Artist Spotlight: Jen Lindsey-Clark, the Chocolatician
This year, we launched The Craftsman Collective, a curated selection of artists that span the vast possibilities of artistic expression. To showcase some of these artists who are pushing boundaries and crafting magical moments, we created the Artist Spotlight series.
For this spotlight, we talked with Jen Lindsey-Clark, the artist at the helm of Chocolatician, whose appetite for redefining chocolate’s parameters as an artistic medium knows no limit. We had the pleasure of working with Jen to promote the Godiva partnership for the film Murder on the Orient Express, with Jen and her team creating a jaw-dropping 10-foot version of the film’s iconic train made entirely from Godiva chocolate. The chocolate train was displayed first in the VIP lounge at the world premiere, then at St. Pancras International Railway Station, and finally on a cruise on the Queen Mary 2.
Chocolatician has created many other edible showstoppers as well, such as the Cumberbunny, the Chocobatch, and the chocolate mermaid. Intrigued? Let’s dive right into the interview, where Jen talks more about these delightful creations.
First, how did you end up crafting visions in chocolate? What drew you to chocolate as an art form?
I was drawn to chocolate, as most kids are, by its sweetness and general naughtiness. As a kid I loved anything sweet, really. But I had a lot of artistry and sculpting in my blood. My grandfather, his father, and three generations before that—they were all British sculptors. And growing up, my siblings were artistic, musical, and general show-offs, but I didn’t really feel like I knew where my artistic ability lay at that point. I just knew I loved food and making lovely, beautiful things for people to enjoy. I loved the giving part and seeing how people reacted to it.
I was slightly scared off doing cheffing by my sister, who did a work placement at an office’s mess. She said to me, “Promise me, Jen, you won’t ever be a chef because it’s a horrible, horrible lifestyle. You won’t meet anyone and it’s rubbish money and you’ll be really stressed out.” So I put it at the back of my mind, but then I went traveling to Thailand, Australia, and India, and I came back and all of my travel journals were just packed full of recipes and inspirational adventures I’d had negotiating getting into these kitchens in Thailand on the beaches, trying to get the secret massaman recipe. And I just thought, Oh, I’ve got to do something with it. It’s obviously my true passion.
So I went to catering college and I trained as a pastry chef in a hotel in Winchester, which is about an hour and a half from London. I was there for four years training with some amazing chefs, including two French pastry chefs, really incredible chocolate artists who showed me really how magical chocolate can be if you understand it and can manipulate it how you want. From there, I went to a chocolate school in Manchester…an incredible place, a three-story chocolate heaven, basically.
After I left the school, I moved to Brighton and was a pastry chef in an amazing vegetarian place called Terre à Terre. I learned some pretty wacky ways of making desserts and working with chocolate—bear in mind, we couldn’t use gelatin and sometimes we couldn’t use eggs. I did that for another 18 months or so and then had enough of cheffing (as my sister had told me I would do). I decided to leave and started my own wedding cake business called She Bakes. Unfortunately, this was when the Great British Bake Off was at its peak and everyone had gone baking bonkers. If they couldn’t find someone cheaper to make the cake, then they’d find someone for free. The competition was just ridiculous. So my business wasn’t really working—but then I got some great mentoring advice from a lady. She said to me, “You have to keep doing things that frighten people.” So I ended up sticking with chocolate because it is quite a frightening thing. You know, it’s more of a challenge than, say, opening up a packet of fondant and rolling it out. There’s a lot of science involved. It’s one of those sorts of mediums that you think you’ve got nailed and that you understand it, and then you turn around and it’s done something else. It keeps you on your toes the whole time, which is one of the reasons I love working with it.
It’s just what I do. I can’t really see myself doing clay sculpting or anything like that. That’s too easy. [Laughs] With every project that I’ve ever worked on, there will be at least one moment when I’ll be like, “Oh my goodness, how are we going to do this in chocolate?” And I’ll have to work out a way. Then, nine out of ten times, I’ll use that technique for another project. It becomes another tool in the toolkit. It’s really satisfying, being both an inventor and a chocolate engineer.
You’ve made some really incredible chocolate sculptures with Chocolatician. How did that all get started?
I was lucky enough to start working with Plunge Creations, an amazing prop company, doing some interesting chocolate architecture…helter-skelters and carousels that went round and other interesting things.
We got our first commission from UK TV, which was the Chocobatch, a life-size sculpture of Benedict Cumberbatch. That was amazing and totally bonkers. The final sculpture was put up in London in a massive shopping center there, and they wanted to film his super-fans coming and kind of devouring him, getting little sneaky licks of his elbow. Tim, the owner of Plunge and head sculptor, was doing the sculpting of the face and we made a few great molds. Since they were filming, we had to have several heads to switch in to have a consistent Ben on the go. [Laughs] There was one point when an old lady came and kind of lovingly caressed his face and then she just stole his nose—ripped his nose off and ran off! That was a very fun day filming.
So that was really where it started—this combination of my work, my chocolate artistry, and Plunge and their amazing mold-making, designing, and rig design. It was serendipitous, really, that it should all come together.
