Where did you learn to be a chocolatier?
My first introduction to the world of chocolate making was in 2011 with Paul Keruel, an 80 year old artisan chocolatier who took me under his wing. He and business partner were running a chocolate factory in a beautiful place called Beaufort-sur-Gervanne. The factory was in an eco-building in the mountain and near a centuries old village. I got to practice the basics there and Paul was very generous in allowing me access to his well kept recipes. I felt very privileged. The rest of the learning was done through a lot of trial and errors but an incredible amount of fun and excitement.
When and why did you start La Petit Chocolate?
When my husband and I came back to NZ after a year spent in France, it was so obvious to me that starting a chocolate business was the right thing to do. Especially when there was no option for New Zealanders to get the real deal in terms of chocolate. So it was an honor for us to introduce our customers to some very high quality organic, fair trade, single origin couverture chocolates. I also really wanted to have my own business. My husband has always had my back though, without him I'd probably be struggling to get everything done!
Can you describe your products and how you make them?
Since our own chocolate shop and factory opened at 207 Heretaunga St East in Hastings, I have been working on product development a lot. I am constantly working on new ideas, new recipes. Chocolate bars was how we started the business in 2012. I started making different chocolate bars. Now we have about 60 stockists around the country selling them. The opening of our own shop/factory has given me the opportunity to focus on the making of chocolate bonbons, pralines, French traditional way of doing things. I go crazy about my chocolate. We actually are in the process of launching that whole new side of our business. The Manufactory will specialise in old-style French pralines: you know, you go to the best chocolatiers in France (and anywhere else really) and you unmistakably see these old-style pralines. It very rarely gets better than that. Hazelnut and chocolate. Almond and chocolate. A match made in heaven! The Manufactory will also have a whole new range of chocolate bars of course, and will also offer high-end corporate gift solutions.
Where do you source your ingredients from?
My cacao supplier is based in France. It is a small family business that I have exclusivity with over this side of the world. They're called Kaoka and have been working with cacao growers since the early 1990's. They were the first ones in Europe to focus on organic and fair trade and I love that about them, because it means that they cared at a time when nobody was paying attention. And they now have the best relationships with the growers; they are always there helping, building schools, improving their lives etc. It is a full time job and they have a whole team fully dedicated to the social aspect of the enterprise so everyone gets to focus on their special field. They have tightened the ties with the growers in a truly beautiful way which means they get some outstanding quality of beans and have developed their technique for long enough to reach the level of excellency that they're at now. That is why each of our single origin couverture (very high-quality chocolate with high cocoa butter content) is so incredibly smooth and well-balanced compared to a lot of small bean-to-bar chocolatiers, whose chocolate we find either way too acidic or too harsh and rough (getting the conching perfect is a whole science). The rest of my ingredients I source in New Zealand: Marlborough sea salt, Nelson almonds, Hawthorne coffee, Canterbury hazelnuts, Hawkes Bay raisins etc etc.
How have people responded to your business in Hawke’s Bay?
We are getting increasingly popular and almost every week we get emails of someone wanting to stock us. In the Bay we are "the chocolate people." Everyone knows us like that and the local community has been incredibly supportive. We are very lucky. Being at the Hastings Farmers Market every Sunday has helped greatly in getting our name and products out there. I am excited about what The Manufactory is about to bring, we are talking another level of style and even higher quality here. Every day people come to the shop/factory, open the door with sparkly eyes and take a long breath in because the smells are so beautiful. Then they look at all the treats in the counter and get overwhelmed. I love my job.
What do you enjoy the most about being a chocolatier?
On of the most enjoyable things about being a chocolatier is being able to eat all the chocolate and never ever have to worry about taking a magnesium supplement. The other most enjoyable thing about being a chocolatier is making the chocolate, playing with ingredients, flavors and textures. Chocolate is an amazingly versatile thing. If you pop in at the shop you are very likely to see me making something yummy. I really enjoy having full creative control over what I do. It gives me a sense of self accomplishment that to me is very important. The block we're in in Hastings, between the most amazing bookshop called the Little Red Bookshop and the most amazing live music bar called the Common Room, overflows with talents and skills of all sorts. I invite everyone to come visit our growing little part of town.
What are the challenges?
Everything of value comes with its challenges. Being self employed and working with your your partner isn’t always easy but at the same time, we wouldn't have done it differently. Sometimes I go through a manic phase of wanting to do so much and having so much to do, and my husband just listens calmly and patiently. He is the wisest of us both. We both work in very different ways but we complement each other, and balance each other out. Being self-employed is a gift and a curse: you have to create your own income and there aren’t two ways about it. However we have a large and bright perspective on life, and are both very determined to work to live, and not live to work. Taking time off isn’t always possible but we try do it whenever we can. Luckily I don't really consider my occupation as "work" very often: that's what happens when you put passion into what you do, I guess.
What advice would you give others thinking of setting up an artisan food business?
Anyone wanting to start an artisan food business must be mad, a little. Mad about what they do. If you're in it for the money, then you may want to think again. Being an artisan is all about love and letting your passion express itself through your own medium. It's very much like being an artist you see. You just need to not be afraid of making mistakes while keeping your standards high. But being an artisan is one thing, and being a business owner is almost a separate thing. You either have to be really good and organised at both, or, like me, surround yourself with someone whose skills will complement yours. It's important to be aware of that.