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Take 5 with Chuck Siegel

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Title: Chocolatier, Charles Chocolates
Hometown: Flint, Michigan

1. What's your vision for Charles Chocolates?
Part of the joy of starting this business is creating what I like and I want. The real vision is to create the world's best chocolates. I want to grow the company without losing sight of what it means to make great chocolates. Everything we do is in small batches, we only use the best ingredients, Straus cream and butter, all organic herbs and spices and we want to keep it that way.

Everything we do is from scratch, including roasting our own nuts. We're always looking for the best way to get from point A to point B while maintaining the individual flavor components along the way.

2. How has chocolate changed from when you made chocolate confections in the 80's until now?
Years ago there were only a few chocolates that we could use, and even companies like Valrhona had a very limited range of products. Now chocolate is available in so many forms and flavors, you can say 70% bittersweet chocolate and it almost has no meaning anymore because there are twenty 70% chocolates to choose from, each with completely different characteristics. Now we can use chocolate as a very specific ingredient which we couldn't do before.

I am using different chocolates for almost every product I make, sourced from all over the world, from companies like E. Guittard, El Rey and Valrhona. This is a huge advantage.


3. What's the worst thing about being a chocolatier?
There's nothing bad about making chocolate for a living! It beats almost everything. It's hard to have a negative reaction to a piece of good chocolate.

Possibly the hours, it is very hard work. But it's a great job. Feeding people chocolate is really great. It's a business and it has to be viable but the real pleasure comes from seeing people's reaction to the products.

4. You have some unusual chocolate flavors and combinations like Mojito and Earl Grey Truffle, how did you come up with the Pistachio Lemon Cluster?
Most of the products I develop are very selfish. I make things I like to eat. The Pistachio Lemon Cluster came about because I started playing with a technique of meringue coating nuts and liked the effect. The lemon is a nice counterpoint to chocolate and pistachio. I love citrus and candied peel.

Both chocolate and citrus and chocolate and nuts are two classic combinations. I love North African flavors too which includes pistachios and preserved lemons.

5. Why is chocolate so popular again in the Bay Area?
I don't think it ever went away, but it went away in the Bay Area. You can look at as first renaissance, second renaissance. In the first renaissance there was Alice Medrich, Joseph Schmidt and to a lesser degree my company Ativo who were creating a new industry of super premium chocolates. It had existed in Europe but not here in the US. It was pioneering work and everybody fell in love with it. When it faded away here it was picking up in New York. New York took the lead and in the last 10-15 years there have been great chocolatiers that are French trained pastry chefs like Jacques Torres for example.

Here in the Bay Area Scharffen Berger is in part responsible for the appreciation of premium chocolate and Trader Joe's too. Trader Joe's began carrying Valrhona bars which elevated people's understanding of what good chocolate is. Both Scharffen Berger and Trader Joe's raised people's awareness of what good chocolate can taste like. So now the awareness already exists and people are ready for chocolate like mine and Michael Recchiuti's, and a few others produced in the Bay Area.

Still hungry? Check out a recent box of Charles Chocolates and read about my visit to Charles Chocolates, here

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