Disclosure: Chocolatasm sent me a box of four chocolate bonbons. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I wasn’t influenced by the company.
Serge is one of the rare friends I see everytime I am in Paris. He and I met in Latin class in 10th grade, where he’d hide behind my desk and whisper jokes about our teacher’s hairdo. While he wasn’t exactly popular, his tastes were decidedly edgy. When our classmates danced to pop songs, Serge would listen to Björk on repeat. While the 1990’s made us live in denim, he’d wear an orange jacket to school. In between classes, he once wrote a story about a classmate stuck in another friend’s digestive system. It was so inappropriate. It was hilarious. Back then, I was shy and book smart and my friends were Goodie Two-Shoes, just like me. Serge was cooler than I’d ever been and his friendship meant that, maybe, there was a bit of coolness in me.
Chocolatier Paul John Kearins is a bit like Serge, but with a British accent and a US address. He sells t-shirts I can’t wear around my kids, peppers his Facebook updates with swear words, and slips the occasional burp on his Instagram stories. I love all of it. But what makes him edgy are his chocolate confections. His flavor combinations are unlike anything I tried before: when he sent me a box of four bonbons last month, I sampled them one at a time, after the kids were in bed, so I could swear at each bite. There were a Tart Cherry, Olive Oil, Allspice bonbon that tasted like summer, an intriguing Buttermilk Ganache, an irreverent Greek Yogurt Caramel one, and a Hazelnut Cinnamon bonbon I am now obsessed with. Once the box was empty, I had to know more. What’s Paul John’s secret to creating flavor combinations that are creative but not gimmicky, playful yet restrained? I’ll let you read on to find out. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching Paul John’s latest Instagram story. It makes me feel cool.
Please tell us what brought a Dutch man with a British accent to Georgia?
In December 2006 I left Holland and my job of 7 years as a chocolatier at Puccini Bomboni in Amsterdam. My partner and I had plans to open an eco-lodge on the Canary Islands. That plan didn’t work out quite as anticipated. We left the Canary Islands and headed to the Dutch Caribbean, found employment as caretakers of a luxury villa on the French side of the island. After some time we parted and I remained as private chef/concierge.
Around that time I met Shawn, my husband, in an esoteric Facebook group and we became friends. Shawn lived in Georgia, where he had a high end caretakers and property management company. I moved to the neighboring island of Saba, a 5sq mile mountain and became concierge and chef for a private villa there. Shawn said he wanted to visit, came for two weeks then left. A month later he returned and didn’t leave. He said “I’m not leaving this island without you.” To cut a long story short, after 8 months we both left and returned to his home in the mountains of North Georgia. That’s when Chocolatasm was born in 2013.
When I left Holland I was kind of burned out with regard to chocolate making and thought I was down with it. When I arrived in the USA I was ready to start again. With my own approach instead of that of a boss.
What was your vision when your started Chocolatasm and how did you come up with the name of your company?
I’ve noticed that so often when people hear that you are a chocolatier, they immediately ask if you make something that already exists. I always answer “someone already makes that. So why would I?”
I had a food group on Facebook called foodism and I wanted the expand that to my business and call it Chocolatism. Unfortunately that name was already taken so I decided on Chocolatasm… I own the rights to that name now. It’s supposed to be a mix of chocolate and and orgasm.
Do you have a storefront?
I do not. My store is online. However as you’ve seen I do pop up now and then at various locations. I wholesale at a few locations across the US. [My growth] is completely random and organic. I have a loyal customer base locally and across the USA.
Your flavor combinations are so inventive. The hazelnut cinnamon especially stood out to me. What inspires you?
I have an insane olfactory memory (smell memory) and remember situations, feelings and emotions through scent. I can see a picture of a food and imagine the aroma in detail. So I create flavor combinations by memory.
One such memory is if my mother’s friend Betty. I was 10 years old and would go for tea at her house, she had a fabulous garden full of herbs and showed me that I only had to rub the leaves with my fingers and smell them. She led me to the sage and let me smell. Afterward we went inside for tea and she’d made rhubarb pie. I ate the pie with my hand and could smell the sage on my fingers and I ate. When I saw rhubarb here in the store 35 years later, that memory flooded back and that’s when I came up with my rhubarb sage bonbon.
The hazelnut cinnamon came to be when I made the praline to mix into the ganache for the first time. As I was grinding the praline I started to think about what else I could add that would lead it away from the “just like Nutella!” thing. Spice. I wanted to make it adult. Hazelnut and cinnamon complement each other and are rarely combined. I find it very “German.”
You use Map Chocolate as couverture* for your bonbons: what drew you to Mackenzie Rivers’ work? What are you looking for in chocolate?
I look for big flavor. So often the chocolate is nothing more than a vehicle for other flavors. I like the chocolate to be the star of the show, followed by complimentary accenting flavors. The couvertures should be ethical and consistent in texture. However, in the world of single origin, you are at the mercy of nature. Flavors vary per season and harvest and that what I find to be so exciting. Nature decides.
I followed Map [Chocolate] on Instagram and we became friends. One day we decided to do a collaboration of bonbons. Bridge the gap between bean-to-bar maker and chocolatier. I created a 9-piece bonbon assortment mapping the journey from Georgia to Oregon. Each bonbon represented the flavors associated with 9 states from East to West.
* Couverture chocolate has a high cocoa butter content which makes it suitable for confections. While a chocolate-maker like Map makes chocolate from actual cocoa beans, a chocolatier like Chocolatasm uses chocolate as an ingredient in bonbons and other chocolate products.
I like my flavors to be apparent without being overpowering. I want the chocolate to retain its identity flavor wise and visually which is why I don’t airbrush with bright colors. We live in a “Jolly Rancher society” where flavor is amped up to an extreme. Eat something apple flavored and tour often tasting 100 apples in on bite. I want flavor to be real. I love looking at painted bonbons yet see only that…. paint.
Also I hate that everything is called a truffle.
You’ve already had a long career in chocolate. Any milestones you’d like to share?
I created a truffle (yes, a truffle) for her majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. She came to Saba and I was asked to present something. I harvested cacao from the rainforest on the island and made truffles from it.
Also I created a confection for the finale of the Montreal baroque festival in 2009. A celebration of the works of Purcell who apparently died of an overdose of chocolate. It was served to 700 people at the cathedral of Bon Secours.
You have obviously found your tribe, people that love your products (and your irreverence, like me!), so what’s next for Chocolatasm?
The plan for 2018 is to relocate to Cape Cod and begin working together with an existing chocolate shop/ cafe/ bakery in Provincetown. I will be helping streamline their operations whilst expanding on Chocolatasm at the same. How that will look isn’t completely clear just yet. Time will tell. Chocolatasm will continue as an online store and wholesale will continue also. My products will be available in Provincetown.