Some of us spend decades searching for the dream job, Helen López, AKA Helen Chocolate found hers (and mine…) after a few years in journalism. Today, new INC member, Helen is at the helm of a 360-degree fine chocolate business that spans tastings, events, communication, public speaking, advice to producers and sales & marketing around the globe of a product with 5,000 years of heritage. The director of the Escuela de Chocolate of Madrid spills the beans on what it´s like to be fully immersed in chocolate.
How did you come to work with chocolate?
In 2009, when my father-in-law was hospitalised in Venezuela, I realised that there was a huge shortage of medicine there so I decided to hold “chocolatadas” or rather charity chocolate events in Madrid whereby I offered people a mug of Venezuelan hot chocolate in exchange for their medicines which we shipped back there. I discovered a talent for talking about chocolate and decided to make a career out of it.
What prompted your fascination with chocolate?
As a child I had always been intrigued by the aromas emanating from the local chocolate factory, of El Rey in Caracas. Perhaps like Charlie Bucket in Road Dahl´s world-famous book! My grandmother is from a cocoa-producing area of Venezuela and I have always been interested in gastronomy, culture, art and travel so the chocolate industry really ticked all the boxes of my wish-list as my work combines all of those different elements neatly together.
Can you name all the aspects of the chocolate industry that you´re involved in?
I run the Escuela de Chocolate near Opera in Madrid where I hold various types of tastings from interactive, fun consumer events to bean to bar production workshops for professionals.
I also have an events company that arranges diverse corporate chocolate-related experiences for companies.
I´m a public speaker on all things chocolatey such as innovation, sales and marketing.
I also represent several chocolate brands commercially in Spain and other countries such as Korea.
What are the latest trends in chocolate?
The growing trend in veganism has had a huge impact as the demand for plant-based food increases globally. There are lots of milk-substitute bars coming onto the market now.
I´ve also seen many original flavours emerge such as Ginger and Tamarind and Dark Milk is gaining ground in the popularity stakes.
Another huge change is that cocoa producing countries are increasingly involved in the finished bar as opposed to solely supplying the cocoa. This means they are better equipped to retain more of the value associated with the finished product.
How has the chocolate industry evolved over the past decade?
Like all food items there is a significant move towards premium quality that focuses on provenance. It is now possible to buy top end select cocoas, from single producers and pay 30 euros for a high-end bar.
I heard worrying rumours that there is a shortage of cocoa, is this true?
Far from it! There is a surplus of mass-produced cocoa, in part due to a spate of good harvests in Africa and prices have gone down dramatically over the years. In terms of top-quality cocoa, there is always fierce competition for premium beans but we´re not going to run out! [Editor – phew!]
What are some of the most original chocolates you have seen lately?
Japan produces some delicious chocolates flavoured with teas. Whilst Taiwan has come up with a surprising white chocolate and prawn combo. Closer to home, I´ve tasted anchovy-flavoured chocolate from Santander and another with Torreznos (porky scratchings) from León.
Tell us about your upcoming documentary on the history of chocolate in Spain
I am working on a film to recount the rich history of chocolate in Spain as Madrid is the capital city with the second highest number of chocolate establishments in Europe. Originally brought over from the Americas 500 years ago, cocoa was soon converted into a fashionable hot drink, enjoyed particularly by the aristocracy. [Editor´s Note: I can personally recommend a steaming mug of hot chocolate as the perfect end to a night out dancing].
Which lesson has been the hardest to learn?
Mastering all the different strands of my diverse chocolate business. In addition to leading chocolate tastings, I had to learn how to sell chocolate all over the world, teach business skills and take on an advisory role to producers round the globe. It is quite a solitary business and I´ve been a trailblazer in my sector which means there are many other people out there copying what I do which keeps me on my toes and can create a lot of pressure.
You have a notable theatrical flair when you lead your chocolate tastings, where does this come from?
