Welcome to the first edition of the Food Republic Chocolate Power Rankings. Like our coffee power rankings, this list was established by factoring in new product releases, innovation and general thought leadership in the world of chocolate in the United States. And we aren't even mentioning the V holiday at the end of the week. Because, as any true chocolate fan knows, chocolate is a year-round affair.
Mass-production chocolate is everywhere these days: the majority of America’s roughly $20 billion chocolate industry is still owned by large corporations. But even the big guns are investing in premium and organic chocolate, which tells us that craft chocolate has a firm market as an affordable luxury. Here are key people and brands to know in the world of craft chocolate right now.
10. Shaineal Shah | Xocolatti
FCI grad Shaineal Shah (with his partner and mother, Mona) is bringing sophisticated sensibility and Indian flavor profiles to luxury chocolate at their shoebox-sized store in NYC's Soho. Flavors like rose-cardamom and masala-milk will ring a bell with Indian cuisine aficionados, but the duo round out their selection of chocolates with modern European flavor profiles, like Belgian marzipan or Italian basil and olive oil. Their line of exotic spice–infused thin barks, or “slates,” have surprised even jaded palates. Last year, Xocolatti won silver and gold for the US at the International Chocolate Awards.
9. Daniel Sklaar | Fine & Raw
Green, sustainable and raw are not new terms to Brooklyn. But Daniel Sklaar pays more than lip service to these ideals with his beautiful chocolates, all made at low temperatures to preserve the nutritional (and delicious) integrity of dark chocolate. Where a lot of chocolate makers use glucose syrup, corn syrup or straight sugar, he prefers agave syrup as a sweetener. That and his use of coconut oil may have been intended for their health benefits, but the end result is a signature flavor profile. Rewind a few years and you would see him delivering the small batch bonbons on his bicycle after he made them by himself, and packaged them in their biodegradable boxes, stamped with vegetable-based inked logo (of course). He has expanded, with new chocolate bars like Alderwood Smoked Salt and Espresso, and a sprawling Bushwick factory in place of his loft, but he’s still doing his local Brooklyn thing, and cornering a niche market in the process.
8. Katherine Clapner | Dude, Sweet Chocolate
Katherine Clapner stands out in a sea of bearded dudes in the chocolate world — despite what the brand name might lead you to believe. She comes from a fine dining background, like some other chocolatiers, with experience at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and The Savoy in London. From there, she and co-founder Redding May launched Dude, Sweet Chocolate. But while much of the chocolate world is tapping into the dark market, Clapner and May are boldly going the whole hog, with a dark-only product line of truffles, fudges, sauces, nuts and marshmallows. Plus, they use ingredients mostly avoided in commercial chocolate, like the blue cheese in their Albatross Fudge or mushrooms in their Fungus Amongus Toffee. They also take the road less traveled in the design-crazy world of craft chocolate, with frills-free packaging design that shifts our gaze back to where it belongs — the chocolate.
7. Alan McClure | Patric Chocolate
Alan “Patric” McClure’s small-batch bars have earned him notice from Food & Wine, the Los Angeles Times and Forbes — as well as a few Good Food Awards and silver at last year’s International Chocolate Awards. Behind the twee botanical drawings on the wrapper is a serious dedication to bean-to-bar. Instead of focusing on chocolate with lots of bells and whistles and obscure flavors, McClure began by specializing in the inherent qualities of different origins of chocolate. He has controlled that process by purchasing beans, rather than ready-tempered chocolate, then controlling the sweetness himself and adding natural flavorings that complement them, like the peppermint oil in his 72% Mint Crunch bar. He’s one of the founders of non-profit Craft Chocolate Makers of America, Instead of just competing, he and the four other founders have joined forces to help troubleshoot some of the equipment and supply issues that small, independent chocolate makers often encounter. He’s found a way to make small production not just delicious, but profitable.
