Last month, I had the opportunity to tour East Nashville with Ed Nash, one of the best guides around. Ed, the unofficial ambassador of East Nashville, knows the Riverside/Inglewood neighborhoods from the inside out. You’ll hear lots more about my escapades in another post later this month, but today, it’s all about our visit with Olive and Sinclair Chocolates.
As we knocked on the door without an appointment, Ed–Mr. Ed with the big ole’ smile, explained we just wanted to look around for a minute. We found out that Scott Witherow, the owner, wasn’t there, but due back any minute.
A minute turned into an hour, and I walked out of Olive and Sinclair’s seriously impressed, not to mention a little heavy on the calories. Olive and Sinclair, dubbed as “the South’s only artisinal chocolate,” is perhaps one of the most innovative brands happening in Nashville.
Jason Thompson, our tour guide, took great care to explain each step of the process involved in making their luscious chocolate.
I was fascinated to see their beans-to-bar operation, and the pictures that follow show offer an inside look at how the real McCoy of good chocolate is made.
At every turn, you see some gorgeous pieces of industrial machinery–some that look like old world antiques, others that reflect modern technology.
Olive & Sinclair’s secret is obvious, once you see how its made. At every step, only the finest ingredients are used. And the combination of great ingredients and kid-glove treatment taking cacao beans through a simple, but burdensome process is what transforms something simple into something sublime.
It begins with roasting of fair trade beans, then a grinding process much like the technique used for stone-ground grits (another Southern tradition).
Next is tempering, where melted chocolate is slowly mixed with sugar to avoid having the chocolate seize up and become granulated (and therefore unsuable). Finally, the chocolate is molded to include the Olive and Sinclair stamp and cooled. The grand finish? A beautifully wrapped (by hand, I might add) chocolate bar.
Interesting, and a nod to Scott’s Southern heritage, the sole ingredient added to the bar is brown sugar. Yes, they do embellish bars with various ingredients like salt and pepper, bourbon, chili peppers, but the core ingredients are the same: cane sugar and organic, unfiltered cacao butter.
(Honestly, if they told me each bar cost a $100 bucks, I’d hand it over.)
Our tour guide was so dedicated to O&S, I had to ask him what his connection was to the operation. “Well, Scott and I went to MTSU together.” Nothing elates me more than to hear about our state institutions cranking out this kind of talent.
Back to the bars! If you take a tour, you’ll be greeted with lots of samples. Both Ed and I kept circling back to grab some more, because with each bite, the chocolate simply melted in your mouth
The flavors are incredible: salt and pepper, Mexican style cinn-chili, bourbon nib brittle, buttermilk white chocolate and there’s more!
The longer I toured, the more I longed to meet the genius behind the operation. As luck would have it, toward the end of our tour, in walked Scott Witherow. A quiet and thoughtful guy, he explained to me how he started cooking at the Cordon Bleu in London with stints at Nobu and Fat Duck. He eventually returned to Tennessee to gain more restaurant experience before pursuing a niche so specialized that most naysayers would predict failure. But this quiet visionary, now, is somewhat of a local celebrity.
Scott sells wholesale to Nashville’s top-shelf restaurants, as well as major restaurants across the country and has been written up in Southern Living, Food and Wine, New York Times and Goop (Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog), not to mention major food bloggers around town.
What struck me the most about Scott was his sense of purpose and connection to all things local, like his labels, which are produced by Brice McCloud, the graphic genius behind the letterpress promotional posters used for the Doyle and Debbie show and Jack White. Even Scott’s selection of the location, discreetly tucked in between Mitchell’s Deli and Village Pub, makes perfect sense. And I loved discovering that Olive and Sinclair are family names.
What matter most to Scott is the art of making the chocolate. As he says, “I believe in making a quality product that sells itself.” Pretty much sums it up, if you ask me. There’s a Thoreau in our midst, only he’s not writing, he’s making the South’s only artisinal chocolate.
Next time you have a chance, grab a bar, or two or three. They are sold all over town in grocery stores, coffee houses and even boutiques like Imogene + Willie. Not sure tight jeans go with chocolate, but it’s interesting how when it’s the good stuff, a bite or two will do.
Olive & Sinclair–hooray for this hometown East Nashville guy! Click here for more information about Olive and Sinclair.