Books: Chocolatiers who redefined their industry

Craig Sams and Jo Fairley tell how they founded, nurtured, fought for and then sold Green & Black's. John Vincent relishes the tale.

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Sweet Dreams
Craig Sams and Josephine Fairley
Random House £14.99

There's a standing joke at Leon that I try to add chocolate to every dish. If you come to have a porridge, you can have it sprinkled with flakes of dark Valhrona chocolate. I may be slightly addicted and, really, the two people to blame are Craig Sams and Jo Fairley. Their book, Sweet Dreams, is a wonderful story of how this couple created Green & Black's and revolutionised an industry.

It tells about the conception of the name, which happened while under a duvet on 'a soggy Saturday evening' in March 1991; gives us biographical insights into the early lives of Craig and Jo; provides a short history of chocolate; and recounts, as they say on The X Factor, the highs and lows of their 'journey'. It also describes supply, accounting (no, really, they make that bit interesting) and life issues. There are tears, laughter and a lovely deep-dive on the creation of the Maya Gold bar - and weird stuff about what's going to happen to all of us on 20 December 2012.

It's also an insight into the elevated world of the organic and fair-trade glitterati, where the eco-elite (Sting and Trudie, Paul McCartney, Lady Sainsbury and friends) orbit Prince Charles and Highgrove. It's a world I admire. We have come to understand the work of these people and of the Soil Association, and it should be more widely publicised.

This book helps with that process: it not only gives us what seems to be an open account of the Green & Black's story, it puts it into context. Craig and Jo provide a social history of the organic movement since the 1960s, as well as a narrative of the '90s, the decade in which the movement sexed itself up.

One of the great revelations is that Sams has been at or near the epicentre of this movement for a long time. He was the first to import brown rice and he built Whole Earth on the idea of 'no added sugar' foods. The chapter on his early life is an inspiration to those who try to make a difference with food, and allows him to explain that his talents extended outside food: 'My clothing enterprises helped to set the styles that characterised the British psychedelic look.'

I knew I'd be impressed by the couple's marketing savvy, but I hadn't realised how they'd battled to create, manage and protect the supply of cocoa and chocolate as competitors tried to destabilise it.

Interspersed throughout are boxed memos of advice - for example the 'Get it in writing' box, or the 'Lunch hour - what's a lunch hour?' box. Some readers will find these wonderfully useful; others might find them a little patronising.

I sometimes found the values expressed in the book confusing. A friend, in the thick of the good-food revolution since the Sixties, told me: 'The trouble with our generation is that we think Left but we act Right.' That was ringing in my head as the Sweet Dreams story unfolded. Sams decided that just a little bit of sugar was OK if it was in dark chocolate, then later, as economics dictated, he produced milk chocolate with a lot more sugar, then finally white chocolate, with none of chocolate's traditional benefits.

The book describes the sale of Green & Black's to Cadbury in 2005, and there's a plausible rationalisation of why Cadbury was a strong cultural fit, and that the exit was not a sell-out. The book ends with a beginning - an insight into the couple's new life in a wholefood baking shop and alternative health centre in Hastings. 'Our new ventures are just an extension of what we've done before. We're still trying to change the world ...'

Jo, it sometimes seems, hadn't quite got closure, having sold out and had her 'baby' adopted by a multinational. I hope that as well as giving us all a great book, Sweet Dreams gives Jo that closure.

- John Vincent is co-founder of Leon Restaurants.

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