Sweet success: Kae Shibata

The former sous chef at The Ritz founded sustainable chocolate shop Cartografie at the height of lockdown. She tells us about the importance of family, looking to the future and following your dreams

Food and Drink 20 Dec 2021

Kae Shibata, founder and head chocolatier at Cartografie

Cartografie was born in lockdown. We [Shibata and partner Sven-Hanson Britt, founder of Oxeye restaurant, and Daniela Nunzi-Mihranian from Studio Minerva] launched it because we wanted to make a difference in the chocolate industry by celebrating the different cocoa origins, supporting the farmers and encouraging biodiversity alongside working with the very best chocolatiers and cocoa growers. We basically champion the chocolate and want to be the voice for the chocolate because we know that the industry is very corrupt, unfortunately. A lot of chocolate comes from modern slavery, which I didn’t know about before becoming a chef. It wasn’t until I was having to source the ingredients that I started to find these things out and, once I understood that, we asked more questions and delved deeper into the industry. We’re just trying to make sure that we are doing everything we can to stay conscious and sustainable as a brand, which is why all our packaging is either biodegradable, recyclable or reusable.

The name Cartografie comes from the word ‘cartographer’, which is a mapmaker. The reason we came up with that is because we wanted to map out all the different chocolates from around the world. And by doing that, we want to tell the stories as well. With each chocolate, we do everything we can to research it and understand it before we even consider using it in the shop. We do a lot of research into the cocoa itself: where it comes from, who’s involved in the growing, the harvesting, the whole production line. All of that is really important to us. We not only want to do this for ourselves, but we also want to talk about it to other people and share this information. Traceability is important, but the flavour is also crucial. We taste test all the chocolate in advance, and we age some too – similar to wine. I also don’t use any preservatives or excess sugars, as we really want the flavour of the chocolate to shine through.

Kae preparing chocolates at Cartografie

It has always been a dream to start my own business. And the roots of it being in chocolate came from my time at The Ritz. Working in a hotel as a chef is an incredible experience because you get to do so many different things. Everything from breakfast to lunch, dinner, afternoon tea and the room amenities. The amount of work and the diverse range of things you have to make is huge. It’s a good thing and also a challenge because it is very, very demanding. But it was there where I was able to showcase what I can do with chocolate. A lot of people tend to shy away from chocolate as it’s technical and can be quite messy – but I made good friends with it, so naturally it just kind of fell into my responsibility and I really enjoyed it. But before The Ritz I had no culinary experience. I’d studied womenswear at university and worked with a British fashion designer for a number of years. Being young, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do, and I soon realised fashion wasn’t something I wanted to do long term. I’d always enjoyed cooking but had never really considered it as a career. It was my sister who asked what makes me happy – regardless of money or status or anything. I said cooking and she suggested I pursue becoming a chef. I had never even considered it – translating what you love into a profession. I started reaching out to some places and the only one who got back to me was The Ritz. After a one-week internship I was lucky enough to be offered a job. I started at the very bottom: from literally peeling and juicing lemons for weeks on end to being in charge of the afternoon tea and managing a group of 10 chefs. It was a big operation.

There’s an adrenaline rush that comes when you work in a team like that – it’s exciting and it takes you a while to come down from that buzz when you get home. It was something I really enjoyed but it is short lived. I think you get to a certain age where you have responsibilities, like a child, and you can’t really do those long hours! One of the reasons we started Cartografie is because I fell pregnant with my son Rex while working at The Ritz and knew that I couldn’t go back to the same role after having a child. I was sad but it was an exciting chance to start something new.

The limited-edition Cartografie Christmas Collection

I’ve always wanted to own my own company and, ironically, even though having a child is really demanding and it was during the pandemic, it genuinely did feel like the right time to do it. It was quite scary with all the restaurants having to close, but it did feel like the perfect time to start something where I was in control of everything. My partner is also a chef, and we were trying to think of something we could make and sell digitally and post out to people – and with me being a pastry chef, we thought chocolate was a good idea. It all just kind of fell into place. It’s been very intense, but I still think it was the best decision.

My advice to people who want to start their own business is that, if you believe in it 100 per cent, then do it. I think it’s so important to follow your dream. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s just so important to do what you believe in. It’s so real, and you can’t be more genuine with what you do than with what you believe in. Along the way, you will always find people who will support you and believe in you and help you because people are drawn to others who are genuinely passionate. I’ve felt that from my experience. I’ve also learned that family is number one. Work is amazing but fundamentally, if your home life is off-balance then everything else is off-balance. Make sure your family is happy and healthy – and that includes yourself. It’s something I’m definitely trying to practise a lot more now. Juggling life and work is really challenging but it’s so important to try to be present and spend time with your family. You can lose yourself in work and then you’re not going to deliver the best of yourself. We’ve found that, since lockdown, chefs are now setting boundaries. People are putting their foot down and I respect that. I think lockdown has encouraged people to consider looking after themselves and to say ‘no’ sometimes.

All Cartografie chocolates are made by hand at the London City Island studio and shop

There are so many things that I would like for the future of Cartografie. As a company, I would obviously love for it to be successful and for it to be at the forefront of people’s minds when they think about chocolate. But I think the deeper desire for the company is to make that sustainable difference. All these things that we’re doing are because we care, and we want to make things better. At the moment we’re such a small company and I know that the changes we make are going to have a very small impact but hopefully, as we grow, the impact can also grow, and we can help build a future that will make a positive change to the environment. Now, having my son, the concept of the future feels very different. It’s his future and his generation and beyond. So, I guess it’s just trying to deliver delicious chocolates and educating and helping people and the planet. It’s a huge idea, but we’ll do what we can!


Kae Shibata started her culinary career as an unpaid intern at The Ritz and, within 14 months, she received the Award of Excellence from The Academy of Culinary Arts and became a chef de partie within two years of starting. She is now founder and head chocolatier at Cartografie, a sustainable chocolate shop based at London City Island. Discover more about Cartografie and shop the range at cartografiechocolate.com