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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I dream of orders.

I am officially wrapped up in the chocolate business. Last night, I took a chocolate order in my sleep. I don't mean that someone called at 2 a.m. and I answered the phone (although I do hope to inspire that level of chocolate addicted-ness). No, I took a chocolate order in my dream.

I find myself constantly considering marketing angles, trying to find new ways to put us in the black. I suppose that's why it filters over in my dreams. Too bad, really, I much prefer dreaming about romantic encounters. If I'm going to dream about chocolate, I wish I'd have some sort of grand revelation between the hours of midnight and eight, instead of just taking an order.

In other, much more interesting and exciting news, the new kitchen is now framed. I'm waiting to hear back from the plumbers, and we'll be on our way. I can't say enough good things about restaurant auctions when it comes to outfitting a kitchen on a budget. Certainly I've been to some auctions where people forget their senses and pay stupid prices for used equipment. But, if you find yourself at one of those glorious auctions where there is no reserve, and no-one wants to pay for anything, the deals are yours for the taking.

I was at such an auction a few months ago. I felt really bad for the restaurant owner - he'd lost his lease and had to be out, so everything had to go. I saw a $7000 crystal chandelier go for $600. My fellow buyers were mostly men, and mostly older, I stuck out like a zebra in a stockyard. The small wares were listed before the big equipment, so I had about a two hour wait of auctioning before I was even ready to consider bidding. That did nothing to lower my profile, either. At one point, I stood next to an older Indian man. He started up a little conversation, asking me where my business was, and so on. I answered a few questions and excused myself to go sit in another area of the restaurant. Less than five minutes later, here he came, making a beeline for my booth. He was joined by his business partner; together, they looked like they came from central casting. The first man who spoke to me was chubby and had a happy expression. His parter was tall, thin and shifty. He sat down and immediately started asking me questions - where was I located, what did I do, did I have a phone number? I told him that we didn't have a business number yet (a lie) and excused myself to go check out some of the equipment I would be bidding on. As I was looking in a back room, I heard them behind me! What was their deal? I'll never know if this was just some cultural miscommunication, or if they were trying to kidnap me, because about that time, the auction finally started moving back to the large equipment in the kitchen. In about thirty minutes, I was the new owner of a commercial microwave ($50), several sheet pans ($2 each), a double sink with drain boards ($25!!), and the big fish: an eight foot refrigerated work top ($350!). Needless to say, I was ecstatic.

So, as soon as I have plumbing, electricity, and some drywall, I'll have the perfect place to put all of my new stuff.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tempering Chocolate...the hard way.

I don't think many people understand the alchemical work that goes into making a beautiful, shiny piece of chocolate. Of course the big factories use machines to do all this work, and, on that scale, it would be impossible not to use a machine. But have you ever tried to melt chocolate and cool it back into something comparable? It's harder than it looks.

When I was a baby pastry chef, at the French Culinary Institute, I had a vague notion about tempering chocolate, although I'd only done it once - semi-successfully with a bag of Tollhouse chips. Tempering is so advanced that they didn't even broach the subject until I was halfway through my training. What followed was some sort of chocolate torture test.

There are three classic tempering methods: tabling, innoculation, and the ice bath method. Before we could move on, we had to master all three (or at least attempt). Now, innoculation and ice bath are both quite straightforward. The first involves melting 2/3's of the chocolate, and then stirring in the final unmelted 1/3 in order to introduce the proper crystals back into the chocolate. The ice bath method involves melting all the chocolate and then cooling it to the proper temperature over an ice bath.

But tabling is a different animal all together. First, one must begin with an impeccably clean surface - as large as possible. Next, melt the chocolate over simmering water. Don't forget to dry off the bottom of the bowl, or all will be lost before it's begun. Now comes the insanity. Take that bowl of expensive melted chocolate, and pour about half of it on the table. That's right, just pour it out. Using a bench scraper, push the chocolate around on the table. Be prepared to lose a good deal of this chocolate to the floor, your sleeves, hair, pants, etc. When whatever is left on the table has cooled, try to scrape it back into the bowl, stir it around and test it by putting a small amount on the back of a knife and waiting to see if it dries quickly to a glossy finish. If not (and it's probably not) try again!

Imagine that scenario played out simultaneously by twenty people standing side by side in rows of five. By the end of the day, very few of us had mastered our goal of tempering chocolate, but most of us were well covered in chocolate. After all of that, it's amazing that we all had the courage to try again the next day.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

moving forward

I have an amazingly supportive family. They have been taste testers, sounding boards, and have propped me up when I didn't think I could go on. After my false accusation, I didn't know what to do. I knew I couldn't stay at the Country Inn, and I knew I didn't want to go into another restaurant kitchen. Unfortunately, most of my career experience has been in restaurants, which doesn't always translate into other industries.

It was about that time that my aunt made me an offer I couldn't refuse. She decided to make an investment in my company, to allow me to leave my job and focus solely on building a strong business. I didn't need a lot of convincing. I gave my notice and was out before Valentine's Day. I've since learned that the girl hired to replace me quit after a month. That's just sweet justice.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

..a brief story of sexual harrassment

As the chef started talking, I felt the blood drain out of my face, and the feeling leave my fingers and toes. " has come to our attention that you've been using inappropriate language in the kitchen...speaking in a sexual nature...making others feel've been such a good employee that we're giving you a written reprimand...fireable offense..."

