Cocoa Black in Peebles is doing its bit to promote young local talent and career opportunities in the lucrative foodie market which is now well established in the Borders.
Award-winning patissier Ruth Hinks has two young protégés, Zoe Taylor, 22, and Serren Argent, 19, both local girls, striving to reach the same heights of excellence in patisserie as she has.
Zoe has swapped a life in childcare for chocolate-making, originally starting off working in the Cocoa Black cafe and shop where she served coffee and cakes to locals.
In the pre-Christmas rush, she started helping out at the Chocolate and Pastry School – a hectic scene of production of Cocoa Black’s delicious luxury handmade chocolates and sweet treats which are shipped all over the UK and Europe.
She was smitten and decided that making chocolate was much better than wiping it off grubby faces!
She is recently returned from the United Arab Emirates where she accompanied Ruth to Gourmet Abu Dhabi, a glittering food demonstration exhibition in front of industry experts, top chefs and hospitality professionals from all over the world. She assisted Ruth in her sell-out chocolate and pastry masterclasses.
Serren similarly had not planned to become a pastry chef and was studying nursing at university. A keen baker throughout her teenage years, she was recommended to Ruth through a friend as someone who could step in to make cakes when things got busy at Cocoa Black.
She came on board and has never looked back, now training to be a professional pastry chef on a day-release course at Telford College in Edinburgh. But the hands-on experience she gains from Ruth, a multi-culinary Olympic medal winner; protégé of the famed Albert Roux and with more than 20 years of experience as a top pastry chef, is priceless.
So much so that Serren has been inspired to enter the junior version of the UK Chocolate Masters later this year.
Ruth was overall runner-up of the senior event when she entered for the first time in 2010.
Serren said: “I am thoroughly enjoying learning my craft and am learning so much from Ruth every day, as Zoe is too. Ruth is a great teacher as well as an inspiring boss. I am training hard for the junior Chocolate Masters which will be really exciting, pitting yourself against the best young pastry chefs in the country.
“I am going to give it my best shot and see how I get on. I have already completed a Valentine’s- inspired chocolate sculpture which is on display in the Cocoa Black shop.
“Ruth is really supportive and as she regularly makes impressive chocolate sculptures for such events. I am picking up tips all the time.”
Ruth will be entering the senior event, in October.
She said: “ It’s fantastic to have committed young people of Zoe and Serren’s calibre in my team and I am delighted to help them all I can – they have both become invaluable to me and we get along extremely well.
“We certainly had a very busy Easter recently and I hope our Easter Eggs stood out from the norm!”