Gail Ambrosius seems to have it all figured out. She turned a tough situation (getting laid off after ten years at the same job) into a glorious opportunity by doing what so many of us chocolate geeks long to do: head to Paris and study under the masters. With technique and experience under her belt, she launched Gail Ambrosius Chocolates in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2004 and has since been garnering praise for her wide range of offerings and unusual bonbon flavors—shiitake mushroom truffle, anyone?
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I first met Christopher Michael at the 2008 Chocolate Show. His chocolates were gorgeous, of course; and his parents were there helping run the booth, which I loved—but what really caught my eye was the fact that he was based in Newport Beach. "Newport Beach?" I thought. "But...there are no chocolatiers in Orange County...?" Well, Chris changed that. Bringing a finely tuned chef's palate, artistic sensibility, and a touch of humor to his bonbons, he now has a storefront in Costa Mesa, California (my hometown), and is starting to change the tide. I chatted with him about his chocolate experimentation—rendered duck fat caramel, anyone?
My globetrotting parents spent the past week and a half in Paris and were generous (read: willing to shut me up) enough to bring me back some treats from a couple of the roughly 17 stores I recommended they visit. Now I'm not going to offer superlatives, or start ranking chocolatiers by country in any way, but what the French do with chocolate is transcendent. This is what I got to experience from Debauve & Gallais, Patrick Roger, and Jean-Paul Hevin.
Box of chocolates from Bouchon Bakery in New York City. Photograph taken by Robyn Lee. What makes a great chocolate great? Taste? Texture? Aroma? Snap? Marketing? Beans? Fermentation? Roasting? Something else? All of the above? Identifying great chocolate is...
The staff at the Vancouver Four Seasons have been known stock VIP suites with chocolate-coated vanilla and smoked Hawaiian sea salt caramels and Earl Grey and blue cornflower bon bons from favorite local chocolatier Thomas Haas (the hotel's former pastry...