Meet Chocolatier Hasty Torres and Pastry Chef Fernanda Capobianco.
Women chefs and entrepreneurs are thriving in dessert food service. Chocolatier Hasty Torres of Madame Chocolat in Beverly Hills, and pastry chef Fernanda Capobianco of the Vegan Divas in NYC are two such women with a lot in common. Each has found her niche in the dessert industry, and both are married to famous pastry chefs. Hasty’s husband is Jacques Torres. Fernanda is married to Francois Payard. We invited Fernanda and Hasty to meet us at restaurant Daniel in New York City to discuss their respective dessert businesses. Here are a few of their thoughts and a few images from the May 15th rendezvous.
Q&A with Fernanda Capobianco
Why did you launch Vegan Divas? Who is your audience? I have a sweet tooth, and when I moved to NYC in 2009, I realized there were no delicious vegan desserts and baked goods up to my standard. All the vegan products tasted like dog cookies and looked like the food from the hippies in Woodstock. So I thought, people like me must have a chance to have vegan treats that look appealing and don’t compromise on taste. Vegan Divas was launched in 2010. My audience is not just vegans, kosher and allergen groups, but also health conscious people. Those who want to just feel great after having a treat, a treat that doesn’t hurt their body, but allows them to be in shape and have the same pleasure as having a regular dessert. I consider my audience very sophisticated.
How challenging and fun is it developing products using alternative ingredients? Is the recipe development process different versus using more conventional or classic ingredients? It’s a process. I think that the difference between the French technique and here is that in the French technique, the more steps there are for each recipe, the more elaborate, special and delicious the dessert will be. Here, the freshest and purest ingredients will determinate the final product. It’s all about the organic, non-refined, healthy and local “raw materials”. What can be better than a chocolate mousse made with organic tofu and maple syrup?! You can’t go wrong because when it’s well done, it’s the real deal.
What classic French techniques do you use in your production? We use some of the same techniques as in the sablé cookies, the glacage, the sponge, the mousse, the gateau roule, and others that are very similar. We are naturally sophisticated, but we don’t try to be what we are not, we focus on the quality of the ingredients that speak for themselves. My executive pastry chef Milena Molina worked with Laurent Tourondel for nine years before she came to work with me. She has a great knowlegde of both American and French desserts and has helped me to develop new products for the store.
You finally found a great retail location on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to open the first Vegan Divas boutique. What were you looking for in a location? I was looking for a great neighborhood where people look for alternative and classy baked goods and desserts. As much as I love downtown, we have a great clientele in the Upper East Side.
What is your goal in opening a store? To show people how amazing and satisfying it is to indulge in a delicious dessert that is low calorie and with ZERO cholesterol, on top of everything.
Will you be producing Vegan Divas desserts on site? Will you sell your whole line at the store? Yes, it’s very exciting that we will produce right there, so the products will be served fresh from the oven. We will display the whole line of cakes, cookies, doughnuts and gifts that we are currently selling online at www.vegandivasnyc.com.
Will you continue to sell Vegan Divas products at your existing wholesale outlets? Yes we will, and we are also growing the wholesale business at the same time.
You were born and raised in Brazil. Are there any Brazilian influences in you products? As Brazilians love sweets, yes, I love to use shredded coconut, which is used a lot in Brazilian pastries, lots of fruits in the summer tarts, and now we just developed a passion fruit mousse with white chocolate that is a hit.
What is Francois’ favorite Vegan Divas item? He loves the new triple chocolate layered cake. It has one layer of the dark chocolate chocolate chip brownie, one layer of the chocolate mousse and another layer with the shiny glacage. I guess it’s because it is very “Frenchy”.
Q&A with Hasty Torres
Congratulations on the continued success of the Madame Chocolat boutique. What are the the biggest challenges and rewards of being a chocolatier? Thank you! The biggest challenges have actually turned into the greatest rewards of being a chef/owner of a small business. As the saying goes, “No Pain, no gain!” so as my role is constantly changing throughout the day, finding a balance for all the responsibilities of an entrepreneur and chef has been an enormously enjoyable experience. To be able to maintain my dream-come-true chocolate playland, I must first make sure that the business is a financial success. At this point, I think I have chocolate running through my veins; it’s a passion beyond explanation. I am living my dream everyday!
Madame Chocolat is a retail operation, chocolate atelier, and teaching facility housed in one location. Was this always your vision? My space at Madame Chocolat was specifically designed for your five senses. The intentional open space of looking into the factory from the retail side allows everyone to see, smell, and hear chocolate being made, which eventually makes you want to touch and taste products that are freshly made onsite. A chocolate store that smells like chocolate from the minute you open the door! Alexis Readinger of Preen Design had the vision of creating the retail space to be over-the- top opulent French Louis XIV style with a gold ceiling, enormous custom chandelier and sage cabinetry. This was to reflect the French technique that I have been formally trained as a chef. The factory side is all white and stainless steel with a laboratory feel, which was to reflect the serious side of chocolate making. I do not have lots of big machinery, as everything is handmade in small batches, which I wanted to showcase. As products are created in the “lab”, they are placed in the “finished room” for purchase. I host lots of chocolate parties for all ages and from time to time I schedule groups to teach basics of chocolate making, which the space is perfect for these events.
