It’s true that many of us have dreams of another life we could live if we had the chance. For me, I’ve always dreamed of working on a chocolate production line.
Perhaps it was that I Love Lucy episode I saw as a young girl, where she is gobbling up chocolate on a conveyor belt as it speeds past her. I’m not sure if it’s that or just the idea of having chocolate surrounding me all day. Either way, it was on my list of things I’ve always wanted to do.
I was lucky to have an opportunity last week to learn from the best, Gary Mitchell, head chocolatier of Purdy’s.
As I walked up to the factory, on Kingsway in Vancouver, I could feel my excitement grow as the smell of chocolate wafted out of the building.
This was definitely a good way to start my morning.
I was met by Mitchell, who graciously gave me a tour of the iconic chocolate factory and explained to me why the company’s chocolate is so darned good.
Some of the recipes date back to 1907. Mitchell, who creates upwards of 150 recipes per year, revealed that out of the many chocolate creations he devises in his test kitchen, approximately six actually make it to market.
So how does one become a chocolatier? Mitchell was a baker for 20 years prior to working at Purdy’s. He attended chocolate school in San Francisco and Montreal, and candy school in Pennsylvania. He also travels extensively to exotic locations around the world to stay on top of trends and flavour combinations.
A lot of chocolates at Purdy’s are still made by hand. They still do hand-markings for the chocolates and use copper kettles for the creams and caramels.
It’s said that chocolate has a lot of emotional ties for people. We buy chocolate for Easter, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, Halloween and, of course, as gifts for loved ones, “just because.” It’s that emotional attachment that has led someone like Ed Andres to still work at Purdy’s after 30 years.
When I meet Andres, he is about to pour caramel on to one of the cooling tables. The caramel had been hand-stirred and heated to 246 degrees Fahrenheit. He expertly pours out the caramel, as it bubbles in the cylinder, and smooths it out on the table. Its looks like caramel silk. Once cooled (approximately 45 minutes), it can be cut in to strips and squares.
The only thing he’d change about his job, Andres reveals, is getting up at 4 a.m. for his shift.
After viewing the caramel delight, we moved on to the factory production line, where rows upon rows of chocolates were receiving a chocolate bath. Almond clusters, for example, need to go through a chocolate waterfall provided by the conveyor belt and are then shaken, to rid the excess chocolate.
I was able to stand alongside the “snow ball” line of workers who handle the vanilla creams, each coated in chocolate and hand rolled in coconut.
Wilma Yambao, who has worked at Purdy’s for 11 years, can roll approximately 30 of them in one minute – a definite record in my books.
I was able learn from Mitchell about what to look for on the chocolate line (should any chocolates not be up to snuff) and how a good hand-eye co-ordination is needed for the task.
One of the newest creations Mitchell was able to get into Purdy’s stores this month, Turona, was next to come down the production line.
It’s a two-layer chocolate, consisting of a soft puree of almond and hazelnut and creamy milk chocolate entwined with a French pastry flake, with a second layer of dark chocolate truffle made with whipping cream and cocoa.
Sound decadent?…..You bet.
As rows of the new chocolate marched by, I couldn’t help but reach out my gloved hand and pluck one up. The varied texture and creaminess of the warm chocolate was divine.
Lucy would have been proud.
Everywhere I turned, workers were smiling, enjoying their work, and chocolate was abound.
The experience was everything I had hoped for, and so much more. It’s a testament to my dream, and to what I’ve always secretly known: Chocolate is truly good for the soul. 🙂