Britain has been a nation of chocolate-lovers since the 17th century and history shows the chocolate drinking craze actually began with the royal family and traveled across the pond to the colonial capital. Rumors of a secret chocolate room in the Hampton Court Palace circulated for years, but no one could seem to find it. After several dead ends (and nearly three centuries after it was built), researchers finally unearthed the hidden kitchen—one that catered to three different kings. We have a behind-the-scenes look at this crowning achievement.
The precise location of the secret chocolate-making kitchen is in the Baroque Palace’s Fountain Court and it just opened to the public this month. Having been used as a storeroom for many years, it was remarkably well preserved with many of the original fittings, including the stove, equipment, and furniture. As part of the reconstruction, the exhibit now includes replicas of period-specific pottery, copper cooking equipment, and chocolate serving silverware.
In the 18th century, this kitchen was the domain of Thomas Tosier, personal chocolatier to King George I. Talk about a sweet gig! Tosier and his wife were charged with preparing the sophisticated chocolate drink for the royal family’s most intimate dinners and parties. King George also reportedly asked to be served hot chocolate every morning with his breakfast!
Since many of you likely won’t be traveling to England to see it in person, we thought we’d reach out to Marc Meltonville, Royal Palace Food Historian, and get the behind-the-scenes scoop on this amazing discovery.
Marc has worked on the reconstruction of kitchens at many of the six Royal Palaces as well as countless museums. Right now, he is traveling all across the UK and North America to speak about the King’s Chocolate Room and he will make a special stop at the Hennage Auditorium inside the Art Museums on March 18 at 5:30. And it’s free with your Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket!
We caught up with him (despite the five hour time difference) and he was gracious enough to answer some questions ahead of his visit.
Q: Which kings did the royal chocolate-making kitchen cater to and how unusual was it? What was the secret to the perfect cup of hot chocolate, fit for a king? Do you have records of the recipe?
A: Kings and Queens from Charles II to George III had chocolate makers. They made a hot drink, usually for the Royal Breakfast. We will never know the actual secret of a King’s chocolate, but we can get close because we have a couple of surviving recipes.
Q: I read that you sifted through handwritten notes, letters, and ledgers to search for confirmation the room existed. What was that process like and what evidence did you eventually find to prove its existence?
A: Luckily we have a good sized team so the actual sifting was done by our lovely interns. The big breakthrough was when we were able to take the ‘legend’ of the King’s Chocolate kitchen and prove that it did indeed exist.
Q: How did you finally know where to look? When you got inside, was it underwhelming (after all the built-up anticipation)?
A: We found the chocolate room quite late in the project, after finding out lots about the people that worked there and who they worked for. The room turned out to be not quite where we thought, and it was stunning!
Q: What is the historical significance of what you found?
A: We are able to add another facet to the lives of those who lived and worked on the great engine that is a Royal Palace. Away from the art and architecture, there are real people.
Q: What is one specific piece of history you plan to address during your visit here?
A: Whilst working on the project we were presented with a recipe for making hot chocolate that was not just like the ones used in Royal circles, but actually listed as “Chocolate as the King takes it.”
When he visits next month, Meltonville plans to talk more about that specific recipe and the elaborate and complex process that goes into making it. In the meantime, he sent us this video from the royal kitchen to share with you! Stay tuned for his alcohol-infused chocolate recipe.