Just in time for Valentine’s day, we introduce you to today’s FACE, Kristen Hard. Kristen is the founder and head chocolate creator of Cacao Atlanta, an artisanal chocolate company that focuses on the bean-to-bar method. We are delighted to have Kristen and her pretty chocolates join us today!
You grew up in Atlanta and traveled the world before coming back. What led you back home?
I went through the common twenty-something need for exploration while taking a break from law school. It was through these travels and my time as a chef on a yacht, that I discovered my passion for chocolate and felt drawn back to Atlanta to solidify this dream.
What was the most difficult step in opening the doors of your first chocolate shop?
I had no idea what to expect. My original plan was to open just the factory. Somewhere along the process, I decided to open a small retail space. I had no idea whether anyone would come or how anyone would know where to find me, but within the first 3 days of opening I had the best food critics in the city as customers.
Can you explain what the bean-to-bar method means?
- A complicated process by which cacao is turned into chocolate.
- This process includes: roasting the beans; breaking them into small pieces (called nibs) and removing the shells (winnowing); grinding the nibs to form a chocolate paste; then refining and conching (forceful kneading) to produce desired smoothness and develop flavors. The chocolate is tempered, then poured into molds.
- Bean to bar producers are both small and large scale, but the artisanal ‘micro-batch’ producers use between 50 and 1000 lbs. at a time, with just one or two people making the chocolate.
- The creator of bean-to-bar chocolate is called a chocolate maker. A chocolate maker buys and roasts cocoa beans and grinds them into chocolate. A chocolatier makes chocolate creations from an existing bar called couverture.
- This process is difficult, highly specialized and very expensive to maintain.
What is your favorite piece of advice you have ever been given?
My favorite piece of advice is from a friend and artist Todd Murphy. He said “stay true to your vision, you’ve got it. Keep making it happen.”
Who are your mentors or influences in your life?
My mentors and influences are many. My two business partners, for one, provide me with guidance and peace of mind when making big decisions. They encourage my creativity and vision.
You were a chef at a Cuban restaurant and on a private yacht before you began making chocolate. Do you think the time you spent as a chef influences the flavors you combine with chocolate?
Absolutely. I like to meld together flavors that complement each other but are not too off the wall. I will never use bacon in my chocolate.
Do your taste buds prefer sweet or savory?
My taste buds prefer savory. Though during my pregnancy, ice cream was a favorite treat.
Do you believe that chocolate is an aphrodisiac?
High percentage cacao dark chocolate has been scientifically proven as an aphrodisiac. It naturally contains theobromine and phenylethlamine which, together, mimic the feeling of having an orgasm.
What is your favorite way to eat chocolate (truffles, chocolate back, sipping chocolate, etc.)?
I like chocolate to be my first and last bite of the day. Each day brings a new craving. Some days I feel like having a simple bar. Others, I want something a little more decadent.
What is your favorite thing to cook for your family?
Southern food- fried chicken and macaroni cheese. On the other end of the spectrum, fresh pasta.
What is your favorite thing about Atlanta?
It’s home. The greenery, the food, and the people. What better place to start a chocolate revolution.
What is your favorite place to eat dinner in Atlanta?
My favorite chefs in Atlanta are David Sweeney from Cakes and Ale and Eddie Russel from Parish. They cook from their soul and you can tell.
What is your favorite way to relax?
Hanging out with my beautiful daughter Delphine.
What are three things you could not live without (besides God, family, and friends)?
Chocolate, my curiosity, and my Mont Blanc pen. I don’t write with anything else.
Thank you, Kristen!
Visit Cacao Atlanta online at www.cacaoatlanta.com.
Buckhead: 2817 Peachtree Road (next to Felini’s) / 404.467.4670
Virginia-Highlands: 1064 N. Highland Avenue / 404.892.8202
Inman Park (Factory Store): 312 C N. Highland Avenue / 404.221.9090
And, a very big thank you to our FACES photographer, Amy Lesesne!