From education to employment

Chocolate mastermind behind Wonka prequel heads to valleys college to inspire next generation of creative learners

chefs stood in a line

The world-renowned Welsh chocolatier behind the fantastical chocolate creations in the new Timothée Chalamet Wonka film has visited learners at a valleys college to shed light on what it takes to turn passions into a dream profession.

Cardiff-born Gabriella Cugno, who has been referred to as the real-life Willy Wonka, joined creative and catering learners at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Nantgarw campus to talk through her illustrious career and share advice to budding chocolatiers and prop makers.

During her visit, Gabriella spoke to 50 learners studying prop making, arts, special effects and catering courses, giving them an insight into her career journey, how she came to work on the blockbuster film, and the process involved in crafting the impressive edible props for it. As part of her work on the production, Gabriella designed and hand made over 2,000 intricate pieces, covering everything from teacups and mushrooms to tree bark and flowers.

The award-winning chocolatier and pastry chef held a Q&A with the learners and toured the college’s facilities. Learners also had the opportunity to showcase their work to Gabriella and get her professional feedback.

Boasting an impressive CV, Gabriella spent over 15 years working at high end restaurants, patisseries, chocolateries and world famous five-star hotels before her career led her to Warner Bros Studios UK. With a background in creative arts and catering, Gabriella felt working on the Wonka movie was the perfect way to marry both of her interests.

Gabriella said:

“I’ve always had a passion for food and art, which I feel are both very connected. With enough imagination and the right skills, you can create something amazing out of both, and I love that creation process. Working on Wonka was an incredible experience as it enabled me to combine my artistic background and love of chocolate as I had to think creatively about how I was going to translate the ideas from the script into reality.

Today, Gabriella runs her own business creating delicious chocolates as well as teaches masterclasses, consults, caters for events, and works directly with cocoa producers to develop recipes.

Speaking about her visit to Coleg y Cymoedd, Gabriella said:

“It’s been really nice to connect with young people who are looking to go into creative careers and inspire them with my own journey. I want them to know that being creative is great and reassure them that there are lots of fantastic opportunities out there within more creative industries, whether they want to become a chef, create props for films or become artists!

“When I was younger, I felt being creative wasn’t celebrated enough within my school. There was definitely more of a focus on being academic, which is of course great too, but I didn’t feel I had any role models for the pathway I was interested in. I would have loved to have had a pastry chef or prop maker come in to speak to me when I was in school to show me that my dream job was possible.

“I have loved sharing my experience with these learners and advising them on their next steps, pointing them in the direction of people and organisations who can help. I hope I leave them feeling inspired to believe in themselves and work hard to achieve every success.”

Lisa Purcell, Assistant Principal of Learner Experience at Coleg y Cymoedd, said:

“We loved welcoming Gabriella to Coleg y Cymoedd and are very grateful for her giving up her time so generously to meet our learners. They really enjoyed hearing from Gabriella about her journey from her love of creative subjects in school, to owning her own business and working on the Wonka film. It gave them invaluable insight into all the opportunities that are open to them once they finish college. Gabriella is a great inspiration to our learners, showing how, with hard work and practice, you can turn your passion and skills into a career you love.”

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