After a career of working in finance, the years of working long and stressful hours left me feeling unfulfilled and wanting more from life than just a work & life balance. I’d long been a keen baker, even completing an externship as a patissier. The 2009 economic recession proved to be fortuitous for me: I discovered the art of chocolate-making, and soon realized what I wanted to be “when I grow up”…at the tender age of 50 years.
Enrolling in Vancouver-based Ecole Chocolat’s professional chocolatier program set me on a new path, spawning a new career direction as a chocolatier and eventually launching Gem Chocolates in 2009.
Gone are the days sitting in front of a computer for hours and a diary filled with meetings. Instead, like Vianne Rocher’s character in the film “Chocolat”, I conjure up ganache fillings grinding spices, puréeing fruits and steeping teas. Blending flavours into a ganache I strive to deliver a chocolate experience. I seek to deliver more than simply satisfying craving. Creating traditional and unexpected fillings is only half the magic. The artist within surfaces as designs and decorations are created for each flavour.
Early chocolate creations proved to be winners. New York’s The Nibble chose Gem Chocolates as “Top Pick of the Week” for Valentines Day (2011). This was followed by success at the 2011 Chicago Luxury Chocolate Salon as we were awarded nine medals (“Berry Blue” – blueberry ganache, “Calypso” – lime & coconut, and “Dulce de G” – rich vanilla dulce de leche). The judging panel comprised chefs, patissiers, food authors, and critics. With the recent success, I challenge myself to raise the bar and do even better at the 2012 competition.
Is chocolate making a long process? Few chocolates can actually be made within a single day. It normally takes at least two days. Without giving out our “oompah-loompah” secrets, ganache (a blend of cream mixed with the flavours/infusions and added to chocolate) is made in the morning and needs 8-24 hours to relax to allow the sugars to properly crystallize. We polish, then decorate molds by painting or airbrushing coloured cocoa butter…all before they are filled with freshly tempered chocolate to create the hollow shells.
When Gem Chocolates opened our Kerrisdale retail store in December 2010, at the height of the chocolate sales season, it meant the “oompah-loompahs” worked tirelessly, often until 2 or 4 am. Then the chocolate season rolled straight into Valentine’s Day with the making of hollow chocolate hearts filled with truffles and sealed with chocolate. St. Patrick’s Day offers a modest chocolate reprieve, although beer-infused truffles can now be found. Then our production kicks into high gear again with decorated Easter eggs.
Gone are the daily financial deadlines, status reports and a diary filled with meetings. Life is a lot sweeter as a chocolatier…after all you must sample everything every batch you make – quality control can truly be a delight!
Gem Chocolates is located at 2029 West 41st Avenue in Vancouver. www.gemchocolates.ca