It is my intense love affair with chocolate that has driven me on a personal chocolate odyssey for most of my life. I have traveled the world—130 countries to be exact—in search of new and enticing varieties of chocolate. I have devoured my way through some of the best chocolate shops of Europe, explored chocolate plantations in Asia and have even adventured the wilds of the Amazon basin in search of great chocolate.
Recently I found that I really didn’t have to travel all that far to discover what may be some of the best artisan chocolate in the gourmet bean-to-bar category. What I discovered was Amano Chocolate in Orem, Utah.
While others are busy hiking, skiing and snowboarding on the majestic Wasatch Mountains, Art Pollard, a 40 year old engineer, software developer and general “Mr. Fix It” has been busy building a chocolate future for himself and his family.
Pollard, originally from Los Alamos, New Mexico, was a natural-born dismantler and inventor from the time he could hold a screwdriver. “My dad worked at the nuclear facility there and he would bring home these large, beautiful, mechanical computers for me to play with. The motors were exquisite. I would take them apart piece by piece, clean them up and put them back together again. Back then, almost every home in Los Alamos had a small machine shop in their garage and I loved experimenting in ours. I guess I just got good at working with my hands,” says Pollard.
An inquisitive teenager, Pollard started experimenting with a small scale fusion nuclear reactor—nothing big and nothing dangerous. At the same time he started down the road on a discovery of good eats. This competitive left-brain/ right-brain curiosity would serve Pollard well throughout his life.
While living in Seattle, a Mecca for great food and fresh ingredients, Pollard developed an intense passion for food. Considered by his friends to have excellent taste, he used to complain that the chocolate familiar to most Americans fell well short of the full potential of the “magical” cacao bean. He became obsessed with the quest to develop the “ultimate chocolate.”
Pollard started pouring over chocolate books, visiting cocoa plantations and touring manufacturing plants in Europe. He even began tinkering at home with both traditional and self-invented equipment and pursued old and new methodologies focused on making only high quality chocolate.
Later, while working as an engineer at Brigham Young University, he asked his colleagues out of the blue one day, “Wouldn’t it be great to open a chocolate factory?” Taken aback by the “left fi eld” nature of his question, his coworkers nonetheless heartily supported the notion, but they all realized the expense of such a venture might be completely out of their reach. Try as he might to push the thought to the back of his mind, the chocolate factory concept continued to push its way forward.
His dream really started to come together in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. “I fell in love twice on my Hawaiian honeymoon; first and foremost with my lovely wife, Mihoko, and then with chocolate. We found this little chocolate shop on Oahu. They were making some of their own chocolate. I loved the aroma of it; I loved the thought of it… I gotta do this!” exclaimed Pollard.
First producing chocolate in tiny batches made from hand-selected cacao beans, Pollard started getting rave reviews from local chefs who tried it and loved it. Before long, demand outstripped supply and Pollard realized there was a real opportunity here to produce and bring great chocolate to market on a larger scale.
Pollard started applying his well-honed mechanical and software skills, together with his passion for great chocolate, to develop a premium, artisan chocolate company. Most of his vintage production equipment was made in Europe, some of it so old that the manufacturers didn’t even have a record of it even being made by them or for whom. There isn’t a piece of equipment that he hasn’t tweaked. He takes each new antique acquisition apart piece by piece and then lovingly puts it all back together adding in a few of his own unique touches. “The artisans who originally made this equipment were building it for the artisans of the day who were obsessed with making excellent chocolate. Back then, equipment makers were designing their equipment for quality, not necessarily for quantity production. When I take these machines apart I fi nd little gears and widgets here and there that seemingly had no reason to be, until you put yourself in the equipment maker’s frame of mind and then understand the method to their design. At fi rst, it all seemed like magic to me,” Pollard said. “…until I realized I was making a little bit of magic myself.”
