FOODIE FOLK

CHOCOLATIER SARAH ADAMS IS CONTINUING THE LE­GACY OF HER GRAND­FA­THER ERNEST ADAMS BY ADDING A SWEET NOTE TO CHRIST­MAS

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Ernest Adams’ grand­daugh­ter Sarah Adams

When you’re part of a food dy­nasty that’s syn­ony­mous with Christ­mas, the fes­tive sea­son is a very spe­cial time of year.

And for Sarah Adams, a de­scen­dant of Kiwi bak­ing leg­end Ernest Adams, it’s a par­tic­u­larly busy time.

While the epony­mous op­er­a­tion founded by her grand­fa­ther is no longer run by the fam­ily, Sarah has made it her life’s mis­sion to res­ur­rect the com­pany’s iconic sub­sidiary, the Queen Anne cho­co­late busi­ness, which closed in 1976.

It’s been a labour of love, in­volv­ing trav­el­ling around the coun­try seek­ing out for­mer staff mem­bers and his­toric recipes, se­cur­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers and weath­er­ing earth­quakes.

But to­day the Christchurch-based busi­ness is re­liv­ing its glory days, de­light­ing fam­i­lies up and down the coun­try with its nos­tal­gic, delicious and very Kiwi brand of chocolates.

“I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in cho­co­late, but for me it was more about res­ur­rect­ing the his­tory of Queen Anne,” ex­plains 57-year-old Sarah. “There were peo­ple out there who af­ter 50 years could still re­mem­ber tastes, tex­tures and shapes of in­di­vid­ual chocolates – that’s what’s al­ways in­spired me.”

Tak­ing the cake

As a child Sarah, had a close re­la­tion­ship with her grand­fa­ther Ernest, who by then had re­tired from the busi­ness that made him a house­hold name. How­ever, he was still a reg­u­lar visi­tor at his orig­i­nal Tuam Street fac­tory in Christchurch.

“He would go ev­ery week, and he knew every­one per­son­ally – so it was quite a mis­sion to get round be­cause he kept stop­ping to talk,” re­calls Sarah, whose great-grand­fa­ther launched Her­bert Adams bakers in Aus­tralia, a brand still pop­u­lar to­day. “But I kind of ate my way around the fac­tory – if we were in the ic­ing depart­ment, I’d get flipped a few ic­ing flow­ers, or if we were in the sponge depart­ment there was prob­a­bly a crust from a freshly baked sponge out of the oven.” Soon af­ter leav­ing school Sarah de­cided she wanted to work for the fam­ily busi­ness, and hav­ing first tried her hand in the tra­di­tion­ally fe­male arena of cake dec­o­rat­ing, per­suaded her un­cle, Hugh Adams – who took over the busi­ness from Ernest – to give her an ap­pren­tice­ship.

In do­ing so, she be­came one of only two fe­male bak­ing ap­pren­tices to have worked for the com­pany, some­thing which sent her co-work­ers into a spin.

“Bak­ing is cre­ative, but it’s a lot of phys­i­cal work,” she re­veals. “There were quite a few older bakers there, and they’d strug­gle to see me lift things – they’d race over and try to help.”

Sarah soon rose up the ranks, work­ing in prod­uct de­vel­op­ment be­fore hold­ing roles as a mar­ket­ing man­ager and ex­port man­ager. But by 1997, when Ernest Adams Ltd was bought out, she was ready for a change.

Newly mar­ried to hus­band Avon Zwarts, while also mourn­ing the re­cent death of her mother, she felt it was “maybe time to jump into the un­known”.

Her first project was writ­ing a pro­file of her late grand­fa­ther for the Dic­tionary

of New Zealand Biog­ra­phy. And it was as she re­searched Ernest’s ca­reer and dis­cov­ered more about Queen Anne that the seeds of a plan were planted.

A sweet idea

Un­til then, Sarah had lit­tle aware­ness of the cho­co­late side of the fam­ily busi­ness: “We never re­ally had chocolates at my grand­par­ents’ place; it was al­ways cake.” The way Ernest struc­tured his com­pany

meant Queen Anne was for many years run by the North Is­land op­er­a­tion, un­der the lead­er­ship of Ernest’s busi­ness part­ner Hugh Bruce, un­der the Adams Bruce brand.

But the more Sarah re­searched, the more ex­cited she be­came.

“I guess at that stage I was think­ing about it sim­plis­ti­cally,” says the Cantabrian, who de­scribes her fam­ily as a “very prac­ti­cal” group, none of whom bat­ted an eye­lid at her plan to res­ur­rect a dead brand af­ter 20 years.

