Interview with Master Chocolatier Oliver Kita

December 23, 2011

1. What is the mission of your chocolate studio? 

The mission of Oliver Kita Chocolates is to expose everyone to joy, artistic beauty and wonderful tasting chocolate. Fine chocolate is like fine perfume: it is an experience to be appreciated daily.

I believe that everyone deserves to taste and appreciate fair trade, organic or vegan chocolates. The American public is becoming more aware of chocolate, and is demanding finer tastes and better chocolate experiences all the time. Artisan chocolate today is where artisan bread was ten years ago; I think that, in ten years’ time, everyone in the United States will expect fair trade, organic and high quality chocolate experiences at attainable prices. 

2. When did you first realize that you wanted to become a chocolatier? 

As a pastry chef, I always worked intensively with chocolate. Whenever I made a chocolate dessert or pastry, I ate as much as I could stand during the creative process of making the dessert. 

The inspiration to become a chocolatier began when I started having someone else make chocolate Buddhas for me as novelty gifts, featured in my Woodstock café. I tasted what they were making and decided that I wanted to learn how to make the chocolate Buddha myself. I knew that if I was going to learn to make the Buddha, I had to become an expert. Where does one go to learn how the art of chocolate works? To the epicurean center of the world: Paris. 

3. Where did you study? 

After I sold my business, I packed my bags and went to Paris off and on for two years, to work with the best teachers in the industry. France has the finest schools in the world for teaching the art of patisserie and the chocolatier. 

I began my journey by taking the train from Hudson Valley to Montreal to improve my French language skills. It was in Montreal where I met the first teacher who inspired me—Julian Rose, who is a Maître Chocolatier (master chocolatier). His classes at the Academy du Chocolat Barry Callebaut were truly inspiring. 

After Montreal, I left directly for L’École Lenòtre and was plunged into an all-French-speaking school. I survived and learned from Thierry Atlan, a Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, along with Christof Redon, who is an amazing chocolatier. I also studied with Le Grande École Chocolat Valrhona, where I learned delicately timed techniques and nuanced flavor ideas using their superior chocolate. 

4. What has been the biggest challenge in becoming a chocolatier? 

There is a saying in France: “Famous chocolatiers have rich wives!” La vie chocolat c’est vrai dur (life in chocolate is truly tough). We live for holidays and special occasions.

Artisan chocolatiers who produce fresh chocolate with a 7- to 8-week shelf life cannot expand their businesses into a national market without changing their recipes and formulas, which makes them no longer fresh. The challenge is that, for chocolatiers to expand, they need shelf-stable recipes; this means using more sugar and sugar additives to prolong the shelf life. But the resulting taste can become too sweet.

Most of us want to remain artists who create beautiful, fresh ideas for our customers to enjoy. It’s a catch-22: expand using stabilizing ingredients or stay true to your initial mission. Or stay small and find a rich wife! 

5. Are there any funny moments or rookie mistakes you can remember? 

My worst moment was when I bought an Oscar mold from a Belgian chocolatier in Beverly Hills. As it turns out, he stole it from Wolfgang Puck’s Kitchen and had no business selling it! I made and sold chocolate Oscars until I was found on the internet, and the Oscar legal team pursued me and proceeded to threaten me with legal action if I did not destroy the mold, send them the pieces to audit, turn in the names of the people who bought the chocolate statues and report my earnings from the sales. Needless to say, I did so, and they backed off. 

6. Any tips or advice for an aspiring future chocolatier? 

Be prepared to feel passionate all the time, share your vision with your customers, enjoy the process of tasting and work hard to network with other chocolatiers. Share your enthusiasm and try to avoid fear of competition; there is room for everyone. Customers love to try different chocolate shops and will remain loyal. But, like perfume, they like to try and change chocolatier choices from time to time… and sometimes they stay with the new taste until a better one comes along that suits their personality.

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