While prepping to take Augustus Gloop and a few other lucky chocolate lovers on a San Francisco chocolatier tour in “chocolate central” – an unassuming warehouse in the Dogpatch area – I started thinking about the Bay Area’s chocolate history and the scene today.
This naturally led me to reflect on my own chocolate obsessions, which although it dates me, I simply had to share. Because there’s nothing better than a chocolate covered date!
- Dark Ages:
-Discovered The American Chocolate Truffle at Alice Medrich‘s Cocolat shop in North Berkeley. Later interviewed to work at their HQ as well as the Judy’s candy factory.
-Delighted to hear about Guittard (the chocolate used by See’s), when my old boyfriend tipped me off that he used to dumpster dive at “some chocolate factory” as a teen. Have enjoyed buying bulk chunks for instant home chocolate-making fixes ever since (available at the Milk Pail market in Mountain View and Spun Sugar in Berkeley). Somehow never managed to get to the Ghirardelli factory in San Leandro although I lived nearby and couldn’t get enough of the chocolate breeze.
-When I read about The Candy Box, a famous old Yuba City turtle making candy store in California’s “prune belt” – my sister and I shouted “road trip!” We promptly inhaled a number of double stacked turtles, while enjoying conversation with the old tyme 80s-something candy maker, who encouraged us to try the “famous” dark chocolate steamed prunes (Yes they rocked!) As a caveat, I ordered some years later and was not quite as thrilled; although it may be me.
-I visited the Hershey factory several times in Oakdale, a location with a real walk-through tour that many locals didn’t know existed…till they moved to Mexico. Now an old Bay Area candy-making company Sconza took their place.
- dot com era
-Got addicted to visiting Michael Recchiuti‘s tiny stand for $5 bags of “slightly damaged” bonbons at the old San Francisco farmer’s market, formerly in a cozy parking lot north of the Ferry Building.
-I still have the clipping from an early Scharffen Berger article in the SF Chronicle magazine: Imagine, two audacious men on a mission to create a great American dark chocolate. Positively thrilling.
-Visited Richard Donnelly‘s workshop in Santa Cruz to enjoy my first chipotle truffles.
- Twas at the dawn of the new millennium that by sheer happenstance and dot connecting I found myself starting the Fair Trade chocolate program in small, antique office in downtown Oakland with TransFair USA. Most memorably this gave me an opportunity to have a blind chocolate tasting with Alice Medrich and Robert Steinberg, one of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker’s founders, so he could illustrate that the beans available for organic and Fair Trade chocolates were not up to snuff, at the time. (The next year I diverted a trip from Avignon to Italy through Lyon to visit Bernachon.)
- Fast forward to 2009:
-An epic year working with Foodzie , meetin a bevy of wonderful chocolatiers, many doing all the work themselves: BonBonBar, Neo Cocoa, Kika’s Treats, Her Coconess, Au Couer des Chocolats, Jade Chocolates, Charles Chocolates, Gateau et Ganache, and Coco-luxe. And while not exactly chocolate, other Bay Area stars are Anastasia’s Sweet Revolution caramel, Claire Squares addictive chocolate / caramel / shortbread, and Clarine’s Florentines (the best florentine’s per David Lebovitz…and me). And many more. This list shows just how the Bay Area has become a hub for confectioners and chocolate makers.
-Toured TCHO, an impressive bean to bar chocolate factory on the Pier.
-Raw chocolate started to pop up on the scene, with Snake & Butterfly at the Campbell farmer’s market impressing me with their “unraw” quality. Fearless popped up under the radar in Oakland and seems to be making it big.
-Had the pleasure of indulging in and writing about Vice Chocolates, currently selling at a single farmer’s market in Oakland.
-At the Good Food Awards judging discovered Bittersweet‘s own bean to bar chocolate.
-Went back to the future at a funky old See’s shop in South San Francisco. While stuck at SFO someone tipped me off that you can hop on a hotel shuttle that zooms you up to this See’s and Costco. You didn’t hear it from me! Oh, I guess you did.
–Heard a couple of guys are opening a chocolate making factory in the Mission and remembered tasting from their early batches, made in a garage, ala Hewlett Packard. Will be exciting to see if they’re the next Scharffen Berger!
-Anticipating the Epicuring chocolatiers tour, to learn more about Poco Dolce and Telltale Preserves… and for Shawn from Au Coeur des Chocolats to be discovered for his mastery.
A New Generation of Chocolatiers
Venues like the Underground Market are helping a new generation of chocolatiers test out their wares, while deciding if they want to go into business.
After much personal “investigation,” I think Michelle’s Droga Confections (peanut rocky road clusters and wildflower honey caramels) will be the next hot thing. She is making the candy herself, using Marshall’s honey and all sorts of good ingredients. It’s hard to do it all and she plans to get help, but if you like to buy local, and you haven’t had her rocky road, jet on over to Bi-rite. Doctor’s orders!
While technically out of the Bay Area, Yummy Dummy Chocolate Company of Davis remains one of my favorite chocolate stories: This chocolate bar company is led and run by a team of under-10 girls – from operations through chocolate making.
How brilliant an education: Inspire kids with chocolate to learn every possible life and business skill along the way. Shawn Askinosie has his Chocolate University. I’d love to see a Chocolate Grade School.
What’s your chocolate history, present and future?