I’m often asked how I became Chocolatier at the helm of Nelson’s Chocofellar - and I typically answer, “It’s in my blood (but it took a while to realize that.)”.
Many chocolatiers find themselves in this career field after other trials and tribulations in life. That too is true for me.
Growing up in the land of Chocolate
I was born and raised in Fribourg, Switzerland, This picturesque city is more known internationally for its cuisine, its architecture, its post-secondary institutions, its hockey team, its nearby mountains, and for the smell of roasted cacao from Chocolat Villars that perfumes the streets. Despite the similarities to my life today, the idea that I would be running a chocolate shop in one of Canada's most iconic mountain towns would never have crossed my mind.
But, chocolate is in my blood. A life giving force to my ancestors, and it turns out, to me.
Reflecting on my own consumption inside the Cailler Museum, 2011. Photo - Jesse Paris
My ancestors worked as engineers and packaging helpers in Cailler, the legendary chocolate factory in nearby Broc, but I never got to meet any of them. By the time I came around, chocolate had skipped a couple generations.
My parents were teachers of classical music at the Conservatory and while I’ve been a violinist from a young age, the direct family path of classical music didn’t fully resonate with me.
Advertising poster from Cailler Chocolate, early 1900.
The first Cailler Conching Room in Broc, early 1900. Cailler archives courtesy of Jean-Marc Sudan
I was quite the rebellious teenager, and my interest laid in sports more than anything else. I couldn't sit still or focus for very long. I became interested in aviation careers and sport nutrition as a late teenager, but I lacked discipline and my personal food preferences were more influenced by palatable pleasure and indulgence than health choices.
I've always known that a few of my ancestors had worked as engineers and packaging helpers at the historical Cailler (the oldest Swiss chocolate brand still running) chocolate factory in Broc, but I never got to meet any of them. Chocolate legacy skipped a couple generations.
The secondary conching room, a fundamental piece of engineering that lead to the success of Cailler Chocolate. My great grand-father Christophe Boschung was credited for contributing a major technological advancement: a wrapping machine for Gjandujas squares, a specialty within the "femina" line of chocolates created by Alexandre-Louis Cailler.
Christophe Boschung and his family (with my grand-mother in the center) after retiring from the Cailler Factory, 1919, Broc, Switzerland.
Living a Dream
In 2010 I moved to Vancouver. 4 years of ski bumming, slacklining and rock-climbing alongside a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Multimedia led me to work in Marketing and as a Jack of all trades in Heliskiing.
In case of Emergency, eat chocolate. Memories of my time at SFU.
The endless powder turns and the immersive views over the expansive icefields of Northern BC were infatuating. Memories I will always cherish. I spent my winters up in Stewart at the edge of Alaska, and my summers paragliding in the Okanagan while also earning a living via sports photography in the Alps.
I was living a fantasy until it wasn't.
Working in the outdoors alongside the elite of mountain and rafting guides has had a profound impact on me, teaching me resilience and courage.
A bitter change of careers turned sweeter with the help of a Great Mentor
After a few years living in the fast lane of professional mountain adventures, unfortunate circumstances and injuries had me move back to Vancouver to get proper body care, physical rehabilitation, and a total change of career paths.
I started my own freelance digital marketing practice and it was there I met John Down, Master Chocolatier at Christopher Norman Chocolates. His handcrafted chocolate is the first that knocked me out of my rocker. A strange feeling after being raised on the best quality Swiss chocolate.
John Down & Joe Guiliano, my initial mentors in the Chocolate World.
When I met John, he was restarting his career in Halfmoon Bay BC on the Sunshine Coast, after decades of success in New-York City. We immediately clicked. Trying his chocolate was an out of body experience. Otherworldly. Watching him crafting chocolates of all kinds woke something up in me. I started dreaming again. I extended my stays on the Sunshine Coast, for the simple pleasure of learning something new and volunteering at his shop on my spare time. The Theobromine seed of passion was planted in me.
One day, after coming home from a trip to visit John, I impulsively bought a few polycarbonate molds and got busy in my home kitchen. I felt that I had observed John enough to start practicing on my own. As a chocolate novice, results were often inconsistent and I would recurringly grab the phone to ask John why things ended up looking and tasting different. I am forever grateful for his endless patience with me. I accelerated my learning by reading tons of books on chocolate and confection making and taking online courses.
I moved to Nelson in late 2018. I started to work at OM Foods to supplement my income. As a staffer, I had access to tons of organic ingredients at a discount so I started experimenting weekly, then daily after hours. I would often bring my creations back to my coworkers to ask their opinion and feedback. Interestingly, Nelson's very own mountain athlete Mia Noblet and I became coworkers at OM, reinforcing a powerful work and play friendship that would carry on at Nelson's Chocofellar. On occasions, I kept traveling back and forth between Nelson and the Sunshine Coast to visit John & Joe, as I would always end up learning or observing something new.
Progressively, the passion turned to obsession.
To me, working with chocolate isn't just a scientific or methodical. It's a fully engaged creative and artistic process, where the process itself is the reward. Consciously making and tasting chocolate is one of the most demanding and rewarding experience I have found to this day. It requires sensitivity, undivided presence and attention. It's a multisensory involved process that offers the opportunity to focus, ground, relax and be present in a liminal space. Completely relatable to the state of flow one gets in when fully immersed in the experience of powder turns, river rapids, or even paragliding high above a mountain range...
When Passion turns to Obsession.
Despite it all, my intrepid desire for adventure has not faded.
When I am not at the chocolate shop, I am still devoted to my other career-passion: paragliding.
Late 2019, driven by my other work passion, paragliding, I met Nelson's Chocofellar founders Sam Lazenby & Hollie Wheeler thanks to Robert Rae who often worked in the same building. Sam & Hollie would later become my mentors, and ultimately agree to pass me and my business partner Mark Tomek the coveted Chocofellar Torch on October 28 2021. April 2023 marked another turning point, with the hiring of Chef Landon Stevens, who joined our kitchen team.
Chef Landon Stevens joined our operations April 2023.
While I could never have predicted as a child in Switzerland where I would end up today, I can feel the pride of my ancestors when I’m working alongside my team to create chocolate indulgences. Let's hope that I will also, one day, have the privilege to mentor and pass the torch to others who carry a spark similar to the one I had when I first stepped into this fascinating field of work.
Until then, stay passionate, and eat more chocolate.