Someone asked me the other day how I started on my raw food, and particularly my raw chocolate, journey and that got me thinking…
The journey actually began when we decided to head to California, in February 2014, to rent a Tiny house for a week to see if tiny living might be our path. Since we were going all the way to the west coast, we decided to take advantage of the investment to get there to go up to Vancouver, BC, where I explored a Raw Food Chef certification course with the RAW Foundation. I was so captivated, that a few months later I added their Raw Food Educator certification. One of my favorite modules was a day spent making raw chocolates with Emma Smith, founder of Zimt Chocolates.
Soon afterwards, I started to turn more of my attention towards raw chocolate and completed the Raw Chef Academy’s Level 1 – Raw Chocolatier online course with the world’s leading raw chocolatier, Amy Levin. I was hooked and Levels 2, 3, & 4 soon followed. Our tiny house (yes, we did make the decision to live tiny!) became the focus of a lot of delicious chocolate experimentation.
Simultaneous to my raw chocolate training and trials, I began offering in-person raw food classes for a pilot year in 2015. I developed and taught workshops in Raw Food Made Easy; Decadent Desserts, Raw Desserts for Kids, Global Raw: A Taste of Thailand, Global Raw: A Taste of India; and Raw Chocolate Level 1. Though a well-received and fun experience, there didn’t seem to be enough of a market in our area to sustain these sorts of classes.
After toying with the idea of developing an online raw chocolate business, I realized that I really wasn’t “into” the production aspect of things. I love the creativity involved in chocolate making but didn’t want to have to reproduce an identical product over and over again. There were other reasons I chose not to move forward with the idea, as I wrote about in Ready. Set. Don’t Go.
Summer of 2015 found us touring the newly established Hummingbird Chocolate facility in Ontario. Our first foray into learning about bean to bar chocolate was with this small, passionate company. Though not raw chocolate, it’s mighty good. So much so that when we returned a year later we couldn’t find a bar outside of the factory, as they had become so widely recognized that they were struggling to meet the demand.
For a long time I have toyed with the idea of buying a stone grinder so I too could make chocolate from nibs, but after much researching we decided this wasn’t the best idea since we live in 220 sq ft (though I do still dream of it somedays!). The noise of production and the time and space needed is outside of Tiny’s capacity. This decision put me securely on the path of a chocolatier (one who makes artisan chocolates) rather than that of a chocolate maker (one who grinds and makes chocolate from the beans).
Recently, I’ve also come to better understand that “raw” is not a standardized description in the chocolate world and in fact no chocolate can ever be completely raw, simply because all cacao beans need to be fermented for health and safety reasons. From that point onward the choice is to roast or not to roast. So what I call raw chocolate would more accurately be labeled unroasted chocolate. Unroasted is a rare choice in the world of chocolate as much of the beans’ taste profile is developed via the roasting process. I do like the greater health benefits associated with the unroasted products, so I am still focusing on using as close to raw ingredients as possible in order to maintain the most antioxidants and other nutritional elements that are destroyed by high heat.
The next year or so I was often to be found happily experimenting with and creating chocolate delights in Tiny’s kitchen. Many of my results found their way into the homes of neighbors and local friends or more distant family and other loved ones. Basically I have become “The Chocolate Fairy”. In gifting the creations to others I have gotten important feedback on favorite flavors and textures and kept Judy and I in the healthy consumption zone.
I also continued to expand my understanding of other raw foods as I took workshops on crafting Raw Desserts at Home, Raw Fermentation at Home, and Home Ground: Raw Nut Butters and Chocolate at Home, all with the Raw Chef Academy. While doing so I fell in love again, this time with fermented nut cheezes.
In the winter and spring of 2017 I was convinced by several friends who had tried and loved my fermented nut cheezes, to offer some in-person classes. Again, after a few offerings it seemed I’d tapped out the market. I wasn’t ready to stop offering the class though, as the nut cheeze is so delicious and easy to make! So, I spent months learning about online platforms and how to best present an educational experience on the internet. September 2017 saw me concurrently starting up RAWareness: Vegan Workshops & Products and opened up my first online course focused on making fermented nut cheeze. Raw Chocolate Level 1 soon followed as another online offering. Both are still available online though they have not had the traction I was hoping they would. I think this is for several reasons. First, though the internet certainly opens me up to a larger market (my intention!), there’s so much going on online these days that I have found it near impossible to break through all the internet “noise” and actually reach the potential market. Many of those with interest are willing to try out the free recipe blogs, but don’t understand the benefits of having an instructor that guides them step-by-step to help them learn the process and troubleshoot along the way that they have to pay for.
