Vicki Bain, 42, turned her love for cocoa beans into a full-time career as a chocolatier and chocolate shop owner
I was almost 30 by the time I finally figured out what all the hype was about chocolate. I wasn’t the kind of child who got caught with her hand in the cookie jar – I just didn’t have much of a sweet tooth. Of course there were times when I would tuck into a bar of chocolate, but it wasn’t with nearly as much enthusiasm as I have for it now. My environmental consulting career took me overseas, first to France and then in 2002 to Belgium, and it was there on a rainy morning in a cosy book café that I discovered the best chocolates I had ever tasted. As it melted on my tongue, I was struck by how different it was to what I had eaten before: it wasn’t too sweet and all of the flavours were distinct – I was totally hooked. It was my first taste of artisanal Belgian chocolates. Not only was I enamoured with the taste of Belgian chocolates, I was also fascinated by how they were made. Although I continued to focus on my consulting career, I knew, in my heart, that I wanted to seriously get into chocolate-making. In 2011, I was still living in Belgium when I stumbled across an evening chocolate-making class.
Vicki Bain, A South African Chocolatier Taking The Country By Storm With Photo Gallery
I signed up, and before I knew it, chocolate and I just clicked. A couple of weeks later I gave up my corporate job: I committed to a full-time chocolatier course and also worked on perfecting my vision of the business I wanted to start back home. I became a qualified chocolatier and pastry chef and ended up working with one of the best artisanal chocolatiers in Belgium. By 2015, after 14 years in Belgium, I was ready to bring the dream home. The process of opening my own business was both terrifying and exciting, and there were many nights when I don’t think I slept a wink! I’d lie awake and imagine endless flavour combinations, and what the store would eventually be like. When it comes to good chocolate there can be an air of pretentiousness, and I didn’t want that for my business. I chose a name that was fun and friendly, and also uniquely South African. In 2016 I finally opened the doors of Chocoloza.
Based at 44 Stanley in Milpark, it’s a chocolate shop and lounge that offers delicious Belgian-style pralines with a distinct South African flavour. We use Belgian chocolate, but for everything else we only use fresh, local ingredients and no artificial flavours, preservatives or palm oil. So all our products only have a three-week shelf life, but in that short time, they taste exceptional! Our customers can kick back in comfortable chairs while they watch their chocolates being made – they can choose from a wide range of pralines like Lime & Basil or Raspberry & Vanilla, as well as pure Belgian slabs, truffles… you name it. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though; at first it was incredibly difficult to find the right suppliers, packaging and equipment. I had to work around the clock in those early months, especially after we sold out on our second day, but it was just a small price to pay for the thrill of making quality chocolates for customers who love the uniqueness of what we do. Whipping up a batch of chocolates is a lot more of a scientific process than you would think.
We have to take into account the percentages of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, butter fat, water content and other ingredients when creating new recipes. Chocolate can be extremely unforgiving in that if you make a tiny miscalculation in an ingredient’s weight or melt it at the wrong temperature you won’t get the desired result. It really does keep me on my toes but experimenting with new flavours is the best part of my job. It has been just over a year since we opened, and we hope to open a second store this year. We are now a team of seven, and I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved. I’ve never believed more in the saying, ‘Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ Every day I walk into my shop with a huge smile – who wouldn’t if their job meant making (and tasting) chocolates?
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