Cover Ceramicist and chocolatier Ryan L Foote in his studio (Photo: Courtesy of Ryan L Foote)

The designer steps up the experiential dining game with a play on shape, texture and taste with his unique pairing of chocolates and ceramics

On one breezy Saturday evening earlier this Spring, I walked into the lift of a commercial building in Ap Lei Chau on my way to a chocolate kitchen. I had been invited to learn how to make chocolates with Ryan L Foote, an artist and designer who works with both chocolate and ceramics, with studios in Hong Kong and Melbourne. 3D chocolates are his signature items, but that night he was teaching novices like me how to make simple chocolates filled with ganache.

The process starts by painting the inside of the chosen mould with cocoa butter mixed with food-safe colouring. It’s an open canvas, with the final design on display on the outer shell of the chocolate. Next comes the more intimidating part—filling the mould with the liquid chocolate coming out of a large machine that has been churning chocolate constantly for hours. This requires a steady hand, as you also have to scrape the top and sides of the mould clean before carefully placing it on the vibrating plaque, which will get rid of any air bubbles. The excess chocolate is then dumped back into the machine, so that only the outer layer that has adhered to the mould stays. Once the outer shell has hardened, we squeeze the ganache inside and wait until it has settled before sealing everything off with another layer of liquid chocolate.

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While we waited for the chocolates to harden, we tested the CBD chocolates from his latest collaboration with CBD retailer Savan and drank port wine out of his Hong Kong neighbourhood ceramics collection. Foote had managed to encapsulate the essence of each neighbourhood in a cup. Pastel colours reminiscent of the Sheung Wan buildings, blue waves and green hills for Kennedy Town—and on top of that, the cup was oval shaped, offering the customer a new way of drinking.

That is Foote’s mission, to offer customers the ultimate dining experience through shape, texture and taste. His past work on set designs and events for fashion shows in Melbourne, London and Paris involved incorporating elements of sound and lighting to complete the elaborate installations he was creating. Once he started incorporating food and alcohol for food and wine festivals and pop-up bars, he made the final shift towards catering to the F&B industry. With many events where he curated everything from food concept to tablescaping to interior design under his belt, Foote has all the tools to create a true feast for the senses.

See also: 11 Luxury Chocolate Brands To Try In Hong Kong

It was a serendipitous turn of events that led him to launch his chocolate business and move to Hong Kong. Foote had been using chocolate at his events, as it can be prepared beforehand and has a longer shelf-life. After working with chocolatiers and reading technical books, he found similarities between the physical properties of chocolate and ceramic glaze. But it wasn’t until he brought over his Diamond Lab series, a diamond-themed pop-up food art experience, from Melbourne that he made the move to Hong Kong and started working with Hong Kong chefs on custom-made ceramics and chocolates.

Foote’s 3D chocolates are his claim to fame. He uses the same 3D machine he uses for his ceramics and event projects to form structural and contemporary chocolate shapes, which are heavily inspired by architecture and nature. You may find one chocolate inspired by the rock formation of Hong Kong’s geoparks and another inspired by an oddly-shaped Australian native fruit—the quandong.

Hong Kong and Australia’s strong cultural identities are present in the fillings as well. While the caramel char siu, egg tart or aged mandarin rind flavours are an ode to Hong Kong’s cuisine, the Australian collection is inspired by the native flora and fauna such as roasted wattleseed which gives off chocolate-coffee notes and Davidson plum, which is more tangy.

While most artists may have a single aesthetic, Foote offers a bespoke service catered to chefs. His list of clients include Sake Central, Ando and Tate Dining Room. His showroom, opening in the second part of the year, will be a place where chefs can come design their own ceramics or chocolates and will display different plate profiles and glaze finishes for them to explore. For private customers, Foote plans to hold chocolate-making masterclasses as well as dining events such as sake or tea-chocolate pairings.

In the meantime, you can find Foote's chocolates online, with seasonal sightings at K11 and Lane Crawford. And keep an eye out for his next pop-up project, a chocolate dessert bar where you can enjoy a whiskey-chocolate pairing surrounded by thousands of ceramics, with a pick-your-own-vessel kind of concept. As for the ceramics, a collection involving Hong Kong’s old neon signs is currently in the works. Life, it seems, is pretty sweet.