With 15 years of experience as a pastry chef and chocolatier, Gabriella Cugno has worked in esteemed high-end restaurants, patisseries, chocolateries and top-rated five-star hotels globally. Over her career, she has garnered multiple prestigious awards, such as the UK & Ireland “Junior Chocolate Master” and “Young Pastry Chef of The Year.”

Often likened to the real-life Willy Wonka, Gabriella has officially solidified her claim to that title. The Cardiff-born chocolatier is the creative genius behind the confections in “Wonka“, the latest film featuring Timothée Chalamet that delves into the origins of the legendary candy wizard. We sat down with Gabriella to learn more about her incredible career.

What inspired you to pursue your career and how did your journey lead you to work in high-end restaurants and patisseries around the world?

“I’ve always had a passion for cooking and feeding people, especially when it comes to sweet treats. With a strong background in the arts, I find the creative process fascinating and chocolate, in particular, is a magical ingredient for me.

While I was still in school, I worked at various restaurants in Cardiff and found joy in it, but I wasn’t sure how to turn my love for pastry and chocolate into a career. Eventually, I went to London for some work experience since there weren’t many opportunities in Cardiff. I did an internship and attended culinary school one day a week. Afterwards, I moved on to work at the Ritz. It was a challenging but rewarding experience, although we didn’t work with chocolate as much as I hoped. In the hope of learning more, I entered the Junior Chocolate Masters competition and ended up winning.

After some stints at different hotels, I decided to return home to Cardiff and set up my own business. Although London offered fantastic opportunities, my heart belongs to Cardiff and being close to my family.

As a freelancer, I’ve had the opportunity to cater for some incredible events, from weddings for some of the wealthiest families in the world to collaborating with a company in Trinidad and Tobago to develop new chocolate recipes with local farmers. It’s been an exciting journey with a wide variety of experiences.”

Credit: www.gabriellacugno.com

Working directly with farmers and producers sounds fascinating. How it has shaped your understanding of chocolate production?

“Making sure I use high-quality chocolate that’s sustainably sourced is key. You wouldn’t believe the amount of effort and skill that goes into making chocolate and it’s crucial to recognise the hard work of the farmers behind it all. I love travelling to these countries and discovering the amazing variety of fruits and spices growing alongside the cocoa. They often add such unique flavours to the chocolate! I’m definitely eager to do more of that kind of exploration in the future.”

Being the chocolatier for WONKA must have been a dream come true. Can you tell us about your role in designing and making the chocolates for the movie?

“Out of nowhere, I received an email from Warner Bros. They pitched the idea of me creating chocolates for the film, so I had a meeting with the prop master and set decorator to discuss what was possible and what they were looking for. Initially, we thought it would only take a few weeks, but once we got started, it became apparent that it was a much bigger job. So, I spent the entire year on set, pausing everything else I was working on. They even built a kitchen for me at the studio!

They gave me the script, the name of the chocolate and its purpose. From there, I let my creativity run wild. I had to figure out how to capture the essence of the chocolate based on the words and emotions in the script.

After about three weeks, I had the nerve-wracking experience of meeting with Paul King, the director. Thankfully, he loved the chocolates and would taste each one. I’d create about five different versions of each chocolate.

In total, I made around 2,000 chocolates for the movie. For the Hover-Chocs, which were part of a big scene, I made between 700-900. The delayed Hover-Choc, eaten by the chocolate cartel at the end of the movie, was the most time-consuming, taking three weeks to make just 80 of them.”

Looking ahead, what are some of your aspirations or goals?

“I’ve got quite a few things lined up! I’ve been getting lots of requests for classes, so I’ll be hosting some masterclasses soon. There are some other exciting projects in the works, but I can’t spill the beans just yet.

My work is seasonal, so in between busy periods, I like to keep time free for creative projects. I’m really passionate about what I do and I’ve found a great balance in my life right now, so I’m just looking forward to more of the same!”

To keep up to date with Gabriella, visit: gabriellacugno.com

Author WCS

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