Could you imagine Easter without chocolate? From chocolate eggs to rabbits, it just wouldn’t be Easter without a waxy bite of chocolate goodness filled with childhood memories. As the artisan chocolate industry has boomed, chocolatiers worldwide are producing more accessible luxury sweets, which means chocolate lovers are venturing away from their Cadbury delights.
In Toronto, chocolatier David H. Chow has been busy in his tiny production kitchen pumping out chocolates for the impending holiday season. From eye-popping sunny side up eggs to mouth-watering see-thru chocolate eggs filled with animals, Chow’s delights provide a feast for the senses. A former engineer turned graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Chow garnered a notoriety for his approach to truffles and bonbons through his colorful Instagram page. With his edible chocolates featuring Jackson Pollock-esque splashes in bold, bright colous – people have traveled from far and wide to experience Chocolates & Confections by David H. Chow in charming downtown Toronto.
I sat down with David to discuss what it takes to make his delicate sweets, the rise of artisan chocolate, and keeping sane during the springtime holiday season.
What made you gravitate towards chocolate as opposed to other specializations?
I love that chocolate is such an amazingly tasty yet technical ingredient. I actually completed a degree in Systems Design Engineering before pursuing my passion in pastry and chocolate. Many people ask if my engineering degree is still useful these days and to be honest, I think “chocolate engineer” would make a great title.
When the concepts of pastry and baking are broken down, they are based on scientific principles and are simply a form of organic chemistry. When ingredients are mixed together in very exact proportions in a sequential order at the right time using specific methods, it will yield a very predictable and consistent result – plus who doesn’t love chocolate? For me, it conjures up nostalgic feelings and memories that I try to evoke through my creations.
What makes your chocolate unique and special?
Chocolatiers everywhere, like with all savory or pastry chefs, have access to the same ingredients and same equipment. It’s what the chef behind the recipe and process brings that breathes life into the food. So being able to stand out in the crowd is very important. I love combining the best chocolate couvertures with local ingredients to create unusual but still amazingly delicious pairings.
How do you come up with flavor combinations for your bonbons? Where does your inspiration come from?
As with any artistic field, it takes lots of practice, trial and error, and of course constantly absorbing info and techniques through other chefs. It is always about keeping my eyes open, since inspiration can strike at any time from even the most unlikely of places. I can be inspired by beautifully plated food I saw on social media just as easily as seeing a new explosion of colorful graffiti on the side of a building while walking down the street. I find that constantly reading up on what other chefs are doing and, of course, eating and trying lots of food, helps refine my palate and spark my imagination.
I love taking a whimsical and colorful approach to everything I make, but at the end of the day it does not matter how great something looks if it does not taste good. Taste and texture are paramount in my books.
Your chocolates are beautiful, and that’s part of the reason that people love them so much. Do you hand-paint each of the chocolate, and how do you decide on designs?
My staff and I hand paint each individual chocolate ensuring that no two are actually alike! I love the visual kind of texture that is achieved with hand painting, and simply choose at least three complementary colors. Those colors are applied to specially designed, food-safe polycarbonate molds with a combination of splattering and brush work. Of course, I try to match at least one color to the flavor inside the chocolate bonbon. For example: yellow for banana, or red for raspberry.
What have been some of your favorite creations and why?
I think reinventions of classic confections and re-creating chocolates from my childhood with a twist are some of my favorites. Currently, one of my favorite creations is a candy bar with a base of peanut butter nougat studded with toasted salted peanuts. On top is a peanut butter and milk chocolate meltaway that has been infused with chipotle to give it a kick. This slab is then cut into thin bars then dipped in dark chocolate and finished with a splash of colored cocoa butter and sea salt. It hits all the notes for me: sweet, spicy, crunchy, creamy and salty.
Another one of my favorites is the chocolate bar that won the bronze medal at the International Chocolate Awards in 2016. It’s a roasted white chocolate bar filled with sponge toffee and made with local Ontario buckwheat honey, caramelized buckwheat, fennel pollen and sea salt. It has the most amazing flavor of fennel butterscotch with the honeyed crunch from the toffee and buckwheat.
The holidays must be quite busy for you, including Easter. How do you find time to keep customers intrigued and delighted during the season?
Easter is definitely one of the busiest times of the year, but it does not beat Christmas! Regardless of the holiday, it can always be challenging to find inspiration and create the unexpected.
With the advent and proliferation of social media, especially Instagram, my customers constantly expect new and exciting things. Sometimes the pace at which new items get rolled out can get tiring but I always have my signature items that I am best known for and that people come back for year after year.
This Easter, I’ve done a take on sunny-side up chocolate eggs, which I love as they are so whimsical and bring a smile to everyone’s face
Toronto has a fairly thriving chocolate community right now…how does it feel to be a part of that?
It’s incredible that Toronto is currently in the middle of a chocolate renaissance of sorts with amazingly talented chocolatiers appearing, and with people rediscovering and revisiting others. It’s exciting to know that we are all shaping the chocolate landscape here in the city and across the country. I think it will only get better with time and can’t wait to see what the landscape will look like a year or two down the road!
Is there anyone who has had an influence on the way you make or create your own chocolates?
It always changes, as the industry seems so fluid these days. At the moment, I admire and draw the most inspiration both as a pastry chef and as an entrepreneur from Adam Chandler at Beta 5 Chocolates in Vancouver, Patrice Demers at Patrice Pâtissier in Montreal, and Christophe Michalak at Michalak in Paris, France.
All of the chefs have strong and extensive backgrounds in the restaurant and hotel industry, unquestionable skill, and formidable talent. They have managed to create their own very successful brands of pastry and chocolate that resonate with chefs and consumers in their respective markets and abroad. They strive to be the best and to continually innovate while maintaining super high quality, using local ingredients as much as possible. They have raised the bar in our industry as a whole, and I strive to do the same.
Do you think people should take chocolate more seriously?
In addition to creating delicious chocolates and pastries, I’ve been pushing to continually educate people about what good quality is and why it’s worth the expense. As with all food, sweet or savory, people should be thinking about who has made it and where it comes from. My chocolates may be more expensive that mass-market produced ones, but it definitely has better flavor, and I can tell you the five or six ingredients that went into it and exactly when it was made.