I think it comes from my artistic aptitude for dance which I studied for many years and also my passion for storytelling. Chocolate, in all its various guises is also an artform in itself. My personal trajectory from one of the poorest areas of Caracas to setting up my own business in Madrid has resonated with a lot of people. At the end of the day my main aim is to inform and entertain people from all walks of life using chocolate as a vehicle.
You hold consumer tastings at your workshop near Opera in Madrid, I expect you have some funny stories to tell.
We´ve certainly had our fair share of unexpected incidents over the last 10 years. Once we burnt the caramel so we had to hold the chocolate tasting on the move around the Madrid, which later gave rise to chocolate walking tours. Another time a lady went into labour halfway through a tasting and on another occasion 2 separate groups realised they were remotely related to each other!
When it comes to chocoholics Switzerland leads the way with an average consumption of 8.8 kilos per capita or 1.6 bars of 100g of chocolate per week, how does that compare to you?
Well in actual fact I eat a lot of cocoa-based products in addition to the traditional bar. For example, caramelised or chocolate-coated nibs, barbecue sauce with chocolate and at home I like to whip up a chocolate mayonnaise with olive oil, garlic and onion to spread on toast.
In Spain we consume less than 2 kilos/chocolate per capita per year but my dream is for premium chocolate to regain popularity so as to benefit the entire supply chain.
What do your kids think about your profession?
My 9-year old son, Diego, loves what I do for a living and has even given several classes at school on the whole production process. It´s fair to say that in general there is a growing interest in the provenance of our food and in the producers themselves. My son is a great taster of white chocolate which, by the way, happens to be my favourite too (as long as the cocoa butter used is premium quality). Surprising as that might sound for a professional chocolate taster!
What´s next for Helen Chocolate?
Trips to chocolate plantations! Nothing beats seeing chocolate being made in its natural habitat.
For further details on tastings for adults, children, groups, corporate events:
The Editor would like to personally thank Helen for inviting her to attend her weekly tasting at the Escuela de Chocolate and for providing riveting insight into the tempering and refining process and generally coating her hands in the most delicious glossy mahogany-hued chocolate she has ever tasted.
They say you can’t live on thin air, yet Tatiana disagrees – “breath is the first food your body needs”
As a former executive in Private Banking, Tatiana has swapped providing shrewd financial advice for sound wellbeing tips based on a holistic approach and her decades of experience of yoga, Ayurveda and interest in people inside and out.
What is Foodshui?
Just as Fengshui is used to balance the energy in our homes, Foodshui is based on an Ayurvedic approach to enhance our own natural vitality. This is not a new fad or diet. This is about how to adjust your relationship with food, revive your digestion, to nurture your soul, to sleep better, boost your metabolism and zing with energy!
You started your career in Private Banking, how did you move into Fashion?
I have always been interested in fashion and had started to source clothes for friends and colleagues while I was at Merryll Lynch. My mentor at the bank advised me to choose which career to pursue and I chose to set up my own fashion brand in Miami but when I moved to Madrid I realised that the profit margins were much tighter and as I had always been interested in food and managing emotions I founded a 360 degree well-being business.
Tell us about the Foodshui catering side of your business
The food I produce is an extension of your own kitchen. I provide seasonal dishes for busy professionals, families or people on the go. Right now I have substantial silky soups with a range of flavours such as carrot and ginger, pumpkin and curry or green beans and basil. For main course we have a variety of quiches such as leek and mustard, portobello mushroom with balsamic followed by tempting treat biscuits of coconut, cardamom or cinnamon. Chocolate is a recurrent theme!
I did a one-year Ayurveda course after practising it for twenty years since I lived in Miami. What draw me most to it was the fact that it is a dynamic state that takes into account each individual´s body type or dosha and brings harmony between our mind, body and environment. The recipes I teach are based on these ancient principles.
What courses do you offer?
I run cookery lessons for both small groups and 1:1 on the basics of Ayurveda. We always start by understanding a client’s emotions and physical relationship to food before they join the group sessions. This course inspires you to look at food in a more dynamic, exciting light and boosts your individual well-being and metabolism.
I also offer a managing emotions course for small groups in which we meet once or twice a month over 8 months so that clients have time to apply the information to their own lives. I teach people how to think with their heart, feel with their mind and get to know themselves inside out.
