Time marches on, right into spring. And one of the rites of spring will be happening at the end of the first week of April, the chocolate holiday known as Easter. No matter what your religious stripe, chocolate in springtime is a great way to ring in a new season.
Nakusp has been blessed with many chocolate talents, the most recent of which is Jennifer Zobel, who is now selling her divine delights, Jennifer Chocolates at the Cutrite Meats deli.
I caught up with Zobel as she was replenishing her stock at the store last Friday, March 23. She had brought a large box stuffed with new goodies for the display near the counter. In it there were chocolate bars with dried fruit and nuts, boxes of colourful truffles with ingenious flavour combinations, and chocolate shaped like eggs. It was a chocolate extravaganza, and Zobel invited everyone in the place to join in. On a tray she had placed cherry truffles and chocolate-dipped pretzels as samples, and everyone was encouraged to try them.
Helping myself to a cherry truffle, the first thing that struck me was how pretty the little dark brown ball was, with its bright red swirl on top. Its looks didn’t save it, though, and biting into the bundle proved to be the real joy.
Zobel uses only dark chocolate in her creations, and the truffle was rich but not overpoweringly sweet. The ganache centre slowly melted into a cherry haze in my mouth. Soon, too soon, the bite had melted away and I was forced to eat the other half. It was supremely satisfying, just the perfect amount of sumptuous flavour.
Zobel started making chocolates two Christmases ago for her family, who were soon clamouring for more. While exploring the online chocolate world, she ran across a 12-week course offered by École Chocolat, a chocolatier-training company run by Pam Williams in Vancouver. Through the course, Zobel has been learning professional chocolatier skills, from sourcing chocolate to quality assurance to developing a business plan.
“There’s a whole world of chocolatiers,” Zobel revealed. It was in this world that she found a marriage of fine art and fine foods that she fell in love with.
The seeds of the love affair actually started when she was living in Costa Rica and was a stark contrast to her computer-based work doing internet marketing for a travel website.
“I was ready to throw the computer out the window,” Zobel confessed. Life in the tropical climes wasn’t everything it might appear to be, either.
“Living in Costa Rica sounds idyllic,” she said, “but after four or five years it was isolating.” The combination of working at home and being an immigrant struggling to learn the language and fit in to the culture was difficult. Her blue eyes and fair colouring also instantly marked her as different, and made assimilation a challenge too.
When she and her husband split up last year, Zobel decided to spend a summer in Nakusp, something that she had always done as a child, coming to visit her aunt and uncle away from the hustle and bustle of Toronto. Her return to Canada was a very happy one.
“Canada! I love Canada,” Zobel effused, “ You don’t know how much you love it until you go away and return.” Coming to beautiful Nakusp was even better than moving to a city, she added, because people are so friendly and welcoming.
At first, Zobel assumed she would have to get another executive office job, but she decided to follow her love and pursue the path of chocolatier instead.
“I was sick of the internet,” she said, “I wanted to touch and feel and smell, get my senses involved.” And with that, she dove into chocolate. What she found was the whole town supported her in the leap.
Starting only with a few Christmas fairs, she quickly gained a following among local chocolate lovers. The positive reaction from the community has inspired her to keep going.
Even the so-called “competition” was encouraging. Zobel sat down with the widely-known and much-loved Grandma Fay to talk about the local chocolate market share. The two sweet ladies agreed that they were aiming for different clients, with Fay making mostly milk chocolate and Zobel specializing in dark “adult” flavours.
“What a dream if I could actually keep it going,” Zobel said, who now would like to have chocolate become her full-time job for all the seasons of the year.
At the moment, her chocolate dream is part-time, and Zobel supplements her income by cooking at Halcyon House, and will be working with Ange Carson up at the Paddy Shack this summer.
In order to help her dream of being a full-time chocolatier come true, she has started a website where she takes orders online and ships all over Canada. Locals can save shipping fees by stopping by the Cutrite Deli or by calling Zobel for a custom order.
Zobel loves to experiment combining flavours, and has tried putting everything from pine mushrooms to whiskey to brie in chocolate for custom orders, and just for fun.
Not everyone is up for some of her creations, she discovered when she included a “Mayan” chocolate in a mixed box. The “Mayans” contained a picante combination that included ancho chiles and cinnamon which surprised a lot of people, some in not such a positive way.
Assorted boxes no longer contain the “Mayan,” but Zobel can whip some up as part of a custom order, if they so desire.
The latest chocolates to be put on the shelves were a new spring collection wrapped in a bright green box. Lavender, honey, rose and raspberry, and mint are the refreshing flavours of the lovely little truffles. I celebrated the Spring with a dried blueberry and almond bar of chocolate.