How sweet it is

The chocolate fountain is not a one-trick pony, as Jeremy King finds out when he spends a day with The Original Chocolate Fountain as it prepares to dazzle and delight guests at the movie premiere for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

1.00pm A little anxious about the crowds at New Covent Garden Market, my worst fears come true when I get stuck among hundreds of frantic shoppers on a scorching hot day as I search for The Original Chocolate Fountain's premises. After taking a wrong turning I regain my bearings and spot the company's branded vans, affectionately named Willy Wonka and Oompa Loompa – very apt, considering tonight's event.

1.15pm After meeting the team, which today consists of seven people, I'm given a guided tour and am surprised by the enormity of the operation. In the kitchen one team member is preparing fresh pineapples and strawberries. "Every day we are down at the market in the early hours selecting the highest quality fruit and flowers. Most people think it's only about the chocolate and nothing else but there is so much more to the chocolate fountain experience," explains sales and marketing director Helen Harper. For today's job the team has been preparing 200 punnets of strawberries, 800 doughnuts and 1,500 profiter rolls, plus 10 kilos of chocolate – approximately the equivalent of 250 Mars bars.

2.00pm During the past two years the company has expanded from working in a shed with one fountain to its own premises with 17 fountains and around 30 jobs per week. "We have got bigger and bigger and the jobs have become more varied," says Harper.

2.30pm As Harper answers the phone chief chef Harvey Ward puts together the machines to be showcased this evening. Before Ward has time to explain what he is doing an excited Harper delivers some amazing news. "We've just been asked to provide a chocolate fountain at Tony Blair's Downing Street garden party later this week and also for a GMTV feature," she calls out.

3.00pm As the team begins loading Willy Wonka and Oompa Loompa, Harper explains how the company ensures that all of the chocolate fountains can be installed at any event independently: "When we arrive at an event we don't have to bother the organisers, we just get on with putting the fountains together and melting the chocolate by taking our own microwaves and equipment with us."

4.00pm Despite it being a hot Sunday the roads through central London are heaving and the convoy of three trucks and one car finally makes its way to Old Billingsgate, the venue for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie premiere party. After negotiating a few parking spaces it is time to unload the equipment, which takes about 45 minutes. Once inside, Harper goes through the plans of where the three fountains will be positioned and the team splits into groups to assemble the chocolate fountains in the pink, white and main areas of the party.

4.30pm As the team sets up the machine in the white area the first problem of the afternoon occurs as smoke begins bellowing out of the fountain. Fortunately, Ward is on hand to solve the problem and clean the fragment of chocolate that has been left at the bottom, which is causing the smoke. With this solved it's time to begin melting the chocolate. "Melting white chocolate is quite tricky as it tends to be far more sensitive than milk chocolate and is far easier to burn. It takes plenty of practice," explains Ward.

5.30pm With the machines almost ready Harper is informed by the event's organisers that the film itself has been delayed so the guests will not be arriving at the party until at least 7.30pm, which is a full hour behind schedule.

6.30pm All three fountains have been pumping out chocolate for the past 30 minutes when Harper is told that most of the guests themselves have now been delayed by traffic and will not be arriving until around 8.30pm. "It just means we have to leave the fruit in the kitchen a little longer and unfortunately our team has to stand around for long periods," says Harper.

7.30pm With the finishing touches being applied to the event, I notice how other suppliers are impressed by the chocolate fountains and that the early guests are immediately drawn to them. This is accentuated when GMTV interviews Harper about the fountains.

8.30pm All heads turn as the star of the movie, Johnny Depp, arrives and is seen looking adoringly at the fountains before being whisked off to the VIP section. However, celebrities including Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton and Busted are not so quick to pass up the opportunity and have a taste of a strawberry dipped in milk-, white- or strawberry-flavoured chocolate.

9.30pm The team is soon swamped with guests and Harper has to ensure a steady supply of food for the fountains. "I have to keep an eye on all three fountains and bring out strawberries and profiter rolls because they go quickly," says Harper. "People don't always realise it's a long day from preparation to completion. The team won't be getting home until at least 3am."


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