What gets Yotam Ottolenghi out on a Monday night?

A peek behind the scenes: a room full of love for the world's most ethical and delicious chocolate. 

February 23, 2023

In this guest blog post written by Sue Quinn and reposted by Original Beans, we delve into the mind of Yotam Ottolenghi to discover what gets him out of bed in the morning and keeps him passionate about cooking. From his love of spices and travel to his commitment to sustainability and ethical sourcing, this post offers a fascinating glimpse into the inner world of one of the world's most beloved chefs.

I get invited to lots of lovely events – new restaurant openings, product launches and even jaunts abroad to eat my bodyweight in cheese. Exactly how PRs decide who to invite to these things is a bit of a mystery. Generally, it’s a melange of food journalists and editors, high-octane food socialites with vast social media followings, and the occasional celeb. (You know that they’re struggling to make up the numbers when an invite arrives for an event just a few days away. I receive a few of these 🤣).

Of course, I’m privileged to be invited to any of these gatherings, and it would be absurd and obnoxious of me to moan about being plied with food and drink in the name of ‘work’. But PR events can be shallow, transactional affairs. Superficial conversation flows with the booze, and the unspoken contract is clear: they’re giving you freebies in exchange for publicity.

But a dinner I attended on Monday night was altogether different. Hosted and organised by Countertalk at London’s Toklas restaurant, it celebrated an extraordinary chocolate company called Original Beans. Disclosure: they were good enough to send me some chocolate to work with when I was recipe testing for my chocolate book a few years back. But the absolute truth is their chocolate ranks among the most delicious I’ve eaten, and they’re the most ethical maker on the planet.

The event was on a Monday, widely regarded by those who attend these things as a sacrosanct day off from carousing. Nonetheless, it was hugely well attended. Many well-known faces from the restaurant and food writing world were there, among them Yotam Ottolenghi. The respect and admiration in the room for Original Beans was intense, and for good reason.

The company was founded in 2008 by Philipp Kauffmann, an erstwhile tech entrepreneur who got fed up with money being the sole driver of his businesses pursuits. For a decade or so he left the business world to work in conservation, including at the UN. Then, he started a chocolate business built on the premise that high ethical standards and profits are not mutually exclusive.

From the start, Original Beans married chocolate production with conservation, enabling indigenous communities to reconnect with their ancient cacao culture and traditions. The company’s mission was to make chocolate while respecting the land, rather than just taking from it. .

Today, Original Beans makes some of the world’s best bars from the rarest and finest beans, and in a way that preserves precious varieties and the forests they grow in. It pioneered compostable packaging more than a decade ago, and its one-for-one tree-planting programme (the oldest in the world) has resulted in 3.5 million extra trees being added to the world’s tropical hotspot forests.

In an age where most companies lay claim to some form of sustainability credentials, these trees need to be viewed in perspective. Callebaut, a global chocolate giant, transforms 2.3 million tonnes of cacao beans every year, and last year reported planting 20 million trees. By comparison, Original Beans transforms just 230 tonnes of cacao beans annually, but planted 2 million trees last year. “Our impact is 1000 times bigger than the mightiest chocolate company on the planet,” Kauffmann explained to us before we sat down to eat. “So, I’m really proud.”

Company profits are ploughed back into wildlife protection (elephants and gorillas, for example) and projects that support women cacao farmers. Importantly, cacao farmers are paid above Fair Trade prices (this just means a commitment to pay 5% above the market rate, which doesn’t mean much when your income is well below subsistence level to start with.)

All Original Beans chocolate is CO2 negative, so it has a net effect of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere rather than adding it. And all the company’s claims can be verified in their annual Chocolate Foodprint report.

“The mission of Original Beans from the outset was to develop a business that gives back more than it takes,” Kauffmann says. “One that that really restores, regenerates and tries to do things differently.

“We are still in colonial times; we just take stuff as cheap as we can get it, exploit everybody and then sell it. But you can still make profits and also go a long way in restoring traditions and nature and people and culture and health.”

Aside from its ethical credentials, Original Beans makes outstanding chocolate, and our dinner was infused with it. Joké Bakare, chef proprietor of modern West African restaurant Chishuru, devised a menu that showcased its distinctive characteristics of without allowing it to overwhelm other ingredients. She prepared mushroom moi moi from black trompette mushrooms, black eyed beans and pickled oyster mushrooms with a hot pepper emulsion. She cooked mutton in a spiced chocolate rub and served it with atassi rice. Both dishes contained Piura 75% chocolate, an amazing varietal of albino cacao only found in the Piura Valley in Peru. It’s silky and fruity and my favourite Original Beans bar.

Dessert, by Countertalk founder Ravneet Gill and chocolatier and dessert chef Terri Mercieca was an intensely rich confection of plantain, rum, malt and five different types of Original Beans chocolate. I’ll be dreaming about it for a long time.

It was apt to hold the event the night before Valentine’s Day. Big Chocolate (or Big Confectionary as some call it) takes a less than loving approach to the environment, cacao farmers and consumers in its pursuit of profits.

"Love and food and food and love belong together,” Kauffmann says. “You can't make good food without love, and you can't make good love without good food".

Flavours of red berries and pecan shine as bright as Peru’s coast and butterflies in this chocolate produced from the ultra rare Blanco cacao varietal.

Nearly extinct when our Bean Team discovered it, Piura’s white “Blanco” has become a celebrated cacao. Your purchase of the bright Piura 75% promises an even brighter future for Peru’s rare beans and butterflies.

  • Vegan

  • Climate +

  • Fair +

  • Compostable