In 2017, the word “bean-to-bar” is on everybody’s mouth.
Craft makers source cacao beans in exotic countries, then roast, crack, conch and temper. The result is flavorful chocolate where the ingredients are narrowed to the minimum. Usually sold in bars, this chocolate is made to appreciate the aroma of fine cacao and detect all its nuances.
But what would the world be without more luscious and richer treats?
When chocolate encounters other precious ingredients, a long array of treasures is born. We are talking ganaches, pralines, bonbons and more. Tiny creations that have the huge power to make us all smile from ear to ear.
Chocolatiers use the chocolate made by someone else to create their own jewels. If the starting chocolate is great, their creations have all the potential to be sublime. This is why Danish chocolatier Peter Svenningsen uses the chocolate of renowned chocolate maker Friis-Holm for its water-based chocolates:
“To me, the most important virtue for a chocolatier is to be uncompromising.
From using artisan waters, Iskilde of Denmark or Svalbardi of Norway, or arctic iceberg water, to finding the right partners with the same uncompromising approach to the fruits, berries, spices, herbs. If I try to cut corners with my choices, it is evident right away. Using water, I cannot “mask” bad chocolate.
I have worked 28 years as a graphic designer. About 3,5 years ago I decided that I had enough of advertising, and decided to go into chocolate. But what I did take with me was a quote from one of the grand old men of advertising from the golden age in the 60’s of Madison Ave in New York, Bill Bernbach: “The magic is in the product”.
For me, this says it all.”
It takes a lot of magical chocolate to make a living though. Especially for chocolatiers that care about the quality of their products, profit margins need to be calculated carefully. But there are many occasions where passion and creativity just can’t stick to finance.
“Many times a certain piece is not a simple piece.” – Peter says – ” It needs a special ingredient or a specific method of developing or making. If one attempts to calculate the cost versus the profit – argh, then its a no go! But it’s a great, fantastic piece. The exact taste, composition and texture I have been seeking! The mind says “no”, but the heart says “yes”.”
That same heart said yes many times to London-based chocolatiers Russell and Albert from Fifth Dimension Chocolates, known for their innovative flavors.
Russell, head chocolatier, comes from the media industry, while Albert, general manager, works also in clinical research. They have no doubt about what makes a great chocolatier:
“If you want to make the best chocolates then you need passion. If you have the passion then all the other skills will naturally fall into place enabling you to make the best chocolates.”
But they also warn:
“To be a successful chocolatier in business, the most important thing is knowing about business. You can make the best chocolate in the world, but if no one knows about it then no one will buy it; or if you don’t know how to run a business, you will not be able to make a living.”
This is what worries chocolatiers the most: the non-creative side of the business. Bureaucracy, marketing, forecasting orders, inventory, shipping. Here are a few challenges that Russell and Albert highlights:
“Selling online – it creates the challenges with packing and shipping. For example: in hot weather you have to think about how to ensure the chocolates don’t suffer heat damage en route to the customers. At around special holiday seasons or when customers order chocolates for special occasions, the chocolates need to reach the customers on time.
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Packaging – we need to “stand out” in the crowd with the packaging, and yet have to be practical (e.g. sufficiently protect the chocolates), and the cost has to be reasonable too. The upfront cost of packaging can be quite considerable.
Making filled chocolates – we need to make sure there are enough fillings and fresh chocolates to fulfill the orders, and they are all made correctly so that the finished products are of a high quality.”
The worries of chocolatiers seem to be the same across the globe, from London to Melbourne, where Viviane from Chocolate Chilli Mango runs a chocolate business all by herself.
“I don’t mind cleaning up or polishing the moulds.
But having to find time to photograph the products, do all the social media, the marketing and administrative stuff is time consuming. Having a small kitchen space and storage room, it’s also challenging to keep the kitchen at the right temperature and humidity that is optimal for working, as well as being able to store ingredients and packaging materials.
Honestly, the challenges are many when you are small, but it’s about finding the right balance (with experience) of what you can manage according to your capacity.”
Viviane set up her business in 2014, but chocolate and pastry have always been part of her life. With a PHD in physics, she enjoys both the creative expression and technical nature of working with chocolate. She suggests patience among the most important virtues of chocolatiers:
“Chocolate is such a fickle (but wonderful!) material to work with.
You need to have patience and calm whilst working with it, as well as not allowing yourself to get frustrated when things go wrong (something always goes wrong on a regular basis, even if only a minor mishap). An eye for detail and the patience to attend those details is important.
It’s a difficult work for someone who doesn’t love it or doesn’t get excited by doing it every day.”
Also for Isabel and Susana from Cacao Art in Miami patience is a must-have virtue in order to become a chocolatier.
“Chocolate is temperamental.
Each brand and type tempers a little bit differently, and you need to get to know your chocolate well. There’s lots of trial and error to get a ganache that is just perfectly balanced or a nice shine and snap when dipping or molding.”
Susana, architect and maitre chocolatier, and Isabel, journalist and sous-chocolatier, have Venezuelan pride running through their veins. Therefore, they take chocolate seriously:
“We want people to understand that our chocolates are fine food, artisan and hand-made, but without sounding condescending. Hopefully when people buy our chocolate they get that feeling of having bought something that is high-quality, made with the best ingredients from the chocolate and onwards.
It’s not just some candy you can get anywhere.”
Their biggest challenge is facing the fierce heat of Miami:
“As chocolatiers in Miami, one of our biggest challenges is definitely heat and humidity. Our workshop is usually at the right temperature, but we do have to be very careful when shipping or delivering chocolates around town. Reusable ice packs are our reliable friends all year round!”
As we could see, the career of chocolatier has its sour notes too. But with virtues like integrity, passion and patience, the long-term success is guaranteed.
Did YOU expect so many challenges in such a sweet job?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.