Most people, from tots to teens, from middle aged to senior citizens, are familiar with Willy Wonka. The Roald Dahl classic follows the life of a slightly wacky and zany candy man who runs his magical factory on “Wonka power” and employs little people known as “Oompa-Loompas.” Along the way he teaches life lessons to selfish children while ultimately rewarding Charlie Bucket for his giving nature and humble roots. In England, a modern day chocolatier is building on this legend, allowing camera crews to follow him around as he documents his bean-to-bar chocolate journey in the television show “Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory.” Willie Harcourt-Cooze doesn’t have near the appeal of the real deal, but some people claim that his factory is, in fact, quite magical. With the appeal of Willy Wonka and roots that are arguably as humble as Charlie’s, Willie Harcourt-Cooze is quickly taking the world by storm.
Willie Harcourt-Cooze was born in 1964 in England. His father was a native of Burma, while his mother was Irish. At the young age of four, Willie’s family permanently settled in Ireland, buying their own island. The family was supported largely by the farming efforts of Willie’s determined father. They were self-sufficient and Willie learned early how to take initiative and solve problems. Willie stayed on his family’s subsistence island for most of his childhood, attending primary school in nearby Waterford. It wasn’t until he was 16 that he ventured out on his own. The traits that would later drive his entrepreneurial efforts, however, were already well-developed.
As a young teen of 16, Harcourt-Cooze continued his schooling in London. During this time, several things occurred that prompted Willie to take a look at his life and push forward with purpose. While partying with friends in the city, Willie Harcourt-Cooze was attacked and stabbed. This event, coupled with the death of his own father, made Willie assess his priorities and focus on his future. By the time he was 17, Willie was seriously pursuing employment opportunities. He started as a tea boy working for Wolf Holland. This quickly led to several entrepreneurial ventures, including decorating, running a restaurant and investing in a night club. Willie was not proud and worked at or ran numerous opportunities, doing anything that he felt would get him ahead. Eventually, he pursued real estate, leading him to South America and the cacao bean that has come to define his life.
During Willie’s real estate trip in 1993, Willie came in contact with a cocoa plantation known as El Tesoro. He was fascinated with the property, but had other things on his mind and didn’t buy it at that time. Instead, he was in the midst of marrying long-time friend and model Tania Coleridge. The couple honeymooned in Venezuela, where they both fell deeper in love with the area. After a year in London, they made the move to sell their property and move to Venezuela, buying El Tesoro. They expanded the plantation and were actually producing chocolate from their own beans by 1998. A political and legal upset interrupted the South American chocolate making and encouraged the couple to return to England.
By 2007, production was not only again active in Devon, England, but Willie had decided to use this change to document his tree-to-bar chocolate journey. Britain’s Channel 4 did two series’ of shows portraying Harcourt-Cooze as a bit nutty, sometimes snobbish and often insensitive to wife Tania. However, several reporters who covered the story reported that Harcourt-Cooze was actually much nicer than expected. It was certain from all angles, however, that his chocolate business was a success.
Willie Harcourt-Cooze is one of the only chocolatiers that manages his production all the way from the tree to the finished product. His main focus is single-origin dark chocolate, favouring, of course, his own Venezuelan beans. Initial productions were mainly geared toward cooking, but more recent developments are leading towards an eating bar. Willie uses modern technology to temper his chocolate, but most of his other equipment is modified or antique, maintained by himself with the fix-it skills inherited from his subsistence farming father. Despite the sparkle and lights of television, his factory is quite modest. Willie spent several years running the operation entirely by himself, but has slowly added several employees to the mix.
Willie and his wife Tania live in Tiverton, Devon and have three children. He readily admits that Tania’s down-to-earth personality keeps his more random and spontaneous energy balanced.
El Tesoro Ltd
Unit 3 Langland’s Business Park
You can watch the Willie’s Chocolate shows on the Channel 4 section of Youtube.