It’s hard to imagine losing a kitchen. In my five room flat, for instance, I’m fairly sure I would notice if the kitchen went missing. But at Hampton Court Palace, they’ve recently “discovered” the missing chocolate kitchen of King George I.
Of course, they always knew it was there somewhere, but nobody was exactly sure which of the thousand rooms in the palace housed the 18th Century kitchen. That was until last June, when an old map was discovered pointing out the exact location. Sure enough, inside a store room adjoining the Fountain Court, a spit – used for roasting cocoa beans – was discovered above a fireplace.
In fact, the original stove and all the fittings were intact, but nobody had put two and two together and realised this was the long lost Royal Chocolate Kitchen.
Thomas Tosier, The King’s Chocolate Chef
In this kitchen, chocolate was transformed from cocoa beans into a rich and spicy drink fit for a King. The hot chocolate, was often fortified with wine or port along with expensive spices like chilli, cardamom, allspice and Grains of Paradise.
Thomas Tosier was the personal chocolatier (or ‘chocolate chef’) to three Kings; William III, George I, and George II. At that time, chocolate was consumed purely as a drink, and Tosier would have been responsible for all kinds of exotic and expensive recipes. Cocoa houses were popular throughout the country, but chocolate was still an even more expensive luxury than coffee.
As we entered one of Mr Tosier’s chocolate rooms, he was busy with his metate making another batch of hot chocolate for the king.
Of course, this was an actor playing the part of Mr Tosier, but the cocoa, spices and metate (used for grinding the beans) were real. The smell of the cocoa combined with spices and alcohol pervaded the air as he talked us through the chocolate making process.
Next door, the palace has recreated a chocolate room, filled with reproduction pewter chocolate pots, cups, glasses and bowls. Hot chocolate would have been served in cups, which were then placed inside a Chocolate Frame – a kind of a pewter saucer that was attached to the cup – to prevent any spills.
In The Kitchen
These first two rooms were simply recreations of their 18th Century counterparts. Historians at the palace decided to leave the actual chocolate kitchen largely untouched. Aside from the original fittings, the room is bare, but brought to life by a projection that maps moving images onto the walls, showing how some of the equipment would have been used.
Although it still wasn’t entirely clear how the chocolate spit over the fireplace would have been used to roast cocoa beans, our guide Marc Meltonville, food historian at the Royal Palaces helped explain the process.
The thing that struck me most is that when it comes to making chocolate in small batches, very little has changed in the last 300 years. They may have ground the beans in a metate rather than an electric melanger or conche, but the underlying techniques are largely the same.
We tried four different hot chocolates at the palace. The first – a simple concoction, similar to what have been served in London’s 17th Century cocoa houses – was made with water, sugar and a little chilli. The second closely resembled a drink that would have been served at the palace and was flavoured with anise. The third hot chocolate was milky and sweet, and the final drink was made with cocoa butter, milk, sugar and vanilla.
I have to say, my favourite was the chilli. Prepared simply with chocolate, water and spices, it’s almost exactly the same way I make my own hot chocolate today.
Hampton Court Palace is a wonderful place to visit, and although a little expensive, it’s a slice of English history that everyone should experience at least once.
Truth be told, the chocolate rooms are quite simple, and there isn’t a lot to see if you’re not into the history of chocolate. But if you are, it’s a fascinating glimpse into a world where cocoa was a sought after and valuable commodity fit for a king.
The Royal Chocolate Kitchen At Hampton Court Palace is open to the public from Friday 14th February from 10am – 4:30pm. Entry to the palace costs £17.60 for adults and for children under 16. For more information, visit hrp.org.uk.