In 2007 I was a student at Ecole Chocolat, an on line program for chocolate making. While an on line program sounds strange, it really was an excellent and cost effective way to learn. As a newbie, working in chocolate there were a lot of mistakes made. So I had the luxury of making them at home . Nowadays we have the added benefit of You Tube videos which weren’t available when I started out on my chocolate journey. After the initial 2 month on line program I was eligible to take a Master Class, which was an in person class. I took this learning opportunity in Canada on Bowen Island . Having that initial on line class made the hands on learning portion more effective. Instead of wasting a week just trying to learn tempering skills, I was able to focus on more advanced techniques.
About 6 months later I attended the Culinary Institute of America in NY for an intensive Chocolate and Confections class. Having access to the CIA library was in itself priceless. I think we made thousands of chocolates in that class and covered many different techniques but the gem of the education was learning theory. How chocolates and sugars behave, the ratios used in recipes and how the crystallization process happens.
About a year later I went to Callebaut Academy in Chicago. This was a dream kitchen to work in, even though I’m not particularly a fan of Callebaut chocolate. The equipment and instruction was top notch, plus we had an espresso machine and were fed chef prepared lunches each day. It was all very European style. I attended Callebaut Academy twice, once for a class that covered ganaches and airbrushing and another specifically for enrobing on an automatic tempering and enrobing machine.
In 2012 I took another Ecole Chocolat Master learning experience, this time a trip to Ecuador to learn more about growing, harvesting and fermentation of cacao. We travelled all over Ecuador as a group to experience different farms and techniques. We tacked on a trip to Machu Pichu on that trip since we were already in South America, and it was extraordinary. Lucky timing as well because there was a Chocolate Salon happening in Lima at the same time.
Another group trip in 2014 led us to Mexico, a country that should be a big player in Cacao growing but has faced obstacles of diseased crops. Nonetheless, it was great to see how struggling farms coped with their decreased output by adding agritourism components. Since I was doing the same on a farm in Maui, it was useful and relevant.
In 2016 I invested some money in a 50 acre cacao farm in Belize. We planted about 12,000 seedlings. My trips to Belize, also a source of Cacao and a cultural history of using chocolate , led me to design Food of the Gods, a popular chocolate workshop I ran in Santa Fe and hope to revive in Texas.
This type of concentrated learning works well for me. I have time between intensives to practice what I have learned and then feel ready for a step up. While these trips are not inexpensive, they have facilitated an amazing education. I have entered an won numerous competitions over the years for truffles , our bars and drink mixes. I am always looking for unusual herbs, spices, roots and fruits to incorporate into chocolate.
I now tutor for Ecole Chocolat on line twice a year. I hope to instill in my students the same love of learning and delight at what the chocolate industry holds. My students have come from around the globe- Canada, Italy, England, Germany, Spain, Cameroon, Nigeria, Madagascar, Bali, and Australia to name a few. Each country holds immense challenges in sourcing cacao and supplies as well as equipment and power. I hope in some small way I have inspired someone through this learning platform to meet their challenges and pursue their dreams of making chocolate. Chocolate is a happy business I’m proud to be a part of.