Finding the perfect gift for dad for Father’s Day isn’t easy. Ties are so cliché. And it would be nice to get him that new sports car, but… not this year. He already has a grill and a lawnmower. So what’s a son or daughter to do? If you ask me, there’s only one answer: chocolate.
Pastry chef Norman Love is an expert on all things cocoa, and now his son, Ryan, is joining him in the family business. So, in honor of all things chocolate and all things dad, I chatted with Love about why so many people are so wild about chocolate and what it’s like to have your son follow in your footsteps.
What made you decide to become a pastry chef?
In high school, I worked at an ice cream parlor and that gave me my first taste of the culinary arts. My first love is art and creating pastries and chocolates allows me to bring my artistic flair to everything I bake.
People like creative desserts, so being a pastry chef allows me to express art through food. Dessert is a fun time of the meal and people are always happy when desert arrives. Also, a lot of memories are made during the last course – blowing out birthday candles, finding an engagement ring tucked into the dessert – I enjoy being a part of that.
Did you always have a love of chocolate?
I’ve always loved confections and sweets. I always felt, no matter where I’ve worked, that chocolate was the best received dessert. I’ve worked heavily in chocolate and appreciate the artistry and décor, and flavors. Chocolate makes people happy
I was the executive pastry chef for Ritz-Carlton Hotels for 13 years. I left the company to co-found a national and international pastry competition. During this time, I was anxious about my new business and about leaving Ritz-Carlton and started making chocolates in my office as supplemental income. Through my many connections from my years at Ritz-Carlton, I was able to network with chefs and restaurants in the area and supply them with chocolates. I started out by driving around Southwest Florida to deliver my chocolates. The chocolate business was so successful, I left the production business and started making chocolates full time.
We opened Norman Love Confections in 2001. In 2002, USA Today named our company as one of the top chocolates to buy for Valentine’s Day, which really launched our business.
Why do you think most people adore chocolate so much?
Chocolate makes people happy. A recent study by Wakefield International found that 8 of 10 of those surveyed said that chocolate improves their mood and two-thirds of the respondents ate chocolate when they were happy.
There is something decadent about chocolate and people feel that they are indulging in something sinful that’s delicious, and if they eat just one or two, they’re not destroying their diets. And the focus on the health benefits of chocolates – especially dark chocolates – has only enhanced its popularity.
What are your favorite methods for working with chocolate?
We use only the freshest, most delicious ingredients available and pair them in ways that people will understand, appreciate, and truly enjoy. I favor artistic expression because chocolate is such an expressive medium and I think of my chocolates as edible art. The design element is always top of mind when we are creating a new line or product. For example, this year, our theme for Valentine’s Day was “Wild Love.” So, our chocolate flavors and designs reflected that with tiger stripes and flavors like “Rum Rampage,” “Savage Spice,” and “Wild Fire.”
What are your favorite pairings with chocolate when it comes to food and drink, alcoholic and non-alcoholic?
Pairing a rich, dark chocolate with a hearty red wine is one of my favorite ways to enjoy chocolate. We have a new ultra-premium line of single origin dark chocolates from five of the finest growing regions in the world, called Norman Love Confections BLACK. Enjoying them with a robust glass of red wine – for example, a rich Italian like a Barolo or Amarone – truly enhances the experience. And of course, for the non-alcoholic, there’s nothing like a cold glass of milk with a great milk chocolate!
What’s the happiest accident you’ve ever had while experimenting with chocolate?
There are so many. I have a great team at Norman Love Confections. One of my pastry chefs, Maura Metheny, was just named one of the top pastry chefs of the year by Dessert Professionals. She’s my head of innovation and all of her energies are spent creating new products and continually improving existing products and developing line extensions.
Many years ago, I tried to melt chocolate in the oven because I didn’t have enough space and ended up caramelizing it and creating a dulce de leche-type of flavor. Now it’s become very popular and commonplace, but then it was pretty novel.
What do you think would surprise people to find out about chocolate?
The growing interest in chocolate in the U.S. The many talented artisanal chocolatiers who are opening storefronts and honing their skills are educating the consumer on true ultra-premium chocolate. They are bringing the European mentality to the U.S. For the last few years, there has been a growing trend of ultra-premium chocolates and chocolatiers are growing and experimenting with artisan chocolates, much like European chocolatiers do.
The rapidly growing artisanal market is educating the American public about what true ultra-premium chocolates are. My belief is that starting with fresh, pure ingredients and singular flavors always provide the best product. Nothing too exotic or jarring, just simple and delicious.
What would you say is the biggest myth about chocolate?
That you can’t ship chocolate during the summer or from a hot climate. So many people say to me, “A chocolate maker who’s based in Florida? Don’t your chocolates melt all the time?” And the answer is no. When we started out, I reached out to a friend who ships medicines and asked him to help me create a shipping method that would ensure our chocolates arrived in perfect condition.
Since we don’t use any preservatives, our chocolates have a very specific life span. But, since much of our business is done online, getting our confections to consumers quickly and in perfect condition is paramount. We make sure each box is refrigerated in shipping. In our nearly 15 years, we’ve never had a box returned for melted chocolates.
Your son is also a pastry chef, correct? How long have you been working together?
My son, Ryan, went to college with the intention of becoming an engineer. Then, part-time jobs led him to the hospitality sector and then into the culinary world. I was worried when he said he wanted to follow in my footsteps and become a pastry chef. The hours, the stress, the time away from family – it’s not what I wanted for him. But, he’s so dedicated to his art.
After college, he spent three years working in our chocolate factory and wanted to pursue pastry, so we sent him to the French Pastry School in Chicago. He’s now been back in our pastry kitchen for the past year and a half. I was invited to be part of the Cayman Cookout this past winter with Anthony Bourdain, Daniel Boulud, and many other distinguished chefs. I decided to bring Ryan with me to assist. It was the first time we worked together in the kitchen and it was a great experience. I saw his passion, his talent, and his commitment. He’s working for our company now, but I hope to be able to send him to France for some additional training in the near future.
What is it like to work with him?
Wonderful. It’s great to spend the time with him and to collaborate. When I worked for Ritz-Carlton, I traveled all over the world and spent so much time away from my family. My son and daughter rarely got to see me. Now, I can make up for lost time, cooking and collaborating with Ryan!