My second recent realization is that online classes are really targeting a different market than those I offer in person. In person classes tend to attract those who are curious about the idea of a vegan alternative to cheese, and also want to socialize and eat great food! On occasion there will be someone who really wants to make fermented nut cheeze in their own kitchen. The online market seems to be solely geared to the latter. Sadly, we have created a culture where many would prefer to just buy these products off the store shelves. Making food from scratch simply is not the priority it used to be. So I’ve been learning valuable lessons about how to focus what I am offering to the audiences’ needs, wants, and preferences.
Meanwhile, I am still making chocolate and learning more about it. The next step in my own process (because there is always more to learn about chocolate!!) was to take the Mastering Chocolate Flavor Program from École Chocolat in the winter of 2018. I learned an incredible amount about chocolate textures and flavors, the impact of the origins and genetics of various beans, and the processing choices in chocolate making that can affect flavor. Beans from different countries (and even different cacao plantations) have a unique signature that one can identify if one takes the time to really savor it. Most bean to bar makers use cane sugar as their sweetener because it flavorless, so doesn’t alter the nature of the bean. I have chosen to use other sweeteners that are kinder to the body and the planet. (I’ll be writing a more in depth blog about this choice in the future.) I’ve shared some of my new learnings by facilitating a few informal chocolate tastings right at home in Tiny!
Raw Chocolate Level 5, with Amy Levin followed on the heels of the Flavor class, because… well, just because! This course is still in process and I have a lot of experimenting to do with new recipes!
On our annual road trip to NB, Quebec, Ontario and New England this summer, we stopped in at Dancing Lion Chocolate in Manchester NH and met Rich Tango-Lowry, Master Chocolatier and facilitator of the Mastering Chocolate Flavor program I had taken. What an engaging, generous, and incredibly knowledgeable person! We ordered a lovely tea and chocolate pairing, that Rich kept enhancing with tidbits about other chocolate makers and their focus and skills, along with samples! Dancing Lion’s tag line is “Chocolate as Art” – and it really is. Rich only makes 20-200 of each of his chocolates, so once they are gone, they are never to be made again! We left him to visit with Enna Grazier from Enna Chocolate, in Epping NH, touring her facility and tasting various experiments and learning a bit about the journey from chocolate making in her kitchen to her presence in a storefront.
So I’ve returned home, with so much inspiration I’m about to burst! Ahead of us this fall, we plan to offer several chocolate tastings to the people of Cape Breton, as chocolate of this quality is not readily available in Nova Scotia. Inspired by Rich Tango-Lowy I’ve also decided to try creating and selling some gourmet raw chocolates on a monthly basis this winter. I will only make 40 or so of each and once they are gone, they’re gone. Never to be produced again. This will help me get around the “production” end of things. Folks will know that each month they’ll have access to a small selection of gourmet raw chocolates – and I get to continue to be in creation mode rather than feel the pressure of producing the same thing over and over again.
My own learning, of course, is far from over! In January 2019, I’ll be participating in a four day intensive Bean to Bar Chocolate School, with Debbie Williamson of Wild Kauai Chocolate. I can’t wait!!!
- February, 2014: Raw Food Chef certification, with Raw Foundation, Vancouver, BC
- November, 2014: Raw Food Educator certification, Raw Foundation, Vancouver, BC
- December, 2014: Food Safety Level 1
- 2015-2016: The Raw Chocolatier Levels 1-4, The Raw Chef Academy
- January to December, 2015: Offered in-person raw food classes monthly (Raw Food Made Easy; Decadent Desserts, Raw Desserts for Kids, Global Raw: A Taste of Thailand, Global Raw: A Taste of India; Raw Chocolate Level 1)
- August, 2015: Toured Hummingbird bean to bar facility in Ontario
- 2016: Raw Desserts at Home, The Raw Chef Academy
- 2016: Raw Fermentation at Home, The Raw Chef Academy
- 2017: Home Ground: Raw Nut Butters and Chocolate at Home, The Raw Chef Academy
- September 2017: Started RAWareness: Vegan Workshops and Products
- February to June, 2017: Offered in person How to Make Fermented Nut Cheeze classes & Raw Chocolate Level 1 class
- September, 2017: Developed and offer online Fermented Nut Cheeze course
- October, 2017: Developed and offer online Raw Chocolate Level 1 course
- February to April, 2018: Mastering Chocolate Flavor program, École Chocolat
- April, 2018: Hosted a few chocolate tastings locally
- August, 2018: The Raw Chocolatier, Level 5, The Raw Chef Academy
- September 2018: visited Dancing Lion Chocolate & Enna Chocolate
- October 2018: Working on a Professional Chocolatier course with École Chocolat
I’ve come a long way. And there’s so much further to go (thank goodness!!!) on my vegan chocolate making journey!