Creators of the Chocolate Truffle110
OUR HOME IN PICCADILLY
When Nick and I acquired the Prestat in October, 1998, we were expecting to receive boxes of old documents, pictures and packaging but there was almost nothing. The oldest packaging, albeit it dating back ten years, was that currently in use. The business was 96 years of age at the time and we didn’t even know the origin of its name!
We slowly accumulated knowledge, in part through extensive conversations with shop managers Peggy Cramer and Dilys Wilson, who together had worked for Prestat a combined 70 years. They told us that the business was founded by French émigré Antoine Dufour and the date on all the boxes has the year as 1902.
We have since seen some of Antoine Dufour’s papers which show that he started recruiting as early as July, 1891, when he took on a Monsieur Urech from Switzerland to make pralines. Of his first 16 employees hired up to Christmas 1894, five were French, three Swiss, two Belgian, two from Alsace (now part of France), one Italian, one Spanish and a mysterious Alexandre Huch of no recorded nationality.
We don’t know whether Antoine opened the Prestat shop at this earlier date or whether he first established a kitchen making chocolates and petits fours for other businesses. We have decided, therefore, to keep 1902 as the official date of Prestat’s establishment.
THE CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE
FIRST CREATED IN CHAMBERY, FRANCE, IN
Antoine came from a family of highly proficient confectioners and chocolatiers. Crystallising fruits was very much in vogue and he lovingly recorded his purchases of raspberries, strawberries, cherries, grapes and blackcurrants. We have his recipes for chocolate caramels, coffee caramels, Turkish Delight, chocolate fudge, violet fondant, rose fondant and, of course, chocolate truffles.
The chocolate truffle was first created in Chambery, France, in December 1895 by the Dufour family. Antoine, who was born in Saint Berain sous Savignes, was passed the recipe (or created it himself and sent it over to Chambery) and could take advantage of the growing popularity for fine chocolate in England.
Prestat quickly became famous for its cocoa-dusted truffles, which Antoine Dufour wittily named ‘Napoleon III’ after the 19th Century rotund gourmand French emperor who spent his exile in London with his loyal chef. Prestat’s history was slowly being revealed but still unknown to us was the origin of the
name Prestat itself.
The first clue came when a relative noticed that an ornamental box dating from before World War II in which she kept her needles and thread had the name P. Prestat printed on it. It seemed that the business was named after a person but not its founder.
We now know that Antoine married a lady named Amelia Bonaba (who is rumoured to have worked at rival chocolatiers Charbonnel et Walker in Bond Street). Her aunt Pauline married a certain Henri Prestat and one of their four children was named Pierre (who was born in 1888). Amelia adored her little cousin Pierre. On opening his own chocolate shop, Antoine decided to name it in honour of young Pierre.
Pierre visited his British cousins shortly after the shop was opened. He developed into a sporting young man and his football club, Parisian Racing Club of France, enjoyed a British tour. He also visited London to engage in a bicycle track competition on behalf of Velo Club de La Valois