Green with envy over chocolates

There is something both subtle and brash about Alexis Kelsall’s Greenvale Chocolates.

For example, her coconut curry truffle is made with her own blend of spices – teasing you, wondering whether you’re tasting clove, or fennel or cinnamon. In her own words, Kelsall’s concoction “takes your palate on a ride”.

These aren’t the chocolates you would find on your grandmother’s coffee table. They come with a small hand-drawn legend, detailing such flavours as tequila and lime. Cardamom and olive oil. Orange mint. Kelsall is selling chocolates that please her palate, and is finding an audience that is as adventurous as herself. Alexis sat down with Passable to talk about her new venture.

Tell me how you came up with the idea for doing this

I totally just fell into it. I generally think I have a fascination with anything handmade, and I’m fairly into food and love cooking at home and baking. I went to a Christmas staff party and Curtis (Jones, the head baker at Two If By Sea ) showed up with these handmade moulded chocolates and I was so in awe that he made them himself – which goes back to my passion for things that are handmade. A few weeks later, my husband Zane gave me a marble slab and a bunch of good quality chocolate and had set up lessons with Curtis to teach me to make chocolates. So it kind of started as a fun little thing, a hobby. I really liked the craft that was involved in making something like this and I have gotten such a great response from friends and family. Around Valentine’s day I had quite a lot of batches made up and decided to sell them at the Dartmouth farmer’s market.

What was your experience in making chocolates before that?
None. Nothing at all.

Not even making a ganache* or something? (*a ganache is a blend of chocolate and cream, the base for most chocolate desserts)
Every year at Christmas, I used to make my own homemade truffles, that would have a stiff ganache that I would roll and dust in cocoa, but now I feel that I have learned a lot more about chocolate, I look back at that and think, “Meh, that’s nothing”. I feel like generally what people make at home is that kind of stuff.

What were the first flavours that you made?

The very first one I learned to make was a chocolate caramel ganache, like a caramel flavoured chocolate ganache. I remember feeling overwhelmed, that there were so many things that I could do. After that, I made a tequila lime.

Why tequila lime?
Just flavours that I love. I feel like I tend to be more excited about slightly unusual, verging on almost savoury flavours. Another I did, which was inspired by my husband Zane was a cocktail, an old fashioned. I put some bourbon, some bitters, a little orange zest and brown sugar, and it was pretty incredible. That one will eventually be for sale.

I feel like all the credit for all I have done has to go to my mentor, Curtis. He taught me how to temper. Tempering is a matter of hitting the right temperatures, having the time, the patience, it’s all temperature and agitation. On a double boiler, I will melt down the chocolate slowly, so that nothing gets overheated, and then get it to about 112 degrees, and then I will tabling it on my marble slab.

What does the slab do?
It’s a quick way to lower the temperature. You want to lower the temperature to around 86 degrees. So I’ll pour about 2/3 of what I have got on the slab, and then spread it out, letting the marble cool the chocolate.

So when you’re making these, do you infuse the cream, or do something else?
With the coffee flavour, I add grounds to the melted chocolate, as opposed to infusing the cream, which I do with most of them. It’s the easiest way. With the tea, I infuse the cream, and I may end up with a very fine powder leftover from the tea leaves, so I’ll sieve them. There’s one that’s my favorite flavour, but it’s definitely love-it-or-hate-it, and it’s red wine with a hint of cinnamon and black pepper, and personally, I loved it. I have definitely have had people who had not enjoyed it.

What was your learning curve like?
My only problem so far, other than occasionally being lazy, where my ganache isn’t perfect, and I’m obviously not paying attention to what I am doing. One time I tried to make chocolate with Zane, and I was distracted and I realised I cant do that. My only other big learning curve is in playing with white chocolate. There are limitations on temperature, and I’ve separated a lot of white chocolate ganaches. I’ve learned to play with my white chocolate a lot more patiently.

The sheen on these chocolates is amazing.
That’s definitely the most frustrating and time consuming part is to get the temper to be so perfect.

How long did it take you to get used to that?
The shell …it hasn’t been that long that I’ve been doing it, and I can still make mistakes, but I just don’t sell the mistakes. It’s just a matter of knowing the exact steps that you have to take and not slacking off and getting it perfect. There are particular little steps that make it as perfect as it is and as long as you follow those steps, you’re fine. It just takes patience and time.

*Alexis offers up a truffle*
This is a new one, I just made it this week. I kind of didn’t know what to expect when I took my first bite. I mean, I tasted the ganache but it’s earl grey for sure. For me, it tastes like a cup of tea with milk and sugar in it. If you like earl grey, I think people are gonna love it. The colour is from the tea. I put a lot of leaves into the cream, so of course it would take on the colour of brewed tea.

Why did you decide to go into business with this?
I just kind of fell in. I don’t necessarily know where it’s going to go. I feel like I am at a point in my life where I am able to just let my inspiration take me wherever it goes and I felt like it’s fun, I enjoy doing it. People seem to enjoy them, so why not give it a try? And the Dartmouth market is such a great place to try something out for the first time, it’s easy to get a table, it’s not expensive.

What is it like to run a small business all of a sudden?
So far it’s exciting to have something one day a week, to put it all out there and see what customers say. I do fee like it’s in such a small scale that I don’t feel like I’ve gotten a huge taste of what it could become. It’s funny, I got myself a twitter account, and it’s insane how much that has done for my business.

How so?
For example, having people like Renée (Lavallée, the Feisty Chef), a well renowned chef, briefly mention my chocolates and then having Twitter as a way to advertise, it’s just incredible the amount of people who are immediately interested because someone who has good taste likes my chocolates. And then being able to have twitter as a way for them to latch on and follow what I am doing…

So why did you decide to make handmade legends and play with the packaging?
I get so many comments on the legend. I guess I like things that are handmade and hand done, and I like the idea that is hand drawn. I couldn’t imagine getting a box of chocolates that didn’t include a legend describing them. And I really wanted to see what I was eating, so it just seemed like common sense. And there is part of me that is still a cute little bored housewife that likes to have fun making cute little legends to go with my cute little chocolates.

So what are the next flavours you want to do?
I really want to do bacon. People have been bugging me to do it, but I am slightly nervous about venturing into bacon chocolate. I have to be really ready for it. I’m thinking maple bacon. I want to do something with hazelnuts, like a whole dipped hazelnut dipped in chocolate. I want to do something with chai and I want to do something with balsamic, like maybe a strawberry balsamic combo. And I also feel like I want to do coconut and lemon, coconut and lime. I’m hoping there are coconut fans out there, ‘cause sometimes I feel like I’m the only coconut fan.

You can follow Alexis Kelsall on Twitter @greenvalechoco. You can find her every saturday at the Dartmouth Farmer’s Market.