Introductory Questions from Clay
Francois Pralus wanted to be a boat designer and not have anything to do with the family chocolate business when he was growing up. How about you? Was there an "Aha!" moment for you about chocolate - some sort of epiphany? Or has chocolate always been something that interested you?
Earlier on in my career I had the opportunity to travel the world with the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company. It was always fascinating to me that no matter if I was in Dubai or Barcelona customers always seem to order chocolate desserts more often than any other selection. I always created desserts menus that seem to have a heavy hand towards chocolate. My obsession with working with chocolate grew as I was able to use chocolate to express my love for art.
When did you start using colored cocoa butters for surface decoration? What inspired you to go in this direction and not rely just on molds and other forms of decoration?
I have always believed that American consumers love to eat with their eyes. I was exposed to some of the modern techniques of using fat soluble colors as a form of decoration in chocolate showpieces and for garnishing pastry many years ago in France. It was my belief that most boxed chocolate confections looked very similar and I wanted to create that wow factor that Americans enjoyed and expected in a dining experience. This is what inspired me to create this style of chocolates.
What's the hardest part of being Norman Love?
I believe that I have always been a perfectionist and that I strive to be better than I was yesterday. I have a ridiculous habit of always reaching farther than I can perhaps achieve. I suppose this keeps my wheels running hard in the left lane and continuously striving to accomplish excellence.
What did doing the production for "G" teach you about chocolate - and about yourself?
My partnership with Godiva and the line I created for them called G was an incredible opportunity to transform me from a pastry chef mentality to an extremely efficient manufacturer. It forced my company an opportunity to perfect my style of chocolates on a larger scale. We have become extremely efficient in what we do today; in fact we can produce nearly 40,000 pieces of hand made chocolates per day, with very little waste.
There are a lot of people who "'do'" what you do." What's next for Norman Love?
I honestly look at all the new chocolate companies that are coping my style of work as a true form of flattery. I actually provides me more motivation and drive. This year Norman Love Confections launched our new line Black, all single estate dark chocolates. I have five line extensions that I hope to launch from the Black line this summer.
Do you ever see yourself retiring or will you keel over with an airbrush or piping bag in your hand?
I think we all dream of finding more time to enjoy life and to work a little less. I wish that I could practice what I preach!
On Becoming a Chocolatier
Andre Costa :: Considering I am just beginning my chocolate journey, what are some pointers you could give to someone who is changing careers from a boring cubicle to an exciting chocolate kitchen? Working with chocolate will certainly enable you to express your creativity and artistic side. I have spent nearly 30 years in the hospitality industry always placing myself within a quality establishment. My advice to you would be to seek out the finest chefs that you can so that you have the opportunity to learn quality. My belief is that if you make a good product, price it competitively and provide a very high level of service people will come.
CocoaGal :: As someone starting a business in this industry I'd like to know what your favorite and least favorite parts of owning a chocolate business are. Any advice for a budding chocolatier?
My favorite part of owning my own business is creating products that make people happy. Chocolate has always been my first love and to work with a wonderful group of professionals that all share a common goal is extremely rewarding. I suppose the worst part of owning a business would be having to deal with all the business stuff that interferes with what I really love doing, making beautiful, tasty, chocolates. My advice to you is to always focus on quality. Purchase the finest, freshest ingredients and never compromise the integrity of the product.
On Ingredients and Food Safety
Patty :: Since most artisan chocolates use natural ingredients and are preservative free, I would be interested in hearing the steps he takes within a recipe to increase shelf-life. Additionally, how Mr. Love reduces unbound water (aw, or water activity values), and how he views the role of Ph levels within a recipe. Norman Love Confections implemented a complete HACCP program many years ago, one of our critical control points is monitoring the AW of each one of our fillings each and every time that it is made. When we first develop a filling we always test it three times with our in-house AW meter immediately after it is made and then again 24 hours later. Once the true AW is determined we have a number that we can compare it to each time we manufacture that specific filling. Free water is the direct correlation to shelf life, and is controlled by many different factors. Sugar is one method, the total percentage of water in the recipe compared to fat is another.
Sourcing ingredients that introduce flavor but not water is the tricky part. I have been producing chocolate for Godiva for the past seven years and they have assisted me in identifying some of those natural dry ingredients.
On Classes and Education
Annette Jimison :: I would love to know when he will be having his classes again. Would he ever fly to, say, Phoenix and do a class here? Perhaps in Scottsdale? I bet that there are lots of Chefs here who would love to learn from him. Ilana :: Can he give classes here [Israel]? For the past seven years I have really cut back on the amount of classes that I teach because I felt that I needed to concentrate on getting my business established. For the past year I have begun to teach again and this year I will be teaching in Chicago at the French Pastry School in August (2009) and also at PreGel in Charlotte in October (2009). I have a hands on class at ICE in NYC in September (2009). I really enjoy teaching and I miss not having as many opportunities as I once did, I would be open to try to arrange a class in the Phoenix area.
It would be a real pleasure to come and teach in Israel. The problem is just time, I am a hands on owner; I like to be involved in my everyday production. I took my first vacation this past year, it had been eight years since my last vacation. There never seems to be enough time.