What is your process for developing new products? I am inspired by everything around me. This includes what I see, what I feel and what is going on in the world both in pop culture and politics. For example, when the economy crashed, I was put in a position where it was “do or die” for the business. I don’t have investors, partners or corporate financiers and since California is one of the states that has been hit hard with the financial crisis, I had to really dig deep to get creative and change with economic times and my surroundings. I never sacrificed quality, I made sure of that. But what I did was create fun handmade products that were cost effective and allowed everyone to enjoy the happiness that premium chocolate brings. Chocolate is luxurious, it is nostalgic and evokes emotions no matter where you come from, age, religion, male or female. I wanted to be a destination spot where when you walk in, you are taken to another place. Even if it’s just for a few minutes to pick out a piece of chocolate that will make you forget your troubles. I feel like I’ve been extremely lucky that people responded positively with my changes during those tough times. It was a great experience that I am reminded of every time I look at my hand-dipped chocolate cereal treats or my s’mores on a stick idea. Fun, inexpensive, delicious and innovative. A twist to a classic, but maintains the high quality that I am proud of.
Which product was most challenging to develop? Which was the most fun to develop? I’ve been lucky to taste chocolates from around the world, and have realized that sometimes the shell of the chocolate fights with the flavor of the filling inside the bonbon. For example, using Venezuelan chocolate which has citrus and floral notes with lots of bouquet diminishes a Grand Marnier ganache. But using an African bean chocolate only enhances the Grand Marnier flavor. Using different cocoa percentages in both the shell and ganache also dramatically changes the final result of a recipe. Understanding this has helped me pair chocolate flavors with complimenting fillings. Texture and creaminess are also important for each of my fillings as some of my bonbons are more liquid than others; this was all intentional to give you the most pleasure with every bite. Every season Paris, NY and Milan inspire me with the latest fashion trends with their jaw dropping fashion shows. I am always searching and digging to find the newest color trends and designs for my next imaginative chocolate creation. I recognize the beauty of each designer’s work and somehow try to incorporate it in what I do at the store. I love this part of R&D as it truly is super fun.
Your chocolate handbags and shoes have become Madame Chocolat signature products. Do you sell more of them as gift items or as indulgences? Being a woman in my industry has lots of advantages. Worldwide chocolate consumption is mostly by women, which allows me even more insight on what to create for my niche target market. As most women love fashion and jewelry, I have tried to create certain high-end brands in chocolate. Chocolate high heels inspired by Christian Louboutin, Valentino, Manolo Blahnik have been a huge hit at my store. Chocolate Chanel evening clutch bags fly out the door! I make chocolate flats for little girls as well as chocolate baby shoes! I have created chocolate gems in different diamond cuts inspired by Harry Winston. Chocolate and fashion are art. It’s endless and I love it. I have given my customers the option of gifting a classic box of handmade premium bonbons or a one-of-a-kind handmade fashion inspired piece of chocolate art. It’s a win-win situation for the recipient.
Why did you choose Domaine Carneros to create your champagne truffles for Mothers Day? I am proud to be an American and working with an enhanced American product has always been my goal. Domaine Carneros continues the tradition of excellence as it is the California extension of Champagne Tattinger. I personally love the gentle acidity and full flavors of Domaine Carneros Brut, and have the utmost respect for Eileen Crane, CEO/Founding Winemaker, who is a highly sophisticated, intelligent and beautiful woman that is a pioneer in the wine industry. For me, working with other women is very important. The traditions of making sparkling wine at Domaine Carneros has been handed down from the French masters at Tattinger, similar to the traditional French techniques that I’ve been trained by Master Pastry Chef/Chocolatier Jacques Torres and have incorporated my American twist to it. I specifically wanted to use 43% milk chocolate to infuse the sparkling wine as I thought the silky floral notes of the chocolate would be a perfect balance in your mouth. Of course, I had to add some bling, hence the gold edible glitter decoration on top of each truffle.
You worked in chocolate retailing in NYC before moving back home to Los Angeles to open Madame Chocolat. Do chocolate lovers’ buying patterns differ from coast to coast? Statistics have shown that chocolate sells better in cooler climate weather, so New Yorkers tend to purchase chocolate more often during the year than Angelinos. However, I think it’s safe to say that the love for chocolate is equal no matter what part of the world you live in…and thank God for that! There’s no competition, both coasts adore chocolate.
What’s next for Madame Chocolat? The greatest project of my life is yet to come! I have always wanted to have a family of my own and creating our own babies that we like to refer to as “little bonbons and truffles” will be a collaboration of master recipes between Jacques and I. Testing recipes will be the fun part, and I’m sure we will come up with a home run!
What is Jacques’s favorite Madame Chocolat item? Jacques loves seeing chocolate through my work, as he always says that I have the feminine touch versus his masculine approach. He says he sees an extension of my personality and love for what I do with every product. He loves my creativity in finding techniques to create my artistic vision and that he’s proud of my work ethic and philosophy of premium and quality ingredients. I truly am a lucky woman to have married such a supportive man. He is Mr. Chocolate after all! P.S.: He says he would definitely hire me again.
Photos by Stacey Joy
Hair & Makeup by Irene Delgado