“I thought it was a sea­sonal prod­uct like cake – I love cake, I love cho­co­late; this should be rea­son­ably easy – and I started a list of what I needed to do.”

How­ever, it was eas­ier said than done. “Track­ing down the orig­i­nal recipes was one of the big­gest chal­lenges – I cer­tainly hit quite a few brick walls on that,” she says, re­call­ing a time she met with the son of a pre­vi­ous man­ager, who ad­mit­ted he’d just sent boxes of recipes to the dump.

But through painstak­ingly con­tact­ing for­mer Queen Anne staff mem­bers, Sarah grad­u­ally built up a col­lec­tion, which was given a boost when she un­earthed a car­ton of orig­i­nal Queen Anne recipes from the 1920s. “They were all hand­writ­ten, had old-fash­ioned plas­tic cov­ers and they were kind of greasy – like they still had cho­co­late on them,” she says with a smile.

The royal treat­ment

By Christ­mas 1998, Sarah had her first batch of chocolates ready for sale, us­ing a con­tract man­u­fac­turer.

“At that stage I was work­ing from my home of­fice, but we ac­tu­ally had wait­ing lists at the spe­cialty shops for the first Queen Anne boxes.”

While she had orig­i­nally en­vis­aged they would just be in bou­tique stores, within five years Queen Anne was avail­able in su­per­mar­kets na­tion­wide, with Christ­mas boxed chocolates and Easter eggs be­ing par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar.

It’s been a labour of love; trav­el­ling around seek­ing out for­mer staff mem­bers and recipes

In 2011 Sarah was fi­nally ready to open her own cho­co­late fac­tory – plans which she re­fused to let the earth­quakes de­rail.

“My main con­cern with the shak­ing was whether all our Easter eggs were go­ing to crack!” she says. “I’d just get the cho­co­late tem­pered and things would start shak­ing and I’d think, ‘Am I go­ing to stay with my ma­chine or run for the door?’”

To­day, she an­nu­ally pro­duces more than 1.6 mil­lion chocolates, de­light­ing in the fact Queen Anne is big enough to pro­duce on a large scale, but bou­tique enough to do small batches and be flex­i­ble with in­gre­di­ents. Although, while al­ways keen to ex­per­i­ment with new flavours, Sarah re­mains mind­ful of the com­pany’s roots.

“I’ve al­ways felt I’m just the cus­to­dian of the brand and the prod­uct, and what peo­ple re­mem­ber is our his­tory and our her­itage,” ex­plains the chocolatier, whose grand­fa­ther flew ex­pert con­fec­tion­ers over from Canada in the 1920s to train the Queen Anne team, with em­pha­sis on the art of nougat. “But we’re rel­e­vant. For ex­am­ple, our salted caramel is an orig­i­nal [caramel] recipe from the 1920s that we’ve jazzed up with a pinch of Marl­bor­ough sea salt flakes. So some­thing new, trendy and top­i­cal is re­ally just an old clas­sic with a twist.”

Choc-a-block

Right now, Sarah’s full fo­cus is on Christ­mas, Queen Anne’s busiest time of the year, when they make about 40 per cent of their annual sales.

She ex­pects to be work­ing through the fes­tive sea­son – as once all the fes­tive stock has been pro­duced she’ll be ramp­ing up for Easter.

But she will still be mak­ing time for a big fam­ily Christ­mas, which will in­clude her hus­band, two step-chil­dren and seven grand­chil­dren.

‘We never er ally had chocolates at my grand­par­ents’ place; it was al­ways cake!’

“Be­cause we are a large blended fam­ily there is lots of trip­ping around vis­it­ing peo­ple,” she says.

And given Sarah is an ex­pert in the arts of both bak­ing and cho­co­late, she is in hot de­mand.

“I am al­ways ex­pected to take chocolates – ‘chief in charge of cho­co­late’ – I never travel with­out them,” she ad­mits with a laugh. Given her hus­band is gluten-in­tol­er­ant, Sarah has also evolved some of her cake recipes.

“I have de­vel­oped a re­ally nice gluten-free Christ­mas cake – be­cause I love cake and it’s some­thing dif­fer­ent from cho­co­late,” she ex­plains.

All Queen Anne chocolates are gluten-free, and Sarah ad­mits the way to her hus­band’s heart is def­i­nitely with her pri­mary in­dus­try. “My hus­band is a choco­holic,” she con­fides. “But we got mar­ried be­fore I set up my cho­co­late fac­tory, so I know he loved me for my­self and not my cho­co­late!”

Sarah’s grand­fa­ther Ernest Adams.

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