Then the following Easter after the Chocobatch, the Cumberbunny was born. The Cumberbunny is an Easter bunny with Benedict Cumberbatch’s face. His super-fans call themselves Cumberbunny, so that’s where the thought of it came from. It was the Cumberbunny that launched Chocolatician. We got a website together and I thought, Well, might as well launch it with that. It was one of those crazy things. People loved it. It went viral. I had 250 thousand hits on the website in one week. And the rest is history!
I think it’s worked well to have a brand that’s not huge. It’s obviously me doing my thing. People like that. They can see that I’m passionate about it and want to make them happy and want to make things that are fun and keep pushing the limits...the choco-limits.
What work are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of the train we worked on together for Murder on the Orient Express. It was my longest project, two months in the making. And I got to make it in my little workshop. A lot of the time with big chocolate props, I have to go somewhere else to make them and it involves a lot of other people. It’s a different animal, really.
It was so nice, just sitting here chipping away, making all the little sections. The carriage alone took me about a month to make, carving each section, my brain going all the time: How are we going to make the lettering, the pipework, the horn, the bells and the whistles, all the plumbing...It was pretty far out [laughs] but immensely satisfying, whittling away and making all these separate components, and then finally in the last week putting it all together like a big chocolate jigsaw puzzle and making it all look beautiful, then taking it to the Royal Albert Hall to the red carpet and seeing everyone enjoy it. It was so sweet of Kim [The Craftsman Agency’s director of strategy] to give me her ticket for the premiere.
Of course, then I had to run downstairs and take my posh frock off so I could get the train out of there and off to St. Pancras station and set it all up again at two o’clock in the morning. It was just the most epic chocolate adventure of all time.
Another project I’m very proud of is the mermaid I created last year for a coffee company. It was displayed for a weekend in a shopping center in London. We delivered the almost-finished mermaid Friday night, then we had three days of live chocolating in the middle of the shopping center, where I made all the scales to go on her tail. We were promoting the company’s new chocolate milkshake, which was why it was chocolate in August.
It was such a challenge because of the temperatures—I had to make her in the hottest heat wave in this country since the 1970s. It was extreme chocolating. I had no idea if I would get away with it or whether she would just melt on the way up there. (You can’t just stick chocolate in the fridge because it will sweat and get funny markings.) So that was terrifying, but we made it.
They had people lining up to get their free milkshake and a bar of chocolate in the shape of a coffee cup with their name written on it in chocolate—I trained the brand ambassadors how to write in chocolate, too—and I was on this sort of stage with my assistant, Jennie, working on the mermaid’s scales from the tip of her tail all the way up to her bikini line. I first made the scales on frozen marble, then Jennie would pass them to me and I would put them on using my hand to melt them in place. It looked fantastic. It was slightly awkward when I was working right on the bikini line—not sure what the public thought I was up to at that point—but yeah, she looked great. At the end, they took some lovely photographs then wheeled her away, and I never saw her again. That’s the joy and tribulation of making chocolate art. You never get to eat it, and you don’t get to enjoy it for that long. But there’s something quite nice about its temporariness. I think it makes it more memorable, more special.
Where do you find inspiration for your art?
I find inspiration for my art everywhere, really. I might have a mold left over that I’d really like to make into something else. Or a seasonal time is coming up and I want to think about doing something a bit different. Sometimes I get inspired just talking with friends, thinking about what could be even more mega if it were made in chocolate. The challenge of that is always fun.
Inspiration may also come directly from clients, people who found me and love what I do, which is very complimentary and inspires me to look into how I can work with them. I want to make it work.
Tell us about your last magical experience with Chocolatician.
Hmmm…I’d say that was last Easter. I was pumping a sequel to the Cumberbunny on social and did a comparison post, sort of “Who do you fancy more?” Anyway, the magicalness was that the American Cumberbunny fans were still there after four years. They hung on until their opportunity was there for them to buy one. And I had to send an email to every one of them to say “Look, thank you for your purchase, you understand it’s made of chocolate, I’m sending it a long way, it might not get there in one piece. Do you still want to go for it?” And they were all just like, “Yes!”
I was absolutely overwhelmed with the support and just general commitment from the American Cumberbunnies. I sold almost as many as I did the first year this year, but 90 percent of them were going to the US, and they all got there in one piece. So it was very cool.
What are you working on now?
I am building toward making a contract with an amazing charity who make beautiful gifts. They use artwork that’s been designed by adults with severe epilepsy and learning difficulties to make wrapping paper, gift cards, chocolate packaging, things like this…It’s all amazing stuff. The woman who owns the company lives nearby and saw my chocolate work and said, “Oh, I’d love for you to do some work for us.” Essentially, I’m going to do a new range for them, a sort of higher luxury range and also some vegan stuff in the future. It’s a big, wonderful thing that they’re doing. And it’s great to be part of that.
Where can we see more of your work?
Wonderful! Thank you very much for your time.
You’re very welcome. Be in touch soon!
If you’d like to learn more about The Craftsman Collective, please reach out to us. Want to discover another artist in the collective? Check out our conversation with fashion, beauty, and lifestyle illustrator Jessica Durrant. Spoiler: Her beautiful work was featured in Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
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