In addition, I give classes in meditation with mantras and breathing techniques so that they become an integral part our daily life. The trick is to set aside 5 – 10 minutes at intervals to revitalise throughout the day.
Finally, I teach a course in personal and emotional development to nourish your mind, body and soul by incorporating all the Foodshui wellbeing elements in your life such as: breathing, laughter therapy, ayurvedic principles, sleep patterns, exercise and healthy recipes tailored to bring the best out of you.
What are your top tips for wellbeing?
Relax your jaw and the rest of your body will follow. Inhale slowly to eliminate stress. This break with your habitual frenetic rhythm will allow your heart, mind and body to change gear and change beat. (Editor´s Note – I have put up post it reminders to relax my jaw and have already noticed the difference).
What can´t you live without?
If I was sailing off to a desert island I´d have to take a supply of ginger, curcuma (turmeric), cumin and a fridge in which to keep the dark chocolate!
What are the next food trends to hit the headlines?
I think that we´ll spend a higher percentage of our income on better-sourced food, self-care and self-knowledge. Covid has taught us the merits of meaningful relationship with ourselves as opposed to a frenetic social life flitting from one event to another. I think that businesses will be more in tune with consumers and cardamom will gain popularity (Editor´s Note – our INC President is already on trend having brought her homemade coconut, chickpea flour and cardamom biscuits to our latest Area 4/5 coffee recently!)
What foods are great for boosting our wellbeing during midlife?
Pumpkins provide a lot of fibre, water and vitamin A to promote healthy eyesight whilst turkey helps you to sleep and avocados provide an important source of Omega 3 and 6. Other midlife superfoods include almonds, dark greens and beetroot which I tend to shred a lot. Brightly coloured foods such as kiwis, bananas and blue berries also play a key role at this time of our lives.
What are your most interesting food combos?
I make a delicious stewed chicken with prunes, nutmeg, red wine, cinnamon and Tamari sauce served with a crunchy almond crumble sprinkled on top.
Some people are lucky to get one successful career off the ground, Tatiana is on her third….with her recipe for purposeful longevity I suspect the rest of Tatiana’s talents are yet to emerge.
month we talk to Moscow-born entrepreneur Lena Perepelova who has combined her
international business acumen, MBA credentials and passion for teaching into an
established finance business for children and female investors: Fun Finance and
Women Investors Club
How did you come up with the idea of creating a company that teaches women and children about money and finances?
been interested in education since having children and I noticed that the
curriculum hadn´t moved on over the last 40 years with regards to business and
finance. So ten years ago I decided to create my own programme and invited kids
to try it out by skype. We both found it great fun and I really enjoyed the
challenge of explaining complex concepts to a child. Requests to teach finance
came from women later on.
What was your previous profession?
I am a
specialist in international business development. I first worked for a Dutch
premium beer brand and later for a renewable energy company. These jobs allowed
me to travel in the world and gave me valuable insight into different
businesses and learn from their successes and failures.
How does your company differ from a regular financial advice company?
to giving financial advice I teach people to understand financial products and
make their own well-informed investment decisions. My classes are particularly
well-suited to professional women as I can relate more readily to their needs
and approach when it comes to finance.
What is the strangest request you´ve received from a client?
the strangest thing I have done was to accompany a potential client who turned
out to be the consul of a well-known European nation to a furniture shop in
Tell us a funny anecdote about yourself moving to Holland from Moscow or to Barcelona or Madrid?
arrived in the Netherlands, I left my wallet behind in the office and had to
convince the security guard to let me in over the weekend. I still didn´t know
how to say “wallet” in Dutch at that point so I asked if I could come in and
collect the “sack with the money”.
Puzzled, the guard looked at me with considerable scrutiny and curiosity
before finally opening the door.
Do any of your child clients stand out in your mind?
