Remember Psych 101? Maslow’s pyramid of basic human needs? Our most basic physiological needs are sleep, water, food, sex and breathing, right? Well, he may have very well missed one — Patricia’s Chocolates.
Patricia’s Chocolates sit on Maslow’s pyramid at the top tier, self-actualization. Unlike the easily produced molded and rolled truffles that dominate the high-end chocolate market, Patricia’s Chocolates are creative, inspired and unique, something worth psychoanalyzing. And Patricia’s Chocolates namesake Patty Christopher should know. Before going into the chocolate business, she and her husband Paul were school psychologists in the Grand Rapids Public Schools district.
After spending 30 years as a psychologist, Patty went back to school herself and learned the art and craft of “chocolateology.” She trained at the French Pastry School in Chicago with the likes of famous French chocolatier Pierre Herme and U.S. Artisan producer Norman Love. (She recently spent a week in Montreal at the Callebaut Chocolate Institute.) Pleased with the response her international cocoa ganache palets received from family and friends, Patricia introduced her craft to the local market, later expanding the business to a second career for herself and Paul.
“Even when I was working as a full-time psychologist, I was working in the chocolate kitchen at least 30 hours a week. Now without a daily school routine, I find I am in the chocolate kitchen most of the time, day and night, to keep up with demand. When I’m not in there crafting or packaging, we’re usually out searching for new product ideas and places to sell our chocolates.”
Patty’s got a hard and fast rule about where she places her chocolate, as she will only sell to one store in a city or town, therefore making them more of a ‘find’. “We found a relationship with our first shop, Art of the Table, through a mutual friend who knew great places to shop in Grand Rapids. After we figured out how to do the wholesale business well, we increased our store presence to other shops like Santo Stefano in Grand Haven and Grand River Grocery in Ada.”
In the months since retirement, Patty has at least doubled the number of shops that sell her art. You can now find her chocolates at more fine shops like:
- East Village Wine Shoppe in Spring Lake
- The Seasoned Home in Holland
- Black Star Farms tasting room and in their “Taste” tasting room in Traverse City
- Esperance in Charlevoix
- Mary’s Kitchen Port in Traverse City
- Chocolatea in Portage
Dreaming of chocolate
Never done learning or dreaming, Patty and Paul reside in Grand Haven, where every Patricia’s Chocolates piece is individually crafted in their commercial kitchen. Built into the basement of their home, the well-engineered and meticulously maintained kitchen is stark white and cleaner than a Dutch grandma’s kitchen floor. Lining the walls are Patty’s must-have tools: chocolate forms, ‘guitar’ cutters and pristine storage trays with plastic covers. She has invested in top-of-the-line refrigerators, filled them with real cream and raspberry puree as well as her ultimate tool, a $10,000 chocolate enrober flown in from France. It took months for her to perfect its coverture process.
“The minimal time for a recipe is three days with different stages taking place on each day, with some taking up to ten days,” Patty says. “It’s dependent on the type and cocoa percentage of chocolate used in a recipe — white, milk, dark — changing how long it takes for it to crystallize and be firm enough to set up in order to be cut as well.”
A natural candy with no preservatives, her recipes combine cocoa, fresh butter and cream blended with exotic varieties of imported spices, fresh herbs, fruit purees, coffees, teas, and fine liqueurs. She strives to use local ingredients. The cherry brandy in the Michigan Cherry comes from Black Star Farms, the maple syrup in the Maple Star Anise comes from Tassiers Sugarbush in the Upper Peninsula. The blueberry puree is made by Blueberry Haven and the mint is from Patty's very own organic garden.
“It is such a healthy occupation, what with all of those antioxidants,” she says. “It’s my small way of increasing the life span of everyone who eats them. Perhaps I’m really increasing everyone’s shelf life.”
Each a work of art in itself, Patricia’s Chocolates carry either a textured pattern or a bright colorful one transferred onto the chocolate when drying.
“In the United States, we seem to be very attracted to color and patterns,” Patty says. “We eat with our eyes.” She plans and creates chocolates with “a balanced mix of color, texture, and patterns so that when a box is put together it will look artful and delectable at the same time. We like to think of it as art that melts.”
On her impetus to begin making hand-crafted ganache, Patty says that she has always held a passion for chocolate. You wouldn’t know it from looking at her — she’s thin as a rail!
So how does one decide which flavor to place in their box?
Patty’s own favorite flavor changes frequently, as one cannot have Black Currant Caramel every day. Of the 27 flavors she has created, Raspberry & Chambord was originally the most popular, later to be dethroned by Michigan Cherry and Michigan Blueberry. On Valentine’s Day the most popular are “the two chocolates with hearts on them, which are the Passion Fruit Mango Caramel and the Raspberry & Chambord.” Check out all of her flavors at here.
As Valentines’ Day is upon us, Patty and Paul will be at various locations this weekend demonstrating and offering samples of their delicacies. See her web site for visit details.
Patricia’s Chocolates are available by the two-piece pack or a four, six, nine or 12-piece box. At some stores there is an option to buy all 27 flavors on a palette plate shaped like an artists’ palette, with the flavors arranged to resemble dollops of paint.
So despite all situational variables, I’d highly recommend finding some of this artisan chocolate for your sweetheart, your boss, your mom or your newest friend. Don’t buck this local social norm – psychoanalyze Patricia’s Chocolates with passion!
Amy Ruis owns and operates Art of the Table, a specialty food, beverage, and tabletop retail store in the Wealthy Street Business District. She blogs at www.artofthetable.com/talk and you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She last wrote for Rapid Growth about
her picks of the best restaurants in West Michigan.
Photos:Patricia Christopher of Patricia's Chocolates in her commercial kitchen at home in Grand HavenVarious artisan chocolates by PatriciaPhotographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved
Brian Kelly is a Grand Rapids based commercial photographer and filmmaker. You can follow his photography adventures here on his blog.