Under the Tanzanian sun. Part 4: Victor Griffiths talks about his cocoa plantation experience
There were three very lucky pastry chefs who took a flight, pardon - three 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 chefs have shared their experiences with us in the previous weeks. Now it’s Victor’s turn. Who is really Victor Griffiths, the UK Cacao Barry account manager, and how was his Tanzanian experience?
Most pastry chefs who use Cacao Barry chocolate know of you. But how would you present yourself? Who is Mr. Victor Griffiths?
In a nut shell, I am a proud father to Oliver, currently in his third and final year at Plymouth University, a bit of a fitness freek, a 'petrol head' and a dressage rider! You could say that I like my horse power in more ways than one!! I also own two dressage horses and have a 50% share in another one - not sure as to whether it’s the front or back end?! Currently out competing Advanced Medium with my main one.
By trade, I am a fully qualified Chef with 8 years experience who later changed career landing in the corporate world. I was invited to join the Cacao Barry team 3 years ago and am still thoroughly enjoying my role with its variety of challenges, the interaction with all the Chefs in the varying locations and fortunately, watching the figures grow year after year.
Where did your love for chocolate start and what do you love best about chocolate?
I have always been a ‘chocoholic’!
However I am not consuming as much chocolate as I did in my early days within the role! All in moderation! But I do truly enjoy the sensorial richness of Cacao Barry chocolates… The flavours variety is amazing…
You have accompanied the pastry chefs on their trip to cocoa plantations in Tanzania. What is the main motive for organizing these trips?
The main reason was to make the chocolate experience become real. We are all lead by marketing departments, I wanted to get down and dirty, into the plantations for a deeper understanding of the roots of the cocoa world. Where does cocoa actually come from, the people involved, the true processes….
How does Cacao Barry care for the future of chocolate?
We have projects in place to educate the cocoa plantation owners and cocoa growers about getting the best out of their trees / plantations… Pruning, replanting, crop management… The basics that make the difference. Some of these plantations are handed down generation to generation with very little knowledge. We are building on this knowledge for the farmers who really do appreciate the interaction and are awarded by the benefits.
We also have a programme in place where, as a business, we support the local communities by building classrooms at the local schools to alleviate the massive overcrowding within each classroom. We visited a school with 1600 pupils… Each classroom had 150 pupils per class!… More classrooms, fewer pupils per teacher, better environment to learn in, happier pupils with more knowledge!
Is Cacao Barry working with sustainability in mind?
Yes, definitely… Purity from Nature is all about sustainability. The Q Fermentation process produces 1/3 more beans from the fermentation element and of a higher quality.
What were you looking forward the most about the trip and what were your goals for this single trip?
I personally have never travelled this way before!
I wasn’t expecting to see so many people being so happy with so little. The local people are just beautiful… They are happy in their day to day living. Always happy to share a smile or laugh…
I wanted to see a cocoa pod on a tree… Ticked one big box there!! I thought that the plantations would be planted out in neat rows, but they are not! We walked into a jungle of cocoa, mango, lime and banana trees…
How did it go? What was for you the most fascinating and why?
The passion of cocoa growers for their product without really knowing the end product is incredible!! The trip was really amazing… So many eye-opening experiences…
4 days in a 4x4 up and down the dirt tracks, 37 degrees and without air conditioning!!
The whole experience was fascinating! The plantations, the scenery, the weather, the adorable people, their way of living, the wildlife… I so much want to go back!
What was different from what you expected and why?
I was surprised discovering how basic it all is out there… no machinery, all done by hand …
From your experience, how was the trip for the pastry chefs who took part?
We all came back being even more passionate about chocolate by actually knowing the raw product, its story and journey.
What was most valuable for you?
There isn’t one particular thing that stands out - it’s the whole trip that made my existence in my role at Cacao Barry real! I’ve been lead by the marketing department on everything that I knew, all the details and finer points and do you know what?…. I haven’t been mis-lead !!
And what would be your advice to somebody who plans to do this trip?
Take a good camera, so you can keep re-living the experience as I am doing now!
And a good mosquito spray and an open mind!
Christmas is around the corner, what would be your wish for our readers?
I just wish everyone a very Merry Christmas with their loved ones and a prosperous, healthy New Year. If you are fortunate enough to have time off; relax, enjoy and recharge!
Thank you all for your help and support throughout this year…See you all in 2017 !