6. Liz Gutman and Jen King | Liddabit Sweets
Before the Brooklyn Flea reached its current sprawling status, it was where FCI grads and culinary school buddies Liz Gutman and Jen King sold their first Liddabit Sweets. In a Brooklyn scene full of hand-crafted food products, they have held their own and then some. Jen King put her time at Per Se to good use when developing the recipes for the new company. She combined forces with Liz Gutman, whose marketing savvy, writing chops and experience at New York institution Roni-Sue were put to good use, rapidly expanding the company to multiple employees, and spawning an IACP award-winning cookbook. Although their company encompasses lollipops and other confections, their candy bars are what make Liddabit Sweets stand out. They have a total mastery of that delicate salty-sweet balance, and have riffed on everything from Almond Joy bars to Snickers with equal success. Their influence is only growing, with a new store in Chelsea Market, and Liddabit alums creating their own companies, like taffy creator like Marisa Wu and her Salty Road brand.
5. Jean-François Bonnet | Tumbador
You’ve probably already tasted his chocolate; he’s crafted custom orders for many of New York’s culinary elite, from bonbons for Chocolate Box to chocolate hearts for Joe the Art of Coffee, to custom bars for Murray’s Cheese. The former pastry chef at Daniel churned out countless chocolates for the flagship restaurant in Daniel Boulud’s empire, a fitting start for his custom business. As if that weren’t enough, he has his own line of chocolates too, from quirky bars like his PB&J to his haute Ring Dings (which have a cult following). His restaurant chef background has led to countless chef collaborations, including one with Zak Pelaccio, and despite all this balancing, he maintains some seriously impressive quality control. The ganache in his chocolates is always silky and the chocolate coating always the perfect thickness and consistency.
4. Michael Antonorsi | Chuao Chocolatier
Venezuelan chef Michael Antonorsi teamed with his brother, Richard, to found a California-based company dedicated to defying expectation. While they do make bonbons, their flavored chocolate bars are their forte, in texturally interesting varieties like salty, crunchy potato chip, or sea salt, smoked chili and popping candy. Since they’re more shelf-stable than truffles, their chocolate bars achieved further reach. Chuao's bars are now in multiple outlets across the States — Dean and Deluca, Whole Foods and Omni Hotels, to name just a few.
3. Sally and David Bany | Moonstruck
When former Columbia Sportswear marketing staffers Sally and David Bany purchased Moonstruck Chocolates in 2001, they applied that model to chocolate, leaving the actual chocolate making in the hands of the professionals (currently Julian Rose) so they could focus on the business side. They now have five Portland, Oregon–area cafés that showcase their new shift to quality hot chocolate. Whether they become the Stumptown of the chocolate world remains to be seen, but their truffles have garnered a celebrity following (including Oprah). Their packaging now has a handcrafted appeal that speaks to Portland’s artisanal strengths, and brings the city’s personality to chocolate that is now sold across the country in stores like Whole Foods and Balducci’s.
2. Jacques Torres | Jacques Torres
“Mr. Chocolate” is a mainstay tastemaker in the world of craft chocolate. As Dean of Pastry Arts at the International Culinary Center in New York, he has a hand in shaping the terrain of tomorrow’s chocolate world. After winning the Meilleur Ouvrier de France award at a young age, and racking up experience at high-end temple Le Cirque, this James Beard award–winner has expanded beyond his original DUMBO flagship factory/store to an additional four retail locations. His cinnamon, allspice and chili-laced Wicked hot chocolate and Taittinger champagne truffles are sought-after across the country.
1. Rick and Michael Mast | Mast Brothers
In the melting pot that is Brooklyn, Mast Brothers still stands out in the culinary scene as the company that brought bean-to-bar chocolate back. It’s something people didn’t think about much before they came along, but the Masts' focus on single origin, even single estate chocolate has helped refocus our sights on where our chocolate is actually coming from. It also made chocolate taste like chocolate again. Then they added a palette of grown-up flavors like cocoa nibs, Stumptown coffee and sea salt to that intense hit of cacao. The brand has grown a lot since the early days, when they wrapped their bars in butcher’s paper, boasting an impressive design sensibility that’s been aped by others but never quite matched. Their cookbook launched last year, complete with foreword by Thomas Keller and one of the coolest cookbook trailers out there.
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