I used to
teach a 9-year old student who was extremely savvy and an avid reader of the
business news. After a long Christmas holiday
I asked him how he was doing, fully expecting to hear about his vacation. To my
surprise he replied that he was extremely upset by the bankruptcy of a huge
British infrastructure company. He then went on to explain nonchalantly what “infrastructure”
meant and exactly why that company had gone bankrupt.
What are the key messages children should understand when it comes to money?
In my view
it is important to teach kids about the overall economy and business before we
talk to them about personal finance. The more they understand that we are
surrounded by businesses and what these businesses do, the better they can make
their decisions as consumers as well as chose their future professions. We
underestimate kids’ intelligence and their capacity to form their own opinions when
presented with the right information
What are the most common misperceptions you see in women investors?
to underestimate their capacity to understand finance and / or investment products.
I also notice that we tend to place too much trust and responsibility in banks
and financial institutions forgetting that these are businesses which need to
generate profits. Simply put, “bank employees are not doctors, they do not feel
responsible for our financial health”.
What is the key to a successful grasp of investment opportunities?
– Don’t trust an opportunity which you can´t explain in a few simple phrases.
– Take a long-term perspective.
– Keep educating yourself.
– Learn Excel.
What is the key to a successful online teacher/advisor?
Be well-prepared before the class. Earmark alternative activities as back-up to roll out when you see that your students´ enthusiasm is flagging and always keep your students actively involved in the conversation.
What is your secret Madrid?
Madrid secret is the Monte Pilar forest very close to my house in Majadahonda. Only
15-20 minutes from Madrid, there is a hospital for wild birds and animals which
offers excursions for families on Sundays. www.Grefa.org
What´s next for your Fun Finance Business School or Women Investor Club?
like to publish a few books and find partners in other countries.
What makes a shrewd investor in your opinion?
Find the right combination of assets and the strategy which will give you a peace of mind and occupy exactly the amount of time you can afford. Ideally investing should become a habit and a hobby.
Barbara Scalera, The Success Hypno Coach talks
to us about what it takes to override our subconscious to achieve our own
personal or business goals.
What is it exactly that you do?
I am a fully accredited hypnotherapist and practitioner who helps people overcome their limiting beliefs, doubts and fears and then I coach them through the pathway to success in their business and personal lives so that they can have or achieve what they want.
Why do people have hang-ups about money and earning it?
Our beliefs about money and our ability to earn it, grow it, save it and enjoy it are formed in our subconscious by the time we are 10 years old. We then tend to live according to those beliefs as adults. So if you were taught “money doesn’t bring happiness” or that “money is limited” your subconscious will rule your actions to prevent you from acquiring the wealth you consciously would like to have. If you do end up having access to significant wealth through your partner or your own salary you may still overspend it, horde it or sabotage it unless you use tools like hypnosis that work at the subconscious level to rewrite your belief system.
Do you see any nationality stereotypes emerging in your field?
In the US
having a ‘shrink’ can actually be seen as a status symbol and is universally
accepted. In Britain and Ireland the ‘stiff upper lip’ culture prevails so
people talk less openly about feelings. As one of my good friends from Dublin
said to me at the start of my coaching career, ‘but Barbara, that’s what the
pub is for!’
In Spain other cultural factors come into play and I´ve noticed that Spanish men are sometimes reticent to express emotion and tears in front of a woman.
Tell us about some of the funniest reactions clients have had to hypnosis.
I always have to laugh when I tell someone what I do and they immediately stop making eye contact as if I’m going to turn them into a chicken on the spot! People often ask if I can make them levitate – as a Harry Potter fan I have been tempted to get a wand to pull out and confidently exclaim ‘Wingardium Leviosa!’ but I don’t think it would be good for business.
What sort of challenges does the overseas experience present for your expat clients?
The expat experience can really trigger underlying negative beliefs as newcomers navigate through the challenges of fitting in socially, linguistically and culturally to their new environment. Every day can feel like the first day of school all over again. In addition, overseas entrepreneurs can often struggle to promote their services boldly and charge their worth abroad. Lack of inner confidence is a recurring theme in many expat scenarios and it´s wonderful to see clients shift from conflicted to comfortable, not just in their new home but in their own skin, regardless of where life takes them.
