Sunday, March 30, 2008

The man behind the chocolate

It's not every day that you meet someone who has had such a huge impact on your life, but last week I did.

Heather and I went to Charles Chocolates, in Emeryville. We met Charles (aka "Chuck"), which was a pleasant surprise, he was super nice.

But we were actually there to hear Gary Guittard speak. Gary is President and CEO of Guittard Chocolates. Guittard Chocolate Company is the oldest family-run chocolate maker in the US (Gary is the 4th generation) and and one of only ten chocolate makers in the US.

If you've been following my blog closely, you know that I'm really into hot chocolate. And Guittard happens to be the chocolate that's used at my two most favorite hot chocolate haunts (Sketch and Semifreddis), as well as my favorite cupcake place, Love at First Bite, and probably a host of other great places that I have yet to uncover.

Gary talked about the aspects of making chocolate, from touring exotic places to source the best cacao beans, to roasting and processing the beans, and keeping in touch with his customers.

Some interesting tidbits about Gary:
- He started working in the chocolate factory when he was 12 years old.
- He rebelled against the family business in the '60s and was a rock climber in Colorado.
- If he wasn't in the chocolate biz, he'd be living in the mountains.
- He considers milk chocolate a confection, and dark chocolate a food.

Gary is a true perfectionist when it comes to his work. He's not in it for the money, but he wants to put the very best product out there for other people to enjoy. He says he's always very excited to see what people, like Chuck or Michael Recchiuti are doing with chocolate these days.

After Gary's talk, Heather and I went up to get our photo taken with him. I haven't been this starstruck since I had my first celebrity run-in with Charlie Sheen as a teenager. I think I started by saying something stupid like, "I'm a huge fan of yours."

Like Chuck, Gary was very cordial and posed for a photo with his two new groupies.Chuck and Gary were both so sweet, I guess that's what happens when you work with chocolate all day.

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