Tien Chiu :: Is there any place - class, online, in a book, or elsewhere, where you would recommend going to learn about creating chocolates as beautiful as yours?
The French Pastry School in Chicago and Notter School in Orlando are two good possibilities for chocolate confection education.
On Going Bean-to-Bar
Holycacao :: I was in my first trimester at Johnson & Wales University Baking and Pastry Arts program- their inaugural year (2002). Shortly after the program started you came to the campus, and specifically to our class to do a private demo for the 20 of us. I decided after that seminar I wanted to work with high quality chocolate. Fast forward 7 years and I find myself in the Holy Land, Israel, on the brink of opening the first bean to bar micro-batch chocolate company here, and much of that has to do with you. Have you ever considered making your own chocolate from the bean, on a limited basis similarly to the European chocolatiers? I know I would "love" to see your take on the bean to bar or confection. I have really never considered making my own chocolate from bean, however I think that because I have some very close relationships with many chocolate manufacturers it would very possible to collaborate with them to create a custom product exclusively for me. Having said that I also think that many of the premium manufacturers are producing amazing quality couvertures today and are establishing very strong relationships with the plantations so that they can monitor and assist in producing the highest quality bean for their products.
On Surface Decoration Techniques
Lana :: After spending a day with Paul DeBondt in Italy and watching him make one of his renowned eggs using his spray gun - I was hooked. Following his advice, I purchased a gravity fed pressurized cup spray gun in order to create effects such as different splatters and lines as well as a smooth even atomization of chocolate and cocoa butter. Of course, my new love of spraying took me to your website and I see you, too, do amazing effects! I have a few questions ... Tien Chiu :: How do you airbrush your chocolate molds? Does the chocolate need to be tempered beforehand? How do you keep the cocoa butter from hardening inside the airbrush? This is a technique I'm dying to try, and am wondering what equipment I will need and how to go about it.
Cocoa butter always needs to be sprayed at a specific temperature. There are a number of factors that contribute to the temperature. First is the temperature of the molds, second the temperature of the room, and last what type of compressor you are using and how much cold air it generates. You have to find what works for you in your workshop with your chocolate, colors, airbrush, and molds. My setup is different so the exact temperatures, pressures, etc., that work for me won't work for you.
I will say that I do not use a pressurized cup gun. I use the inexpensive Badger 240 for all my airbrush work.
One coat is all that is necessary for me to achieve the shine I get. The quantity of color has no bearing on shine, temperatures do. The temperature of the room, the temperature of the mold, the temperature of the cocoa butter and color all have to be in the correct balance to achieve the maximum shine. Again, my situation is different from yours, so you have to experiment with what you're actually using in your workshop. What other people say/advise about temperatures are general guidelines to start working with, your exact combination will be different from everyone else's.
I have heard many wives tales regarding the advisability of washing or not washing your polycarbonate molds. My belief is that chocolate molds are like fine black cast iron skillets that deliver better results the more you use them - the more seasoned they become. In my experience, the same holds true with chocolate molds. The natural fat in chocolate coats the cavity of the mold and certainly assists in producing good results as long as all the other factors are met.
Sticking when releasing a decorated piece can occur from over crystallized color or chocolate that is not tempered correctly or both. The correct temperature of colored cocoa butter fluctuates with each type of color you spray as well as with the ambient room temperature, mold temperature, compressor pressure, and the type of airbrush that you are using. You should never place freshly sprayed molds into a refrigerator, they should be allowed to crystallize at room temperature (the same temperature you're working in). If you force crystallization you will form unstable crystals which in turn will create sticking, dull appearance, and lots of unpleasant problems.
After your color has hardened the next concern is to be sure that your chocolate is properly tempered and that you are using chocolate that is neither too cold nor is over-crystallized. Over-crystallized chocolate will always create problems where the color and chocolate do not adhere to each other as well as with poor contraction of the shell, the possibility that the color will stick in the mold, and air bubbles being trapped in the mold.
Melanie Boudar :: Have you found the colorants in red cocoa butter to be any more problematic than other colors and if there is any benefit to spraying uncolored cocoa butter in the mold before adding color. Also are there are any organic colorants out there that can create spectacular effects and additional shine. People love the color but often are concerned about the ingredients/dyes used.
I agree that red color can be more problematic than others, proper temperature reduces the problems. I do not ever spray cocoa butter into the mold first to assist in achieving shine. Yes, there are organic colors that are available through Chef Rubber in Las Vegas, however they are very sensitive to light and will oxidize and lose their original color tone. Red will start out beautiful and after a few days begin to fade to orange and then yellow. I tried to work with organic colors and customers seem to not understand that organic colors will always fade from their original tone.
Tien Chiu :: Have you ever made your own chocolate transfer sheets, and if so, how would you advise going about it at home? I have made one or two attempts at silkscreening and found it excruciatingly difficult with white chocolate, and nearly impossible with cocoa butter. How is this done commercially?
Transfer sheets can be made a few ways: Silk screening is only one way, you can also use your imagination and create many beautiful effects with sponges or your fingers or perhaps paint brushes.