The Islander | Sweet like chocolate
The Islander meets Kae Shibata, founder and head chocolatier at Cartografie, to talk masterminding new flavours, family life at London City Island and launching a business in the middle of lockdown.
When maternity leave coincided with a nationwide pandemic, chef Kae Shibata decided it was the perfect time to launch a business.
The former pastry chef had the support of her partner, MasterChef champ Sven-Hanson Britt, who decided to launch his own venture on London City Island with all-day dining hub Homestead. The ambitious pair moved to the Island to launch Cartografie – a gourmet chocolate shop and studio workshop – last summer and quickly found a community of fellow like-minded creatives, who in turn were delighted to have a world-class independent chocolatier on their doorstep.
With years of experience under her belt in the prestigious kitchens of The Ritz — in the notoriously technical world of pastry, no less — Shibata now had the opportunity to pursue her passion for chocolate. Cartografie specialises in single origin and single variety cocoa, with Shibata making every beautiful sea salt-sprinkled chocolate disc and exquisite ganache by hand in the studio. The name is a play on cartography – the study of making and using maps – as a nod to the company’s desire to venture to ‘uncharted territories of taste’ by sourcing premium ingredients from 20 degrees either side of the equator. Sustainability is a cornerstone of Cartografie, but the brand’s slick, contemporary style is equally important. The business was founded in partnership with Daniela Nunzi-Mihranian, founder and executive creative director of award-winning design agency Studio Minerva. Together, the trio have masterminded an ethical yet luxury chocolate brand that has been critically lauded by the likes of Stylist and Vogue, who named it among the best chocolate shops in London. Of course, City Island residents already knew that…
TI: Why did you decide to leave The Ritz and branch into chocolate?
KS: I worked at The Ritz for quite a few years but had to leave to have my son, Rex. During maternity leave and lockdown 1.0, my partner Sven and I decided to launch Cartografie. We were lucky enough to be spurred on by our friends Daniela, Baret and Coral of Studio Minerva who played an integral part in giving us the confidence to do it, but also created most of what Cartografie is today. Studio Minerva makes Cartografie beautiful!
Can you take us through the different Cartografie flavours?
We have a huge number of different flavours and chocolates at Cartografie, only a small amount are for sale in-store and online as we make sure we develop everything fully before we release it to the public. We have an awesome ‘chocolate library’ of various cocoas and couvertures, which we’re ageing, ready to be used at the perfect time. If you come into the studio, we can offer tasters so you know exactly what you’re getting.
“The chocolate industry has great female representation and leaders who I look up to.”
What is your personal favourite?
At the moment it’s the Beni Wild chocolate from Bolivia. It’s so floral and delicate, not like a dark chocolate at all. It’s incredibly rare and not cultivated but foraged in the wild on islands in the Amazon River. I make an acacia honey and jasmine bud ganache as a filling and it’s just so pure and refreshing.
How do you come up with new flavours?
Our work is inspired by the natural flavour and aroma in all of the chocolates that we use. If we ever add a flavouring to the chocolate, through a ganache or filling, its purpose is to elevate the natural beauty of the chocolate we use. This sounds like it would be a normal thing to do, but so many places use inferior chocolate and highly flavoured fillings, which mask the real flavour of the chocolate completely. Our style is more about subtlety and allowing nature to express itself through the cocoa we work with.
Sustainability is very important to your brand. How do you approach this?
We strive to have a positive impact, whether it’s through our direct sourcing of cocoa and ingredients, via the design of our biodegradable packaging, or through our procedures in the studio. We only work with companies that are striving to protect the biodiversity of the planet, protect the farmers that produce cocoa and pay fairly. We’re a zero food waste company and we do everything we can to just do better in the world of food. We’re brand-new but have big aspirations to make a sustainable future even more delicious.
What is your earliest memory associated with chocolate?
I lived in Düsseldorf until the age of five, and I remember climbing onto the windowsill at some point before December and raiding the beautiful hand-made Advent calendar that my mum had made for my sister and me. In each compartment were two chocolates – let’s just say that there weren’t very many left to go around when I was done. I vividly remember all of the colourful wrappers at my feet and my mum laughing when she caught me!
“Our neighbours and local customers have been so welcoming. We can’t wait to host events, workshops and tastings.”
Do you find that professional kitchens and the chocolate industry are still very male dominated? Has this ever posed a challenge in your career?
Hugely. There are always challenges associated with this but I’ve been lucky enough to have never really experienced direct discrimination – it’s just a subconscious attitude that needs to change in the industry, and a working environment that is thoroughly outdated. The chocolate industry has great female representation and leaders who I look up to, so that is one aspect of the world of the professional chef that does have good diversity.
What is a typical working day like for you?
I start early in the morning waking up with my son, he’s 18 months now and we’ve finally managed to work in a really great routine. I head to the studio for 08:30/9am – we’re lucky as we live a one-minute walk away – then I start making chocolate. In between tempering, tasting, filling and setting chocolate, I’m boxing-up orders, answering emails, posting on social media, trying to figure out digital marketing, shipping companies and website back-end maintenance alongside all the other tasks of running a company. I work in the studio alone but often my partner Sven is here and we’re planning on adding to the team very soon. I finish my day in the studio at 7pm and head home. Generally work gets done on a laptop over dinner until I go to sleep – but I think that’s just the nature of any new businesses.
Finally, what do you like about being based at London City Island?
We live and work here, which is great for us. The very laid-back life and a safe environment is perfect for our son to play. This is what drew us to the area in the first place. It doesn’t feel like London at all, but we’re so close to central, where a lot of our business happens. Our neighbours and local customers have been so welcoming. It’s a strange time for everyone and we’ve never really been able to open the shop and studio in the way we wanted, but hopefully that will be just around the corner. We can’t wait to host events, workshops and tastings in the space. We’ve been so surprised at how loyal everyone has been already.