A modern day artisan, Pollard brings his vintage machines into the 21st century by adding his self-designed space age controls and systems software. Pollard has even developed a high-tech way to better understand what his fi nished chocolate is going to taste like with his proprietary predictive curve fl avor analysis software. “A variation of just 2 or 3 minutes conching time can make the difference between good and great chocolate. Unlike many of the multi-generational, legacy chocolate companies who developed their formulas and procedures through trial and error over decades of production, I don’t have enough rare beans, time or money to risk. I have to get it right from the beginning,” Pollard explains. The Amano Chocolate factory has been carefully designed and engineered for making superior chocolate—maybe some of the world’s best.
Not just another geeky gear-head, Pollard is not comfortable chained to his computer or confi ned to the four walls of his chocolate factory. He regularly gets out to the plantations to meet growers of his cacao and vanilla beans. He always brings the growers samples of how he has transformed their harvests and he gets rave reviews from the fields. One day a burly, old farmer with large, rough hands and a stooped back brought tears to the chocolate maker’s eyes. “Your chocolate,” he said, “is like the rapids of a river… the exciting flavors keep rolling along my tongue.” “That poetry could only come from a man who works the land toiling with his hands in the cacao fi elds of the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela,” said Pollard. “It is so exciting to see how they react to the fi nished chocolate made from their beans with their region’s name on the packaging.” With a deep respect for their hard work and commitment to quality, Pollard works with the farmers to help them improve their growing, fermentation and drying methods, and he pays them signifi cantly above the so called “fair-trade” market prices because, Pollard says, “it’s the right thing to do.”
Most would think it’s fun to travel to far-flung exotic lands, and while it is definitely rewarding, it is very grueling work out in some of the most remote and primitive areas of Venezuela, Ecuador and Tahiti. He is sometimes gone for up to two weeks at a clip working from early morning to late night. He often feels he needs a real vacation from his so-called “vacation” when he returns.
All the travel, long hours and hard work are not in vain; his results are no less than spectacular. I sampled the Ocumare Grand Cru Premium Dark Chocolate (70%). Now, I am not at all fond of the politics of Hugo Chavez, but I loved the fl avor from the cacao beans of the region. This premium chocolate is made from the fi nest Ocumare Valley, Venezuela has to offer. I found the Ocumare Grand Cru pleasing to the nose and possessing a big, complex chocolate front fl avor with a touch of light, natural red berries and cherries. The Madagascar Premium Dark Chocolate (70%) is a deep, rich warm chocolate enveloped with natural fruity notes. Both are available for $6.95 for a 2-ounce bar on the Amano website (www.amanochocolate. com).
Soon to be released is Amano Jembrana, a new single-origin bar from Indonesia. Nick- named “The Bali Bar,” it will be the very fi rst to feature chocolate from the beautiful island of Bali. The fl avor profi le promises to be a rich, woody, mild and mellow exotic chocolate, just like the island from where it comes. Today, the award-winning artisan bean-to-bar chocolate maker is sounding more and more like artisan vintners with their single-origin, estate grown harvests, new yearly releases and pairings with foods, beverages and occasions. They’re all obsessive-compulsive craftsman driven to create great products with the excitement of a child and the passion of a Casanova.
For Art Pollard, Amano represents the perfect time, the perfect place, the perfect job and an ideal life. It allows him to pursue his passion and to satisfy his desire to learn and understand everything about chocolate. It showcases both his scientifi c and artisanal talents, yielding great chocolate that is reminiscent of the lands from which the cacao beans are grown.
On a recent trip to Paris, Pollard and his wife were admiring the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and the impact the master had on the art world. Da Vinci painted on the same canvasses and used the same paints as others, but while they were painting pictures, Da Vinci was creating masterpieces. Similarly, Pollard uses similar ingredients and techniques as other artisan chocolate makers... is he creating “chocolate masterpieces”? “I’m not sure we are at the point where we can call our chocolate a “masterpiece” yet, but I believe it to be very good, and perhaps as we grow and our techniques are honed, our chocolate will be appreciated by those who know and love chocolate like we do. In the end, that is all we can ask for.”
Ed Engoron is an award-winning Hollywood art director, illustrator and director, and a highly accomplished restaurateur, professional food consultant and co-founder of Choclatique… chocolates out of the box!, an artisan chocolate company in Southern California. He trained with the masters at such prestigious institutions as the famed Cordon Bleu and Meraux Chocolate Company in Paris.