The Bestia dessert menu is constantly changing throughout the year, but our Chocolate Budino Tart is one of the original mainstays that never leaves. Local chocolatier and founder of Bar Au Chocolat, Nicole Trutanich supplies us with the bittersweet chocolate that gives this dessert a beautiful flavor development that the pastry team at Bestia had been searching for. The ritual of making chocolate may be meticulous, but Nicole loves the process. Read onward to see how she makes her delicious chocolate, where she draws inspiration from, and to get some insight into what it is like to find your true passion at 40.
When was the exact moment that you realized you were going to dedicate your life to making chocolate?
It was on my 40th birthday. I took the day off from work to celebrate and I made my first batch of chocolate. I fell in love immediately—I had to follow my heart and my passion.
What were you doing with your life before you became a chocolatier?
Before I became a chocolate maker, I worked for a boutique advertising agency marketing one of the top automobile brands.
How did your past experience add value to what you are doing today?
I realize that no matter how well you market or promote a product, the most important part of the process is to create a product that brings satisfaction to the person acquiring it. And no matter how much you create the illusion of a product, in the end, whether or not someone likes it depends on how it contributes to his/her quality of life. So now, I focus my attention on making the most delicious chocolate possible and let the marketing and promotion take care of itself. It is the opposite of what I used to do.
Where do you draw inspiration from when creating your chocolate?
My inspiration comes from nature—unlocking the power and mystery of what already exists in nature is inspiring. I also have a deep reverence for artisans who make products by hand and pursue the finest expression of their craft.
You describe the chocolate making process as a meticulous ritual. Can you walk us through your process?
Once I receive raw cacao beans at my atelier, I transform them into chocolate by observing the following steps: sorting, roasting, winnowing, grinding, refining, conching, aging, tempering, molding, wrapping and shipping. I select what in my mind is beautiful, naturally-grown cacao. I try to balance the cacao’s inherent bitterness with the sweetness of cane sugar and to slowly and carefully draw out evocative flavors and sensations. I carry out each step perfectly, as flavor development is nurtured throughout the entire process.
Cacao farmers are obviously a very integral part of your chocolate making process, what draws you to the purveyors that you use?
The sourcing of quality cacao is the most important element of making delicious chocolate. I do this by seeking out the best farmers, those who encourage sustainable growing environments, understand and practice proper harvesting, fermentation and drying techniques, and are aware of their potential connection to unique flavor profiles. I visit farmers at origin to establish a personal relationship. I make chocolate with their cacao beans and share it with them. By sharing the chocolate, it shows them the value of their hard work and instills a sense of pride in what they do. The response that I have received is heartwarming.
Outside of making chocolate, what else are you passionate about?
Outside of making chocolate, I am passionate about my family. My family provides the baseline experience of personal satisfaction which work on its own cannot bring to me but which I can channel into my work. I am also passionate about cooking, gardening, honey bees, listening to music, dancing and watching movies.
It seems like making chocolate is not just about the act of making chocolate, but as you have stated is “a study of agriculture, chemistry, history, politics, culture, art and the physiology of taste” – what has been the most shocking part of the process, something that you were not necessarily expecting to learn?
The most shocking part of the process is watching the transformation of hard, nutty bitter cacao beans into luscious, velvety, delicately nuanced chocolate. It is a fragrant and magical experience.
Can you tell us more about Bar Au Chocolat Atelier and what your dreams are for the physical expression of Bar Au Chocolat?
Great wines are inspirational. Legends exist around particular vintages. People continue to educate themselves and derive greater and greater pleasure from quality wines. My dream is to contribute in a small way to elevate chocolate making, so that what you put into your mouth and into your body will bring everyday happiness, just as it has been done with wine, coffee, tea, olive oil and fruits and vegetables straight from the farm. My desire is to collaborate with chefs and industry professionals in developing classic and innovative ways to incorporate origin chocolate into the foods we enjoy. I envision the Atelier to be a vibrant resource to celebrate chocolate and to teach and advance the intellectual and sensory experience of this ancient, beloved food.