Vancouver: home of hockey riots, smoke-ins and yoga pants. Also file under: world-class Chinese food, seafood and chocolate. Yup, chocolate. In the 2012 International Chocolate Awards that took place in London last month, local chocolatier BETA5 Chocolates won a silver medal for its Imperial Stout confection - the only Canadian winner in a sea of American, Italian and UK names. But they weren't the only Canadians there. Seven companies advanced through the Canadian national competition to compete in London, including Vancouver's Cocolico by Wendy Boys, Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France and Gem Chocolates. (The other Canadian finalists were Fernie's Beanpod Chocolate, Calgary's Cococo Chocolatiers and Montreal's Christophe Morel.)
Last week, I spoke with each of the Vancouver finalists over the phone about their winning pieces.
Located near Main and Terminal, the BETA5 Chocolates workshop is as luxurious as the neighbourhood isn't. They use single-origin chocolate from Michel Cluizel in confections that span the classic (espresso, earl grey) to the adventurous (olive oil, tobacco). On the medal-winning Imperial Stout, BETA5 chocolatier Adam Chandler says, "Of all our chocolates, it took the most work to develop and it's the one I'm happiest with." He tried 25 to 30 beers before settling on San Diego's Green Flash Brewing's double stout, which plays off the "malty, caramelly rich flavour" of the milk chocolate. BETA5 also makes jams, marmalades and baked goods, and has a few special items planned for the holidays - including a Vancouver Special gingerbread kit.
A few blocks away is Wendy Boys' commercial kitchen, where she makes her vanilla salt caramels. "They have a bit of a cult following," she says. A devious combination of peanut butter, crunchy feuillantine wafers and caramel, they're hand-dipped in Valrhona milk chocolate and dusted with Welsh vanilla sea salt. The result is elegant and imminently munchable. "They're really accessible," she says, "but every ingredient is of high quality." That's an apt description of Boys' tidy product line, which includes sponge toffee and dessert sauces that you'll want to eat off the spoon.
Another sweet-salty finalist was the almond, fleur de sel, and coconut mini-bar from Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France. "I always found that savoury-salty was a really good fit with milk chocolate," says owner Anne-Geneviève Poitras, "and I thought almonds and coconut would give a good crunch." She specializes in mini-bars: delicate squares of single-origin chocolate studded with spices, flowers, or nuts. She also makes tea- and flower-infused truffles, and what are possibly the city's best salted caramels. Everything is made by hand in her cozy shop tucked off trendy Main Street, where you can also indulge in a cup of drinking chocolate.
Across town in posh Kerrisdale, Gem Chocolates will celebrate its first birthday in December. Owner and chocolatier Glenn Knowles jokes, "I'm still the new kid on the block." He got to the world finals with Berry Blue, a square confection decorated with blue polka dots. Nestled inside the dark chocolate shell is a milk ganache infused with blueberries and blueberry Rooibos tea. Because he finds most milk chocolate too sweet, he blends his own from dark and white chocolate. It's part of his small-scale approach. "I don't use preservatives, and I don't make them in advance and freeze them. They're always fresh."
While each chocolatier has his or her own distinctive style, they have much in common: a commitment to quality, flavour and freshness. They may not be household names yet, but it's only a matter of time.