“This is my favorite piece” Christopher Elbow says, grabbing a shiny Macadamia Praline chocolate off of a tray and plopping into his mouth. Here’s where Willy Wonka would’ve called in his Oompa Loompas to sing a catchy song or do a weird little dance. But Elbow does no such thing. Dressed in a clean white chef shirt embellished with his company’s modern logo that was designed by his wife, you might think this Kansas City chocolatier simply lacks the flare of a wild chocolate genius.
Take one bite of one of his chocolates. Heck, take a lick. As soon as you do, you’ll realize you were wrong; the artistic, wild and undeniably delicious flare is in the chocolates themselves. Through hard work and a whole lot of chocolate, Elbow has mastered the art of producing and decorating artisan chocolates, creating his very own and very unique chocolate empire.
Christopher Elbow decided to give it one year. He’d attempt the chocolate business thing with all he had, and if he failed, well, he couldn’t say he hadn’t tried. He had the education from a Bachelors Degree in Restaurant and Business Management from the University of Nebraska and the experience from an assortment of prestigious jobs, including the head pastry chef at one of Emeril Lagasse’s Las Vegas restaurants. His confidence came from customer’s requests to buy his chocolates while he was making them as head pastry chef for The American Restaurant.
In it’s early days, Christopher Elbow Chocolates consisted of Christopher himself, his wife and a few friends working out of a 400 square foot space. They were struggling, and if they hadn’t had financial support from family to begin with, they would’ve had to call it quits. And many times, Elbow wanted to do just that.
“There were several times where my wife and I were talking like, ‘should we fold it in, and walk away?’” Elbow said.
It’s a good thing he persevered. Elbow’s big break came in October of 2004 when Christopher Elbow Chocolates won the Next Generation Chocolatier Competition. Press was their much needed prize. Elbow’s products have been featured in InStyle, Food & Wine, and, most importantly, O, Oprah’s magazine.
Since then, both Elbow’s market and product line have expanded immensely. His products are now sold in over 15 states at 45 stores around the country. In 2009, Elbow opened a second store in San Francisco. This location was chosen because of the good climate for chocolate (not too hot), and because data showed a bulk of online orders from this part of the country. All of the chocolates are still made in the Kansas City factory, and, according to Elbow, that’s how it’s going to stay. Though he wants to continue to expand the company, it’s difficult to make high quality chocolates in bulk. And quality is something he will never sacrifice.
“I want it to be just as good as it was the first day.” Elbow said.
His product line has also expanded to include candy bars, drinking chocolate, chocolate ice cream and, recently, chocolate ale.
The staff of about twenty seems content to be involved in Elbow’s empire. As the company grows and relationships strengthen, brainstorming new types of chocolates and new designs becomes more and more of a group effort. The staff switches stations (from painting to packaging to mixing) every few days to ensure no one gets bored. Elbow’s staff seems quite a bit happier, and a good deal less creepy, than Wonka’s Oompa Loompas.
A few new flavors are introduced each season, but the classic remain. Read the reviews of three popular pieces.
Caramel with Fleur de Sel
Caramel has never ever tasted as good as it does in this dark chocolate shell with a sprinkle of sea salt on top. It slides out of the shiny shell onto your tongue in a sea of irresistible silkiness that leaves you wanting another…and then another. It’s no wonder this is the most popular piece.
This piece is what a chocolate berry would taste like if God had blessed us with a chocolate berry. There are two layers; the fresh raspberry pate de fruit (delicious, tart, jelly-like stuff) at the bottom, and a rich, raspberry-infused ganache at the top. One bite will have you saying “Hallelujah.”
Elbow has created over 100 different chocolates in his time, so a piece must be darn good to be deemed his favorite. And this piece is darn good. It’s milk chocolate exterior and light, fluffy macadamia flavored interior make it a delicious treat you’ll enjoy as much as the chocolatier himself.
The Life of a Chocolate
Elbow and his team keep an ongoing list of chocolate combinations. If something doesn’t sound delicious in his head, he moves on. It can take up to three or four batches to get a flavor combination just right.
A variety of methods are used, including splatter-painting (as seen on the Caramel with Fleur de Seul), airbrushing (as seen on the Red Wine Caramel) and silkscreening (as seen on the Mango Ginger). Decorating the molds first instead of directly onto the chocolates makes them super shiny. The goal is to make the outside of the chocolate resemble what’s on the inside.
3. Fill & Seal
Once the mold is cast, the chocolate is poured into it. It’s then left to set for two or three days, depending on the type of chocolate. After it’s done, another layer of chocolate is poured over the bottom to seal the layers together.
4. Shelve & Send
Since all of the products are made with no preservatives, they only have about a week shelf life. They’re kept in a 60 degree vault until someone comes and eats ‘em up. Fifty to sixty percent of business comes from walk-in customers, 25 percent from the website and the rest from retailers who carry the products.
This Valentine’s Day, buy a box of chocolates for your loved one. At $38, they’re a bit pricey. But, trust me, they’re worth it; you can’t buy love, but you can buy Christopher Elbow Chocolates — which are basically the same thing. If you don’t want to spend as much, you can buy a chocolate bar for $7.
Christopher Elbow Chocolates can be purchased at these locations.