Meet the Maker: David Castellan of Soma Chocolatemaker

Posted on October 15th, 2013

David Castellan of SOMA Chocolatemaker

When I first started learning about bean-to-bar chocolate, I thought that all the good stuff was happening in the US. Boy, was I wrong. A friend introduced me to David Castellan at SOMA Chocolatemaker, who’s been making chocolate in Toronto since 2003–and not just chocolate from the bean, but also confections, gelato and all manner of baked goods. He’s like sweet polymath.

Since opening his first shop in Toronto’s Distillery District in 2003, he ‘s expanded to a second location on King Street West. It’s a dangerous place for me, and I always walk out with a giant bag of bars (his blends are some of the best out there) and always, always with a bag of English toffee and an enormo bag of chocolate-covered corn. Think big corn-nuts, slightly salty, covered in really excellent chocolate. Highly addictive.

When I visited Toronto in May 2013, I caught up with David at his roasting facility where he proudly showed me all the bits of machinery he’s tinkering with. At last count there was a vermicelli machine that he hopes to repurpose for hot chocolate (or perhaps sprinkles), a vintage gianduja machine from Italy, and countless half-machines. And, of course, a roaster and winnower. Here’s what we talked about.

What does Soma Chocolatemaker do?
We make chocolate…We make a lot of things. We make a lot of microbatch chocolate, we have a line of cookies, gelato, and confections and truffles, stuff like that. Our main focus is making chocolate.

How did you come to chocolate?
My parents had a bakery and I was a pastry chef for a long time. I took a course in 2001 in Hayward, California. I went there to learn how to do coating, panning, but we actually ended up making chocolate from the bean in very, very tiny batches. When we came back, my wife Cynthia and I, we were going to open a pastry shop but we ended up focusing on chocolate. It ended up being a very small place and we ended up going all the way. We bought a roaster and all the equipment and we started making tiny, tiny batches of chocolate. This was in 2003 in the Distillery District [of Toronto].

David Castellan of Soma Chocolatemaker, winnowing cacao

What’s the best part of your job?
Ooooh….on the whole, there’s a lot of stuff to do in owning a business and in making chocolate. I tend to be a machine guy. I tend to gravitate toward fixing and buying and making sure the machines are running properly—but that is on top of actually making chocolate, which is totally fascinating and I love being involved in every part of that. And making all those decisions of when to roast, how long to roast, how long to conche, all those decisions.

I don’t think I approach it in a scientific way but in more of a natural way, just from being a pastry chef. There’s always a little bit of scientific method in it, but not too much. We try and go by feel when we roast, we taste. But in the end, I’m a gadget guy.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Making chocolate’s easy. Fixing machines is easy. Having 25 employees? I would say that’s hard. In any business I think that’s the challenge. With machines it’s very easy to predict what they’re going to do, and how to fix them when they go wrong. The employee part is a little bit different. It’s ultimately not that hard. We have a bunch of great employees, they all love working there with chocolate. It’s not stressful in the big scheme of things at all.

What do you do in all the spare time you must have?
There’s not much of that [spare time]. I work with my wife Cynthia and we actually are pretty good at taking time off. There are two days off [each week] when we try not to do any work-related stuff—although we still have chocolate bars around and we eat them.

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