yes - it brought chocolate closer to my heart and also helped me to put a face and emotion to a product we all love and use every day. Pastry without chocolate would not be the same and without the farmers all we do would become impossible. This is something I will always keep in my mind.
If you were to create a dessert/chocolate inspired by this trip, what would it be like?
I would do something combining chocolate with banana because banana trees grow close to cocoa trees - it’s like a connection of love which puts a smile on your face.
What would be your advice to somebody who plans to do this trip?
Please go! Do it! It is an amazing country. Meet people, talk to them, take the time to go as deep as you can into the countryside and you absolutely have to go to the Malawi lake!
And where do you wish to go next?
Anywhere where I can enjoy and share experiences like this one. Probably I would choose now South America - Peru or Brasil …