If you’re like most people, then you probably dread attending your high school reunion. After all, there’s nothing worse than the age-old question, ‘So, what do you do?’ Unless you happen to be a chocolatier, in which case you probably love this question.
Really, what’s better than creating chocolate masterpieces for a living? (Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not even astronauts can top that.)
Even before the first chocolate bar was invented in 1847, the Aztecs and Mayans already knew the importance of chocolate. In fact, they used cacao beans for divine rituals and believed they had magical properties (which was appropriate, considering the Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means ‘food of the gods’).
So, if you’re set on creating the next magical chocolate concoction that’s fit for the gods, then be sure to go through our handy guide on how to become a chocolatier.
1. Research the Profession
While being a chocolatier sounds fun and amazing, there’s more to this exciting career path than meets the eye. To see if you have what it takes to excel in this profession, be sure to check through the overview below.
There’s been some confusion on what differentiates chocolate makers and chocolatiers.
In essence, a chocolate maker is the one responsible for creating chocolate from scratch; they’re involved at the very beginning of what’s often called the from-bean-to-bar process.
Chocolatiers, on the other hand, experiment with chocolate and other ingredients to make mouth-watering and fancy creations like truffles, bonbons and ganache. Depending on their level, chocolatiers also have other duties, which typically include:
- checking and examining production schedules to make sure that the correct amount of chocolates is properly made and delivered to customers
- assisting with preparing chocolate products
- ensuring cleanliness of kitchen and equipment
- controlling temperature and operating equipment when creating chocolate products
- discovering and testing new ingredients to create new chocolate concoctions
- tempering, moulding and designing chocolate to create masterful creations
- inspecting finished products to ensure quality.
Essential Skills and Qualities
To be a chocolatier, you should have a passion not just for chocolate, but for culinary arts in general. To get ahead, you should possess the following aptitudes and characteristics.
- Creative thinking skills: Similar to other artists, chocolatiers must constantly rely on their creativity to create new chocolate masterpieces.
- An adventurous nature: A chocolatier never stops looking for new flavour combinations; they must always be willing to seek out ingredients and discover other ways to make new creations.
- Patience: Chocolate can be very challenging to work with; the slightest change in temperature can change its consistency and it is, therefore, essential that chocolatiers have patience (and lots of it).
- Attention to detail: Chocolatiers spend a lot of time working and perfecting their creations, so it’s not surprising that a lot of them share this quality. It’s also critical that they produce flawless work to stay on top of their field.
- The ability to handle pressure: A lot of things can go wrong in the kitchen, and a chocolatier must be able to handle every stressful situation with poise and grace.
- Time management skills: In most cases, chocolatiers will have to juggle several orders at any given point in time and missing a client’s order is tantamount to career suicide. Being able to manage their time is therefore very important.
- Marketing skills: If you’re new to the chocolate business, it’s also crucial that you’re able to market yourself well to attract potential employers and investors, should you hope to start your own business.
Working Hours and Conditions
Chocolatiers are usually on their feet all day, balancing large trays of chocolate and perfecting the little details of their work.
They don’t normally have fixed hours, because some creations can take longer than a normal working day (this ancient Mayan temple chocolate replica took 400 hours to make!), but they usually start early as palates are still fresh in the morning.
It’s also common to work during the holidays since this is the time that most orders usually come in (think: Valentine’s Day and Christmas).
As with most jobs, your salary will largely depend on your level of experience and expertise. According to PayScale’s estimates, however, a chocolatier can expect an average yearly salary of £20,000 ($26,045).
2. Get the Qualifications
The most commonly asked question about being a chocolatier is: ‘Do I need to attend culinary school to be one?’
And the most realistic and honest answer would be: well, yes… and no.
Attending culinary school can give you numerous advantages. For instance, having a degree in pastry and baking arts will give you the technical know-how to work with different kinds of ingredients, including chocolate. You’re also most likely to receive some hands-on experience by apprenticing under a master chocolatier, which will help you gain more exposure.
Most popular culinary schools are located in France (no surprise there). Some of the best in the world include:
- Academia Barilla (Parma, Italy)
- Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, New York; Napa and St Helena, California; San Antonia, Texas)
- École Lenôtre (Paris, France)
- Hattori Nutrition College (Tokyo, Japan)
- Le Cordon Bleu (Paris, France, plus additional locations across the world)
If becoming a chocolatier is more of a latter choice (such as a sudden urge to change careers) and you don’t have the time or money to attend actual classes, then you might want to consider taking online courses. Ecole Chocolat is one of the most popular sites, and it’s even recommended by some professional chocolatiers and pastry chefs.
While culinary schools can definitely get you a head start, most chocolatiers will agree when we say nothing beats hard work and dedication – some of them even prefer home cooks because they’re a lot eager to learn and, therefore, easier to teach.
So, don’t lose hope if you can’t enrol in culinary school; learn what you can online and offer any free time you have to work with a local chocolatier. With enough patience and persistence, you’re sure to get earn a spot in due time.
3. Land Your First Job
The most crucial step to getting a foot in the industry is to find a master chocolatier who’s willing to take you under their wing. While you can get some training in culinary schools, most experienced chocolatiers will tell you that working in a real kitchen is very different.
In order to get an apprenticeship, make sure you always practise perfecting your craft. A master chocolatier will most likely want to see your actual skills rather than what’s written on your CV (but it doesn’t hurt to write a stunning one, either). You can also build your own portfolio by posting samples of your creations online and tagging the chocolatier or company you hope to attract.
Once you’ve apprenticed under a master chocolatier, you may want to join a reputable company where you can further enhance your skills. Some of the most well-respected companies include Bachhalm, Bonajuto, Läderach, Valrhona and Oriol Balaguer
If you want a more commercialised environment, you can also opt to apply in popular companies like Ghirardelli, Godiva and Lindt. Another option would be to work in hotels and restaurants where the advantage is that you’re able to test your creations while immediately getting feedback from customers.
4. Develop Your Career
There are many ways to develop your career as a chocolatier.
For example, you can take more courses to learn new techniques, join competitions to learn from other chocolatiers, start your own business or even travel abroad to look for new flavours. Whatever you do, it’s important to never stop learning and to always look for ways to grow so that your career in chocolate will always be satisfyingly sweet.
Do you have dreams of becoming a chocolatier? Let us in on your fantasy creations by joining the conversation in the comments section below!
Currency conversions are based on rates supplied by XE.com on 20 July 2018.