What I’m Learning about Myself in Becoming a Chocolatier

Like most things, it’s a process of becoming. I didn’t wake up one day, say I wanted to be a chocolatier, and there I was. Well, actually I did wake up one day and say that, and it has been a process of manifesting ever since!

One thing to be clear about is that I am currently what is called a chocolatier and not a chocolate maker. Though they sound similar, they are actually quite different. Chocolate makers are engaged with the chocolate making process from start to finish – or from bean to bar, as many say. This gives them the opportunity to really get to know where their beans are grown, the conditions in which they are grown, harvested, roasted (or not), marketed, and packaged, as well as the labor conditions at all of these stages. Artisanal chocolate makers are looking for the subtle flavours that are associated with the places where the beans are grown, the weather and other conditions that influence these flavours (known as terroir), as well as the fermentation and roasting processes they undergo. Chocolate makers typically use cane sugar as their sweetener as it’s tasteless and so doesn’t interfere with the various flavor notes of the beans they are trying to showcase in a particular bar. It’s a very exciting and important new food experience at the creation, as well as the consumption, levels.

However, this is not what I do. Being a chocolate maker means heavy investment in travel and equipment – and I’m not there. At least not yet! I really would like to invest in a tabletop chocolate grinder, though my partner has yet to be convinced that this is a wise choice, as we live in a tiny house (220 sq. ft.). I suspect she is right, for a number of reasons, but I haven’t let go of the idea. And where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Chocolatiers, on the other hand, begin their creative process with cacao beans that have already been processed into cacao paste (also known as cacao liquor), cacao butter, and cacao powder, by chocolate makers. These are the potential base ingredients to our creations, along with a sweetener, flavorings, and inclusions. We are always experimenting with recipes, different flavors and flavor combinations, sweeteners, and fillings, as well as mold shapes and forms. I’ve learned that what chocolate looks like clearly affects whether people like what they are eating or not. How fascinating is it that our sense of taste is not only about our taste buds but also about our experiences, associations, and brains! I love all this.

And there’s plenty of evidence that I’m a really good chocolatier, yet I seem to always want to learn something new – to get better at what I’m already good at! So I’m often ordering chocolate from others or travelling to places where chocolate is made – either by chocolate makers or chocolatiers.

As a fine flavor chocolate purchaser and consumer we are used to the neat, often colourlful packaging that chocolate comes in. So it was a bit of a surprise to me when I set out on my chocolatier adventure to learn that crafting chocolate is really messy! Inevitably, no matter how careful I try to be, at some point there is chocolate everywhere. Sometimes I can’t even imagine how I managed to get chocolate there! This has been a challenge for me as, if there’s one thing I am not in life generally, it’s messy. I like things to be where they belong. My childhood was very messy and so I’ve consciously chosen as an adult to have control over this part of life. I am neat, contained. Things go away when not being used, surfaces are clear, I don’t buy more than what I need. Living in a tiny house makes this a requirement. My general experience is that if my life is messy on the outside, then it feels chaotic and cluttered on the inside as well. And those are feelings I’m not particularly fond of.

Being a chocolatier is teaching me that it’s not only okay to be messy in this particular realm, it can actually be a good thing (in manageable doses!). For a while I thought it was just about me, and that when I got really good the messiness would go away. However, I’ve watched and heard one of my raw chocolate making mentors, Amy Levine, demonstrate that everything isn’t always wrapped up into a nice neat package. She ends up with chocolate everywhere too! And it does help to have someone to clean up. I’m sure she has kitchen aides galore, but my partner’s quite happy to help by licking the various bowls and spoons before they find their way into the sink for a good wash.

Another thing I’ve learned in terms of what appeals to me about making chocolate is that I’m always learning. As much as I enjoy teaching others how to make raw chocolate, I equally enjoy continuing to gain new knowledge and develop different skills in this realm myself. I discovered quite early on that I didn’t want to manufacture chocolate, turning out the same perfect bars or bonbons over and over again. I love the creative and inventive aspects of chocolate making, even though it is often the opposite of neat and controlled. I like exploring taste and flavor combinations and textures – in the mouth and in the eyes and to the nose. There is so much more to chocolate than buying and eating the same old bar off the shelf.

Becoming a chocolatier is so much more of an experience than I could have imagined when I started out. I now know I’m on a journey that will likely keep me growing and leaning for the rest of my life. And my family, friends, course participants, and other consumers are glad to hear it!

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