I’ve experienced a cinematic sort of speechlessness precisely twice in my life: once when I was 16 and met Shirley Manson, frontwoman of the band Garbage, and in 2011 when I met Gary Guittard at the winter meeting of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association. I’m pretty sure I introduced myself to Gary, but my clearest memory is of behaving like a goldfish, eyes and mouth agog.
Thankfully, I had the opportunity to meet Gary again, at the 2013 annual conference of the International Association for Culinary Professionals (IACP) in San Francisco. He claims to have no memory of our previous meeting, which is either mercifully true or a kind fib. Either way, I’ll take it.
What is Guittard Chocolate Company known for?
We make chocolate for a whole lot of different people: chefs and restaurants, candymakers, bakers and home cooks. We make, I think, the largest array of flavours in regards to chocolate. We run from very Belgian-y dark chocolate and flavoured types of dark chocolates to a very, kind of aromatic French style. I don’t know anybody that does both of those styles.
How did you come to chocolate?
Oh my goodness gracious. My great-grandfather started that in 1868. His family ran a chocolate business in Lyon. He came to San Francisco looking for gold and decided the people making the most money were the merchants. He decided to go back to France to buy the equipment his family had. He bought the equipment and came back to San Francisco in 1868.
Chocolate wasn’t the first thing I did. I was a bit rebellious when I was younger. I lived in the mountains in Colorado and went to school in Colorado. I loved to rock climb and ski. I almost didn’t want to come back. I wanted to do more independent, creative things. I worked in an advertising agency as a cub writer; I started in the mailroom, became a writer and then got laid off there because we lost a big account. It was very difficult trying to get another job as a copywriter. I could have gotten one in Chicago or New York but ended up working in the food business, working for a food broker and then a bakery supply company, and then I came back to the company.
What’s the best part of your job?
I think the best part of my job is working with people, especially when we’re trying to figure out something new and different. Close to that is finding a perfect bean that represents an origin, but a really good origin, which isn’t always easy. There are a lot of variables involved. Or a new origin that I haven’t tasted, or a new area, and I think there are a lot beginning to pop up: in Peru and Colombia, for example. That’s an exciting thing for me. I love flavor and I love looking for new flavors in cocoa.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Sometimes it can be challenging to get the proper beans, if there’s a particular type of bean we want to get. Or getting the right one with the right flavor, I think that can be pretty challenging. People sometimes are challenging. We have a lot of R&D projects, which sometimes are challenging, but I enjoy them. They’re fun for me.
I have a lot of fun with the challenging stuff because it gives me a chance to work with people and exercise creativity. Everyone kind of helps everyone out in the project like that. The challenges are the fun part for me.
What do you do when you’re not making chocolate?
I like to ski, still. I don’t rock climb anymore. I exercise a lot: lift weights, I run a little bit, ride my bike, play golf, try and stay active. I don’t play much golf unfortunately, but I try and stay pretty active.