Elena Lederman’s Chocolates

Chocolatier Elena Lederman with Elizabeth Taylor, 1978 • AJR Refugee Voices

This photo, from AJR Refugee Voices Testimony Archive, shows chocolatier Elena Lederman with actress Elizabeth Taylor, one of her celebrity clients. Elena says of this photo: “I gave her a box of chocolates at the studio and they all fell out.”

Born in Milan to parents from Istanbul, Elena and her family moved to Belgium, where Elena worked as salesperson in Bon Marché. Elena married in 1940 and her son was born in 1942. They survived the war with the help of the Belgium underground, hiding in forests and woods near Brussels. She came to the UK in 1955 and opened a chocolate business, Elena Chocolates, one of the first people in the UK to import Belgium chocolates. These delicacies found favour with a wide variety of celebrity clients, including the Royal family. Here is an excerpt from Elena’s AJR Refugee Voices interview on how she came to start her business:

I always worked, because it was the only way to survive, which I did. I got quite a good background in that respect. I used to work in a shoe-shop, and I liked the idea to have shoes made to measure, so when I had the shop, the first time I made shoes made to measure, and I used to make shoes for the Palladium, boots, I got to do very, very well. In the shop where I find in Edgware. And after that my husband said, why don’t you do those very special chocolates from Belgium, why don’t you do that? Ah, I said, “No.” He said, “Come on, you’ll do it.” And I started. And for nearly twenty years, I introduced the Belgian chocolates, they were really fresh chocolates, which we collected every week by van, every Monday.”

This is a photo of Elena in her shop with a box with feathers made specially for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Elena later took this box to Buckingham Palace:

According to Elena, here is how the Royal Family became her customers:

I was the first lady who brought fresh chocolates – of course now they got many – but at the time, they didn’t know what it means to choose the chocolate and fresh cream, they didn’t know. People bought boxes which are all ready, which are – So it was quite a big job, but it was very, very exciting also, because I managed to do that very, very well. And when I first opened the shop, very, very beautiful, I thought – I had an idea. So I took a box with me and I went to Scotland Yard. That day in Scotland Yard, they were just advertising for new staff, you know, for secretaries, and I went in the queue.   

And when I got in the queue, my turn arrived, they said, “What job do you want?” “Well,” I said, “I don’t come for a job, I want to see the Queen”. I must tell you; at that particular time they thought there is something not right with me. Anyway, they called somebody, and I went to talk to him, and I said, I just started a new business, it’s something which has never been in England before, and I feel the First Lady should be able to taste them, as it’s so new. He said,   “Hold on, listen to that.” I said, “God, what are they going to do?” And I’m very natural, I don’t do anything sophisticated, it’s just me, you know. So he came and said, “You’re going to tell me you want to see Her Majesty the Queen?” – “Well”, I said, “yes, I would like her to taste the chocolate” and here is the box,. I gave it to him, he came again, and he said, “Yes, Mrs Lederman, at the [indistinct] the Queen‘s going to see you tomorrow morning, at 9 o’clock in the morning at Buckingham Palace.”

So of course, the following morning I went to Buckingham Palace, and the Master of Ceremonies was there, and I made then a much more beautiful box, very beautiful, and I went in, and he said, “Come in” and they served me tea, and he said, “Is that the chocolate?” “Yes.” And so he said, “Well, I’m going to ask you a favour. Would you take one first?” I had to eat one. And in a joke I said, “Well, I know the one which is not poisoned, so I’m having that one.” I made it in a very natural way. And he went, then he came back, and he said, “Her Majesty the Queen is very delighted with those chocolates, and we are going to write to you. And who gave you the idea to come?” “Well,” I said, “Nobody, but I guessed, it’s something completely new, and I’m in England not very long, but I’m very fond of England and all that, and I thought she should have a taste.”

And do you know, from that time, she used to go to Harrods, just to get the white chocolate, and then the Queen Mother – I used to go to the Queen Mother nearly once a month. And I used to ring the bell, and then one day they said, “Would you come up?” And I went up to them, and my husband was with me but he could not come, he had to wait downstairs, so I went up with them, I always remember, I saw – Lady Diana’s grandmother used to be at the Court there, and it was a magnificent room. They gave me some tea, and I said to them – Lady Diana was going to get married with Prince Charles at the time and I made up a velvet box, very big, with their photo, and chocolate, and I said, “Will you allow me to present it to them?” And they said, “Certainly”, we know what it’s all about, yes of course you can, we will be very delighted, and she wanted to know all my life story, and she wanted to know all about the war, all what I went through, and I sat there for an hour.

My husband was worried what they do to me. You know he got a little bit worried, and they had a camera in the corner obviously, you must understand, and from that time really, whenever there was something special I used to send some chocolate, or I used to go there, when Lady Diana had her first baby I went to the maternity at the Portman, and there were coming a lot of people, coming, naturally with flowers, and as I went to the door, they said, Well, you can’t go in any more, it’s far too many. Prince Charles came out, and he said, “That lady can go too”, and immediately I went in with a basket. I used to make such beautiful things; I must show you some photos. I used to make such fantastic things.

Read more about Elena here.


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