What characteristics would you say are helpful in your field?
A balance of empathy and no-nonsense honesty. As opposed to sympathy, which is available on tap for free from your friends, I teach my clients that whilst they are responsible for creating their reality, they are not ‘to blame’ for their situation – their subconscious mind is simply acting exactly how it’s designed to act, to protect them from what the subconscious thinks is unsafe based on their childhood experiences and beliefs.
Where do you see you and your business in 10 years?
I will be creating additional online
programmes, taking advantage of virtual reality to bring to life clients´
aspirations and implementing hypnosis techniques in the workplace to increase
morale and performance.
Email email@example.com to arrange a free call to discuss whether hypno-coaching is right for you and to find out about any offers for INC members.
Diéguez, founder of the relocation company and e-guide: Life in the Move talks
to us about trotting the globe, dealing with noisy bears and demanding clients
How did you come up with the idea of creating a relocation company?
I was inspired by our experience with
relocation agents in 1995 when we moved to Buenos Aires with our two small
sons. They provided invaluable support during our transfer and 5 years later
when we returned to Madrid I wanted to put my expat experience to good use by
helping those relocating to Madrid to settle in smoothly.
After working in Madrid for a relocation company for 15 years we moved to China where I seized the opportunity to take the next step and started Live in the Move.
What was your previous profession?
I was a lawyer in a software company in Madrid with responsibility for public contracts.
Where have you lived and why have you relocated 6 times?
Due to my husband´s job we have lived in Buenos Aires (Argentina), Porto (Portugal), L’Aldosa (Andorra), Macau (China) and Kuwait. In addition, in 1988 I moved by myself to Boston to study Certificate of Special Studies in Administration and Management at Harvard.
How is your relocation company different from others and who are your target clients?
We provide the full spectrum of relocation services
online ie all the information required, arranging any appointments etc without
physically accompanying our clients in person.
This online service is aimed at freelance
professionals and business owners, digital nomads etc who struggle with the
wealth of unreliable and disjointed information they find on the internet.
In addition, we also continue to provide the more “traditional” relocation services for companies and their expat employees.
What is your e-relocation guide?
The guide (The secret of relocating to Madrid) is an ebook that is updated twice a year and available from our website and on Amazon. It´s a one-stop shop that contains all the info that I would like to have found about any of the cities I moved to prior to actually arriving there. This means clients can start planning their move well before they actually relocate.
How has the relocation industry changed over the last few years?
During the last financial crisis the industry
saw a lot of repatriations and the rate of new expatriations slowed down, plus expat
conditions became less favourable.
Nowadays a lot of the expats are digital nomads and independent professionals who are used to doing everything by themselves
What is the strangest request you´ve ever received from a relocation client?
Truth be told, most people are pretty reasonable but I’ll always remember that one family who wanted to move with what I thought was a farm! They had lots of pets including a donkey.
Tell us a funny anecdote about yourself moving to Macau
We ended up renting a flat with a lovely view
over a huge park in what seemed like the perfect quiet spot in the middle of
noisy Macau. Little did I know that at 5 am I would be woken up on a daily
basis by a family of Panda Bears doing their morning rituals!
Lesson learned: always expect the unexpected in
relocation! What seems completely normal to the locals can seem must unusual to
Do you have any funny anecdotes about helping a particular client to relocate to Madrid?
A young Far Eastern professional lady who wanted a silver hair dryer included with the rest of the household appliances…
What is the key to a successful relocation agent?
Being able to empathise and remain open-minded. It´s not strictly essential to have had one´s own expat experience but it certainly helps one to gain a full understanding of the task in hand.
Which nationalities are the most and least demanding clients?
The Chinese are the most demanding whereas Europeans on the whole, in my experience anyway, are the least.
What´s next for Life in the Move?
I’d like to start a new business line adding a boutique real estate brokerage.
What trends do you see in relocation in general?
I see big companies tend to hire international companies that provide a worldwide relocation service and, on the other hand, many freelancers moving around by themselves.