It may not be as outlandish as Willy Wonka’s factory, but David Castellan’s boutique, Soma Chocolate, is chock full of treats that would no doubt tempt anyone with a persistent sweet tooth.
Castellan is one of the few chocolate makers in Toronto who produces his chocolate in-house straight from the bitter bean.
For most people who think that chocolate comes from the corner store, the traditional chocolate making process can seem finicky and time-consuming. The result, however, is chocolate in its purest and astiest state.
Though Castellan initially began his career as a pastry chef after graduating from George Brown College, he became further intrigued by chocolate while taking a course in California.
“We made little batches of chocolate right from cocoa beans and then I thought that this would make a cool little business,” says Castellan.
After returning to Toronto, he left his executive pastry chef position with Oliver Bonacini restaurants to pursue chocolate making full time. Along with his wife, designer Cynthia Leung, he purchased a store in the city’s historic Distillery District.
In 2005, Soma outgrew the original space and now occupies a larger unit in the district. The highlight of the new shop is the glassed-in prep-area that lets customers watch how chocolate is made.
“We put even more of an effort to make it a chocolate destination. It’s all about chocolate and nothing else,” says Castellan. “We’ve created a place to experience chocolate in every form.”
Sue DeGrandis was among a handful of people who first brought high-quality European chocolate to Toronto stores in the mid 1990s. As the owner of Daniel le Chocolat Belge, she’s tapped into the entrepreneurial side of the specialty chocolate shop business by offering her customers natural, gluten-free and organic Belgian products.
“I always, always wanted to be my own entrepreneur and I hadn’t found the right venue that inspired me,” says DeGrandis, who spent her childhood on her family’s 300-year-old cocoa plantation in St. Lucia, in the West Indies. “There wasn’t a quality product available here (in North America.) People were eating chocolate as a candy and not as chocolate.”
The increasing number of high-quality chocolate stores popping up around the city means people aren’t just interested in eating good chocolate, but they’re interested in crafting it too.
Chef Laura Bryan is a professor of baking and patisserie arts at George Brown College. She says that this fall the college is set to launch a continuing education certificate program in chocolate making in addition to its existing con-ed chocolate courses.
“Chocolate making is a marriage of skill, creativity and artistry,” says Bryan. “It’s going to be great for people who are in the business or who are new to the business to come and learn some skills and techniques to develop their chocolate work.”