A Day In the Life of a Chocolatier
My journey into pastry and chocolate began several years ago after leaving behind a career in psychology. New experiences through travel after college had uncovered my genuine love for food and French pastry. I was mesmerized by the artistry and the passion that I saw reflected in those choosing to devote their lives to their creative work. I deeply connected with that lifestyle.
Over the next two years, I learned the fundamentals of becoming a pastry chef as a student at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts – an education that not only included pastry, but also sugar-work, confections, breads, plating intricate desserts with various components of flavor and texture, and the major pillar that has become central to my life: Chocolate.
After graduating, with a degree in French Patisserie and Baking Arts, I sought out the best pastry kitchens where I was living, always choosing a company that could guarantee that I would be working with chocolate. I began my professional career as a pastry chef for The French Broad Chocolate Lounge, in Asheville, North Carolina and later moved on to become a pastry-team member for the Ritz- Carlton luxury hotel company in Orlando, Florida.
As I worked in these kitchens, I began to incorporate my love for photography with my appreciation for beautiful ingredients and creating edible art. What casually began as a way to share my work with family and clients slowly evolved into another creative outlet that allows me to capture the artistry and beauty in the food we share and love.
My love for chocolate runs deep - for chocolate is vast and complex, but approachable and comforting. There is something intoxicating about the deep color, the smooth texture, and aromatic scent. It had been a career aspiration of mine to work exclusively with chocolate. One year ago, I accepted a chocolatier position with a chocolate maker that I greatly admired, Christopher Elbow. Kansas City became my new home, and Elbow Chocolates became my new work-family.
About Christopher Elbow
Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates is a company created by Kansas City native Christopher Elbow, in 2003. Prior to opening his company, Chris was living his long-time passion as a professional chef. Having graduated with a degree in restaurant and business administration, he traveled the country honing his skills as a chef, spending time alongside celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and then with acclaimed chef Jean Joho.
Chris returned to Kansas City several years later. During his time as a pastry chef at the American Restaurant, he discovered his love for chocolate. He was repeatedly asked if the chocolates he created were for sale and began to realize what his future possibilities were with making chocolate confections. Eleven years later he has retail stores in Kansas City and San Francisco, and his chocolates are sold in other stores across the country.
Years of recipe development by Chris and his team have created specific formulations designed to bring out the individual flavor of each chocolate piece. Every ingredient is taken into consideration, all the way down to the country of origin of the chocolate used. Like wine, chocolate reflects the distinct flavor of its region. Depending on the country where the cocoa tree grows, the flavor of the beans can range from fruity and floral to earthy and spicy. Hence, the careful formulations and flavor pairings for each chocolate bon-bon that we produce.
In 2010, Chris collaborated with Valrhona Chocolate, a French luxury chocolate manufacturer that has a longstanding worldwide reputation for quality. In pursuit of a flavor profile that would provide an overall bal taste for the many flavors of bon-bons he was designing, he worked with Valrhona to create a custom blend of 63-percent couverture dark chocolate. Couverture is considered the most superior form of chocolate to use in chocolate making; Valrhona’s couverture chocolate is rich in cocoa butter and high in cocoa solids, resulting in that ‘melt in your mouth’ feel and rich intense flavor. Hundreds of pounds of this dark chocolate, exclusive to Elbow, travels thousands of miles to the factory here in Kansas City. As a chocolatier, it is a dream to work with.
A Day in the Life of a Chocolatier
Hours before the sun begins shining in Kansas City, we arrive at the McGee Street chocolate factory. A brown cap with an embroidered ‘E’ in the center and a crisp, pristine white chef coat are placed on as we walk into the wide-open space attached to the back of the Christopher Elbow retail shop. Within the brick-lined factory walls, under the high expansive ceilings, we quietly turn on the lights and begin preparing our studio-like space for artistic production.
Our production manager has posted the daily list for the production schedule. Each of us selects a task in the artistic process. The tasks vary daily. One day I make the buttery, crunchy toffee, cook the many fruity varieties of our sparkling pate de fruit, and create the various flavors of chocolate bars.
Another day, I hand-paint the chocolate molds with their signature designs and colors. There is a rainbow of cocoa butter colors in various shades and hues that will be used to apply the design details developed for the specific flavored piece. The vibrant yellows, reds, greens, and purples are applied to each uniquely shaped chocolate mold. These intricate paintings are then passed on to another chocolatier who molds the hundreds of chocolate shells; another set of hands fills the chocolates with silky caramel and seals them with a thin layer of chocolate. Finally, the chocolates are released by flipping the chocolate mold over, revealing the shimmering edible jewels that we package into signature beribboned white and brown boxes.
One of our main productions is creating the ganache, a combination of chocolate and heavy cream that has been emulsified until it is smooth and glossy. The cream can be infused with various spices and herbs, making its flavor potential infinite. The process of creating the many flavors we design is a high priority and requires the finesse of an elegant dance between time, temperature, and consistency. When performed expertly, the result is a silky ganache that becomes the filling of the small squares that ultimately find their way into the display of the retail shop.
Once prepared, the brilliantly shiny, velvety smooth ganache is poured into large frames to crystallize. This crystallization transforms it into a slightly more firm texture that allows us to cut it into individual squares. Delicately organized into rows, the pieces are ready for the enrobing machine where they pass through a flowing curtain of chocolate. In their finale, the ganache squares are topped with a cocoa butter transfer sheet. Each sheet has been designed with cocoa colors printed on them to reflect the design and signature color of each flavor. The chocolates are then passed on to the post-production team that gently sorts them and packages them to be sold in our Kansas City and San Francisco retail location or shipped across the country to the numerous stores that carry our chocolates.
As the morning hours pass into afternoon, the shop slowly comes to life; more members of the Elbow family arrive, greeted with generous warmth and smiles. We are there to support and cheer each other on when the days are long. Much of our daily support comes from the strong leadership of our company managers who have been with Elbow since the beginning and from Christopher Elbow himself, who generously shares his knowledge and time with each member of his team. Through his example, I have learned that each member of our Kansas City community is integral in making sure that our chocolates are at their best. Each chocolatier reflects this value by inspecting the quality of her work at every step along the way. Each individual piece is important because it will be the one piece someone purchases - a luxury, a moment in time that someone will enjoy. Only the best is accepted because every bon-bon is one person, and every chocolate and person matters to us.