First of all, it's a kitchen, full of men, and full of some of the foulest, most offensive language this side of the shipyard. I have been known to use some salty language, but it's always been on the low to medium side of offensive. I've dealt with my share of sexual harrassment, but, as crazy as it might sound, I've always found a way to ignore it. I knew when I became a chef that I was entering one of the last bastions of pure maleness. There are plenty of kitchens with strong female presence, but the majority are still places where guys are guys. To succeed, I've learned to play by their rules.

I can't convey my confusion enough. After all, I'd heard the chef and the sous chef (who happen to be best friends) say unbelievably inappropriate things with no apology. The most brazen was early in my time there, the sous chef, who had a particularly strong dislike for one of the gardeners, muttered only slightly under his breath as she passed, "f***ing c***". So really, what could I have said that would have been so offensive?

As it turned out, I'd said nothing at all. It was all a lie, all made up. I had no way to prove it, and I didn't even care to. I was so disgusted that I just wanted to find a way out.

Friday, May 11, 2007

..almost all the way to the present.

When I left my first hotel job for my second hotel job, I thought I was walking right into heaven. I was leaving a job that had started as a promising entry into pastry management and quickly disintegrated into a dead end. My daily routine was miserable and unchanging - arrive at 8:30 am, cut, wash, and spin three cases (24 heads per case) of romaine, make 5-12 gallons of salad dressing (various flavors) and set up the salad line for lunch service, work the service and go home. Clearly I thought that leaving all that glory for a steady job doing exclusively pastry at a prestigious country inn (with benefits!) was the right choice.

For a while, it was the right choice. I had a brief run in with a crazy woman who worked in my department, but she soon left, and what followed was my "golden summer". Restaurants are peculiar organizations. The turnover is high, so it's pretty rare to get a group of people who all get along well and have known each other for long enough to have a seamless routine. For those few months, it was one big happy family in the Country Inn. We had barbecues, we went to the water park together, and every night of service went smoothly.

Things began to fall apart after Labor Day. Like a sweet summer romance gone bad, suddenly, this chef and job that I had come to love and respect started to show cracks. Demands became unreasonable, tempers flared pointlessly. Still, I felt secure enough in my job, and happy enough to be there. Around Christmas, the cracks became fissures and then big gaping sores. The funny thing about the holidays in a restaurant is that everyone's in misery, and everyone just muddles through. After New Year's, what had been unpleasant got downright ugly.

It was a normal Tuesday - my first day back from my days off, and the chef pulled me aside. We went out of the kitchen and up to a seldom-used room in the restaurant. I was naive enough to think that I was going to get a raise or a promotion - I'd been working really hard, and had been there nearly a year. My suspicions were only further enforced (stupidly) by the presence of the HR representative. As the chef started talking, I quickly realized that this was no promotion...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

from then, to almost now.

We planned and cooked and practiced and sampled for nearly a year before things started coming together. I'm sure, had we both had ample time and energy, we could have made it all happen faster, but we were trying to do things inexpensively and while maintaining our lives. In late November of last year, I met with some local executives as part of the SCORE program ( If you're considering starting a business, or have been in one for a few months, SCORE is an amazing service. For nothing more than an hour or so of time, you have access to retired business people who will give you the benefit of their years of experience. It was one of the most valuable hours of my business education.

Christmas of '06 was profitable, and great for exposure. It was also an incredibly trying time in my regular job. I didn't know it then, but it was to be the beginning of the end...

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

How it all began...

This is the fast version of how a graphic designer and a pastry chef got together to form a minor chocolate industry (soon to be major, people, just give us time). David and I have been friends for years, and we've always toyed with the idea of starting a business. One night, about a month after I'd graduated from culinary school and started the first of my crazy hotel adventures, David called and essentially said..."what about chocolate?" I said, "you know, that's not a bad idea. I could do chocolate." A few weeks later, we sat down and started writing up the plans. A month later, I started experimenting with flavors, and a month after that we sent out samples to select friends. I don't think either of us had any idea that it would be a full year before we were ready to start selling, or that it would take us almost that long to find an acceptable name for our fledgling operation.

Tomorrow, what happened next...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


Welcome to the official blogging home of LØVE Chocolate. I'm so glad you're here. I'm Leslie, the owner and head chocolatier. I want to use this blog as a way to keep everyone up to date on the best new flavors, most cutting edge techniques and exciting special offers from LØVE Chocolate. Tomorrow, I'll give you the quick and dirty story of how it all began, and where I am now. For now, I'd just like to lay down a few ground rules and tell you a bit about me.

I am a pastry chef, and I've been in the restaurant industry for about five years. I knew from about age 14 that I wanted to become a chef, and, after a couple of years behind the line in several restaurants, I decided that pastry was more my speed. Don't get me wrong, there's something that will always entice me about the heat and smell and sounds of a kitchen on a busy night, but the pace is a killer, and I missed having normal weekends after five years. Afer receiving a degree in nutrition and restaurant manangement, I studied pastry arts in New York City. I came back to NC after that, and worked at a couple of hotels before taking the big leap into entrepreneurship. But I'm getting ahead of myself, the big story happens tomorrow.

I really want to keep the lines of communication open, so please feel free to comment. However, if things get nasty, I will delete the comments. We welcome criticism, just keep it clean. And please, we thrive on orders, so if you've got an idea for a chocolate, or something special you'd like to create, leave it in a comment or shoot us an email and we'd be thrilled to get you your very own custom box of chocolates.

I can't wait to share stories of making chocolate and all the trials of starting a new business with everyone.