Superheroes and dinosaurs: meet Sam at Moxon Street

Today we’re getting to know a bit more about Sam, who manages our Marylebone shop and oversees all of the shops as our retail manager. He’s also the force behind Moxon Street’s fantastic Tasting Thursdays, where we team up with local producers to create interesting and unexpected chocolate pairings.

You’ve said before that everyone knows you as ‘that blond guy who works in the chocolate shop’. Do you have any other nicknames?
I think that’s the main one. I don’t know, ‘that blond guy’ has a certain sparkle, don’t you think?

Well, absolutely. Sam, we know you manage a chocolate shop now, but tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I started out as an actor. Actually I taught drama in a school outside London for 18 months then came to the city to make it big, and obviously I ended up doing bar work. It was a great place and we did a lot of work introducing people to new things, to Japanese lagers and single malts, and I got really interested in working with food there.
Then my forearms started getting too big and I’d aged about 10 years in a matter of months, so it felt like time to move on and luckily I fell into chocolate. Not literally, you know what I mean. I’ve managed each of the three Paul A Young shops and was there for a couple of years before it felt like time to explore something else, and the Rococo job came up at just the right moment. I’d started doing tastings with Paul and loved them, and this gave me the opportunity to pursue that.

What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
My first job was as a petrol pump attendant. The garage was so old that it didn’t have meters, so people would have to ask me for £20 of petrol and I’d work the pump. You can see how I ended up here, can’t you?

Yes, a clear career progression there! What made you want to come to Rococo?
It was a new challenge and a step up, and I couldn’t resist the chance to work with amazing people like Chantal and Barry. I mean, Chantal has been working in chocolate for over 20 years and inspired a lot of the great chocolatiers that are working in London now. To be a trusted part of her team, to run tasting sessions with her and have her respect my opinion makes me so proud. And it’s great to be working in Marylebone, which is becoming more and more of a focal point for foodies, and to get to know all of the people who work here and care so much about food. I go for a coffee and a chat in La Fromagerie most mornings on my way to work and it’s great.

Tell us about your job here.
I manage the Moxon Street shop but I also look after the other shops and make sure we’re all doing the right thing. It means I get to meet the managers, who all do an amazing job, and I’m basically there to give them a hand and encouragement. Hopefully my enthusiasm is infectious and I can help get all of our staff really excited about what we do.

What’s the best bit of the job?
It’s got to be tastings. I love running the tasting sessions, but I also mean on a more everyday level. We all love it when new chocolates come into the shop to try, or when we get to give feedback on things like development samples of new bar flavours.

Richard Ponsonby and Sam Smallman leading a tasting session

Richard Ponsonby and Sam Smallman leading a tasting session

And what is it you love so much about running tastings?
Well, I mean, I have to eat chocolate and talk about it all day. It’s a terrible life, isn’t it?

It’s just really interesting, and I feel like I’ve tasted so many things and experimented so much with putting flavours together that I’m a kind of chocolate sommelier. I started by running bean to bar tastings, teaching people about the origin of chocolate and showing them how and why they taste so different. Then I started to get more and more into chocolate and what you can do with it. I got fascinated by all of the different flavour notes and the possibilities for putting new combinations together, and the possibilities really are endless.

You were one of the first people to run chocolate and beer pairings in London, weren’t you?
Yes, it’s becoming a bit of a craze! It was really unusual when we ran the first one, but it was just fun to pair chocolate with something new. There are all sorts of foods that people are only just starting to learn about and it’s really interesting to find out what works together. Chocolate and cheese is another unusual tasting session that’s great fun to do, people look at us as though we’re mad. Seeing their faces when they try the combinations is the best bit.

What’s your favourite chocolate?
Ohhhhh (sighs deeply). I have a different one for every day and mood. But the Grenada Chocolate Company’s 71% dark chocolate with sea salt is just stunning. It’s one of my go-to chocolates and it’s versatile so it finds its way into a lot of tasting sessions. I didn’t think I liked white chocolate before I tried the white cardamom bar. The cardamom just makes it taste so fresh and it’s really easy to eat. Then from the ganaches I love the whisky ganache, the fact that it’s so deep and well-balanced, the complete opposite to those sickly liqueur chocolates you always had left after Christmas growing up.

Do you have a favourite place in London?
I still love the Natural History Museum. Part of me will always be five years old, and that feeling of walking in and ending up face to face with that enormous dinosaur will never leave. It’s a beautiful building too. I have a similar relationship with the National Gallery. My parents took me there when I was young and I remember just loving Tiger in a Tropical Storm by Rousseau. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t realistic, that was what a tiger was to me, and I still adore that painting and get that same anticipation when I go to the gallery now.

What’s your favourite pub or bar?
I love Gordon’s wine bar near Charing Cross. It’s hidden away and dark inside and so ancient. I always feel like I’m in a Dickens novel when I go there.

And your favourite part of London?
Obviously I love Marylebone, but Stoke Newington is gorgeous. Because it isn’t on a tube line lots of people wouldn’t think to go there, but I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

We know you love food. Do you have a signature dish?
Probably chicken with whisky, honey and lemon. I like food you can bang in the oven that comes out tasting like you’ve spent hours on it. If you’re lucky I might give you the recipe one day…

Dressing up for Halloween. "Me? Theatrical?"

Halloween in the Moxon St store. “Me? Theatrical?”

What did you always want to be when you grew up?
Well of course He-Man and Super Ted were the main things. But also, my dad was an illustrator and I wanted to draw for a long time before the acting bug took hold. I don’t draw as much any more, but I doodle a lot – mostly pictures of Superman, it seems.

What are you reading?
I’m reading All-Star Superman at the moment (are you sensing a theme here?) but my favourite book of all time has to be Winnie the Pooh. You can’t not love Pooh Bear.

Agreed. Tell us something surprising about you.
Hmm. Well, I’m known for doing impressions. Louis Armstrong singing the Arctic Monkeys is a favourite, and if the guys in the shop are feeling down Arnie comes out to have a chat with them.

Arnie, as in Schwarzenegger? Show me! (After a little persuading, Sam’s voice starts speaking in Arnie’s voice. It’s actually quite good).
It’s all about bringing your voice down. People think that Arnie is always angry but he’s really not, he’s a very sensitive man, and it upsets him that people don’t realise…

Wow. That’s something I didn’t expect!

 

So next time you’re in our Marylebone shop look for that blond guy, and if you ask nicely you might just get an impression to go with your chocolates…

 

 

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