Sian Fish is the Willy Wonka of the farmers’ market world. When I meet up with her at Whiteladies Road Famers’ Market in Bristol, she is wearing a flamboyant velvet hat, which I think would not have looked amiss on the head of Gene Wilder when he took on the role of literature’s most eccentric (/only?) chocolatier. It certainly would have gone well with his coat, which I have secretly always envied.
Sian’s company is called Anything But Plain. She set it up in June, having previously worked as an IT contractor. It specialises in making colourful and unusual chocolates. Her motto is, “if you can imagine it, we will do it.”
The good, the bad and the basil
It seems some of her customers are rather imaginative. She says, “The most common unusual flavour is chili but one of my favourites is rosemary and sea-salt. You wouldn’t think it would go with chocolate, but it really does. The rosemary just cuts through it.”
I baulk slightly at the idea of basil chocolate, which she says occurred to her as she was cooking one time, but apparently that too goes well with milk chocolate. In any case, she says that even on the odd occasion she does create something that does not quite hit the spot, it is very rarely wasted: “Strangely enough there’s always someone who wants it in the family,” she laughs. “There’s always someone who says, ‘Actually…’”
The art of chocolate
As well as this, she also does chocolate portraits. These are white chocolate plaques with milk chocolate images drizzled on. These are done on commission, and she works from photographs. Like all serious artists, she has even done a self-portrait, and, considering it is done with chocolate, the likeness is very good.
Fortunately, Sian seems far too chirpy to ever pull a Van Gogh, which I am relieved about, as I would hate for her lovely hat to have one less ear to keep warm. She is the epitome of job satisfaction as she chatters happily about her day-to-day life: “I love my job. I really love it. Every now and then you get bored with a flavour, but then you go out and invent a new flavour. You have to sample the chocolate, you’ve got to batch test everything. That’s my excuse!”
It’s not just the customers who love it…
One person with whom her company has gone down well is her three year old son who, thanks to having a chocolatier for a mother, probably thinks at the moment that he has been born into a perfect world. Sian explains the trials and tribulations of working alongside a nimble-fingered chocolate enthusiast: “He can run through a kitchen and clear every surface of chocolate while you’re looking the other way. He’ll come in one end, yell mum, you’ll turn around, and when you turn back the kitchen’s empty. It’s quite clever.”
As I write this article, I am vaguely wondering if it could be time to pack in the journalism and become an oompa-loompa. Sian, would you consider taking me on? I know I don’t have a glowing fake tan, but I could certainly work on that. The offer is on the table.