With more and more chocolate makers turning out luxury chocolate products, it's brought a spotlight to the profession (and product) and secured itself as one of this year’s top food trends. Thankfully for us here in Toronto, we don’t have to venture too far to experience this new eye-popping and mouth-watering delights as we have our very own local Willy Wonka in our backyard.
His name is Brandon Olsen, and many might remember him as the mega-talented chef de cuisine from The Black Hoof and Bar Isabel. This hyper-focused chef who knew a thing or two about foie gras, had many diners coming and going through the restaurant each night. But for many coming and going, they would not have known or realized that Olsen was also a classically-trained pastry chef, who previously apprenticed in the kitchens of the French Laundry. His appreciation for all things chocolate started early in his career, while he was still in Napa. Olsen shares passionate stories with me of his time at the French Laundry explaining that “chocolate was more than an ingredient on your pantry shelf - it's a great vessel for other things.” While he casually admits that he never had the opportunity to make or create any of the bonbons on-site, he watched with great passion, took notes, asked questions and always asked to test the chocolates that didn’t quite meet the standards of the chocolatiers on-site. It was from those quiet and careful observations (and from reading a few books) that he came into the full-fledged art of chocolate making on his own.
Chocolate was more than an ingredient on your pantry shelf - it's a great vessel for other things.
While Olsen had earned quite the reputation for himself (Canada-wide) due to his stint at two of Canada's most notable restaurants, it has been his investment to what he describes as a 'passion project' that has garnered him more attention than he ever thought possible. Chocolates X Brandon Olsen initially launched in October 2015 as a pop-up with full-fledged storefront slated to open on June 17, 2016. He took on the venture, alongside his fiancé Sarah Keenlyside, whom Brandon confides as his 'best partnership to-date'. Together the pair has worked hard in the kitchen brainstorming new and creative flavours for the open of their shop (at College and Dufferin).
“My fiancé Sarah and I come up with flavour ideas all the time," Olsen says. "Sometimes what sounds great in your head, doesn't always work in practice.” But together, they are making and creating flavours that have delighted and surprised both choco veterans and those trying their confections for the very first time. Some of those flavours to date include orange blossom honey, salted caramel, lime ginger black pepper and rose fennel raspberry. Using a cocoa barry single origin couvertures, the ultimate in designer chocolate, Olsen pays special attention to ensure each confection has a certain (and natural) flavour profile. “I really want the true flavour of the ingredients to speak for themselves," he says. "I truly believe that if it says raspberry, rose, fennel those ingredients should be in there, and not a chemical product.” The result is a bon-bon that will have you experiencing a sensory overload with no artificial BS.
I truly believe that if it says raspberry, rose, fennel those ingredients should be in there, and not a chemical product.
Taste aside, the bite-size chocolates are pieces of art in themselves, as is the packaging. While Olsen focuses on the chocolate, Sarah, a visual artist and designer by trade, has the job of making the outside truly memorable. She handles what’s outside of the box, including all of the branding, aesthetic and packaging of the CXBO brand. The result is quite visually striking. Brightly hued, jewel-shaped chocolates placed inside the stark white box with black paint splashes across and a bold type-font are what make the whole experience of purchasing a box of Chocolate X Brandon Olsen special.
For Olsen, chocolate has truly allowed him to bring out his inner child and build whatever his wants: “There are no rules or guidelines, it's a real life Willy Wonka world of imagination.” As he puts his money where his mouth is, the city anxiously awaits for his shop opening in June. In the meantime, if you're looking for your fill of Chocolates X Brandon Olsen, you can purchase via their website or on-site at The Tempered Room. Chocolates come in boxes of 9 ($18), 12 ($24) or 18 ($36).