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The Chocolate Kitchens at Hampton Court

Hampton Court Chocolate Kitchen

Hidden for 300 years, the Chocolate Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace, Surrey - re-opened in 2014 - hark back to the days when chocolate was very much, in England, a drink for royals and the super-rich. Some 25 years ago, before the kitchens were rediscovered, Hampton Court Palaces had a metate (grinding stone) made specially for a series of live cookery events in the main palace kitchens. Today it is brought out on occasion when workshops are held in the chocolate kitchens. It might have featured in the new blockbuster film ‘The Favourite’, but the producers filmed our metate instead...! (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Hampton Court Palace’s chocolate kitchens could well have been in use in the late 17th century
Pic 1: Hampton Court Palace’s chocolate kitchens could well have been in use in the late 17th century (Click on image to enlarge)

Whilst there is solid evidence of King William III and Queen Mary II enjoying chocolate, it is highly likely that King Charles II began the trend in the 1660s, shortly after its introduction to London in 1657 (in fact the first coffee house in the country, where chocolate was offered for sale, opened in Oxford in 1650) and the publication of the first chocolate recipe in 1661 (‘The Indian Nectar’). Some historians think that the three non-alcoholic but highly social drinks - tea, coffee and chocolate - helped fuel the Industrial Revolution. But whilst the first two were imported into England as ‘complete packages’ (with all the paraphernalia needed for their preparation), chocolate was a different story...

Pic 2: Mexicolore Director Graciela Sánchez discusses the granite metate at Hampton Court Palace with Historic Kitchens Interpretation Coordinator Richard Fitch; Nicolas Blegny’s 1677 illustration
Pic 2: Mexicolore Director Graciela Sánchez discusses the granite metate at Hampton Court Palace with Historic Kitchens Interpretation Coordinator Richard Fitch; Nicolas Blegny’s 1677 illustration (Click on image to enlarge)

In Europe, everything (bar the actual cacao beans) had to be invented or improvised - including the wherewithal to grind the beans. No ‘original’ metate has yet been found at Hampton Court, but it’s very likely one made of granite existed. Quite possibly it broke (through overheating) and was thrown out. It was quickly discovered in Europe that heating the grinding stone speeds up the liquefying of the cocoa fat, and we know that hot charcoal was always placed in a grate under the metate in the chocolate kitchens at Hampton Court - interestingly, a charcoal stove is the only piece of original equipment found there to date (it was found hidden under a Dexion shelving frame). The metate commissioned from a monumental mason by Hampton Court in the early ‘90s was based on the image of one in the book “Le bon usage du thé, du caffé et du chocolat pour la préservation et pour la guérison des maladies / par Mr de Blégny,... “ (Blegny, Nicolas de 1677). Its underneath shows clear signs of heating! (Pic 2).

Pic 3: Graciela and Richard talk chocolate!
Pic 3: Graciela and Richard talk chocolate! (Click on image to enlarge)

The producers of the film The Favourite (described on the imdb.com website as ‘a bawdy tale of royal intrigue, passion, envy and betrayal in the court of Queen Anne in early 18th century England’) originally asked Hampton Court (where the kitchen scenes were filmed) for permission to use the HCP metate, but the latter declined, concerned that it might get broken. Instead, you can see Emma Stone at work with our very own metate - the same one worked lovingly by Juliette Binoche in the 2000 film Chocolat!

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Oct 08th 2017

See our very own metate in action!

Learn more about The Chocolate Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace...
... and about its rediscovery in 2013
The Blegny illustration can be accessed on the Gallica website of the Bibliotheque National (Paris) here...
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