A sweet-toothed Marc West celebrates National Chocolate Week at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons

IT is thought that one of Christopher Columbus’s ambassadors, Hernan Cortes, first received cocoa as a gift from an Aztec emperor.

He returned this precious cargo back to Spain in 1527 where it was kept a national secret for over a century until eventually arriving in London around 1650 – when this 'black gold' was enjoyed only by the rich as an expensive hot refreshment.

It wasn’t until the 1800s that messieurs Rowntree, Cadbury and Fry produced (almost by accident) the luxury confectionary we know and love today.

After sugar and coffee, cocoa occupies third place in the global market of raw food materials – satisfying our sweet tooth and providing a moment of joy. And, as all devotees of good chocolate know, there’s certainly more to this addictive delight than just Dairy Milk, as I found out during this month’s National Chocolate Week.

For seven solid days of pure indulgence, our nation celebrates this ultimate comfort food like kids in a candy store. Chocolate is without doubt a pleasure giver, an invigorating and stimulating natural anti-depressant. The even better news is that it can actually be good for you – in moderation, of course. Not that there’s much chance of that when you’ve received the golden ticket to spend a day in the company of Britain’s best chocolatier at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

William Curley has trained with some of the country’s finest chefs including Pierre Koffmann, Marco Pierre White and Le Manoir's own Raymond Blanc. Joining hand-in-hand with the UK’s current artisanal revolution – that also includes bread, beer, coffee and gin – he uses only the finest ingredients and time-honoured techniques to craft inspirational and award-winning patisserie.

So, after discovering the sciency-bit behind chocolate making, us fellow chocoholics get to by far the best bit…the tasting. William’s unique Nostalgia range does exactly what it says on the box – recreates those treasured childhood memories of classic confectionary such as Orange Tea Cake and Millionaire’s Bar. However, it’s his decadent selection of handmade truffles that really tingle the taste buds: heather paired with apricot, matcha matched with pistachio and (my favourite) a simple sake.

Inspired by these seemingly limitless flavour potentials this would-be Willy Wonka is invited into Le Manoir’s world-famous kitchens to try his hand at creating the perfect treat. With the enthusiasm and unparalleled knowledge of Raymond Blanc Cookery School’s director Mark Peregrine we learn how to make a simple ganache — using just 70 per cent Valrhona chocolate and whipping cream, along with a hearty dose of romance and nostalgia. The result is rich, smooth and gratifying. I’m told it’ll keep well in the fridge for up to a week, but it definitely won’t last that long!

With Le Tricolore proudly fluttering above the entrance, RB’s two Michelin-starred rural retreat needs little introduction. But, if it’s attention to detail, sustainability and luxurious surroundings that you’re after, then voila! Never far from the thrill of service, his cookery school caters for a range of abilities and covers over forty subjects close to Raymond’s heart.