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Ask an Artisan: Woodhouse Chocolates

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The "Ask a Winemaker" series last year was such a hit, we decided to expand our conversations to include artisans we admire, even outside the world of winemaking.  Our team searched high and low to curate a list of dedicated masters of their craft, whom we know you will love just as much as we do!  They will be the focus of our newest series: "Ask an Artisan."  

First in our series: Tracy Anderson of Woodhouse Chocolate in St. Helena.

Q

TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WOODHOUSE...

A

We are a small, family-owned business, we just have the one store. We make artisan chocolates. We just kind of have fun and work hard! My mother was my first employee, and we have my husband John and myself, my two daughters, and a son in law. Caroline, my youngest daughter, is running the front of the house, and then Christina is running the kitchen. So she’s her husband’s boss (laughs)!



Q

WHAT FIRST INSPIRED YOU TO MAKE CHOCOLATE?

A

Both (John and I) did a lot of traveling in Europe when we were young.  We met when we were 18 years old when we went to college together in England during our year abroad.  We chose the easiest program we could find so that we could travel, and (in his car) we traveled all over Europe. Everywhere we went there were these lovely little chocolatiers, and - this was the early 80s - we did not have a lot of European chocolate here in the United States where we live.  We just LOVED the chocolate.  Years later, after we had sold John’s family’s winery, we decided that chocolate would be the thing to do after all we saw the movie Chocolat.  We did our research to make sure it was a viable business.  Clearly, we weren't expecting it to be magical like the film!



Q

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS?

A

The great thing about chocolate is that it's very sculptural.  It’s really more of an artist's material than - say - baking a cake, although I suppose you get very creative with the fondant (laughs).  I had my first degree in Art from Scripps College in Southern California, and to be able to apply my artistic training to food in the way that I do, I would say that's my favorite part.

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Q

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE THING THAT YOU MAKE?

A

I love to actually make the things that people love to eat!  That’s what’s so satisfying - to see somebody take a bite of something and just go, “oh my gosh, that’s great”.  Lately, that's been my Gooey Caramel Nut Clusters, and it’s always fun making toffee just because you've got this molten lava of stuff that you're trying to control, and that is always fun.

 



Q

ARE YOU WORKING ON ANYTHING NEW RIGHT NOW?

A

Easter!  We’ve got so many more Easter figures than any other holiday.  We have bins and bins of Easter molds.  We have bunnies running, laughing, jumping, skipping, and lots of eggs.  We are also trying to come up with some good macarons because we've got so much (leftover) almond flour from our toffee almonds.



Q

CAN YOU TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT CHOCOLATE THAT MOST PEOPLE WOULDN'T KNOW?

A

A lot of people ask me how long it takes for the chocolate to “dry”.  It actually doesn't dry because there's absolutely no liquid in it at all.  What happens is the cocoa butter in the chocolate solidifies when it comes to room temperature or colder, and then the the crystals in the cocoa butter cause it to contract.  That contraction is what gets it out of a mold.  

Also, when they say to “bring it into temper”, chocolate does have temper tantrums!  It really has a life of its own, and some days it just won't behave - depending on little things like barometric pressure and such, although usually we can see what’s going on and control it.  Chocolate is controlled through temperature, movement, and time, so if you get all of those three things going the way that they should for how (the chocolate is) acting that day, we can work around its little temper tantrum.

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Q

WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF BUSINESS ADVICE THAT YOU HAVE GOTTEN SO FAR?

A

The best piece of advice we ever got was actually when we were still in the wine business.  We made sparkling wine, and we had a consultant from Champagne come visit us every year.  He and his wife would spend a few weeks here and there with all the sparkling wine houses (in the area), and they would stay an extra-long time with us.  He told us that we were making wine “pour la client” (for the client), and you could make (what we think is) the best wine ever, but ultimately, we need to make wine for the client.  So, don’t necessarily make your product for yourself, make what people will want to buy.



Q

WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT YOU?

A

Well, I’ve got an etching press in my garage!  My specialty when I was an undergrad was etchings.  I've got some (pieces) on our walls at home and our (Woodhouse) kitchen is like an art gallery.  It’s our “kitchen collection” (laughs).  

We’ve also started a side business doing barbecue.  We’re part of a competitive barbecue team, and we've competed for 5 years, and done really well! We’ve won quite a few competitions across the country, and traveled to Kansas City a couple of times, and to North Carolina, Albuquerque, and Alabama. (Woodhouse Barbeque) has catered a few events around the valley.



Q

WHAT IS THE MOST PURCHASED ITEM ON YOUR DEBIT CARD?

A

Garden Herb Triscuits.  We probably buy more of those than any other one thing!

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Q

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL SATURDAY NIGHT LOOK LIKE TO YOU?

A

A regular Saturday is us trimming meat and barbecuing, or we've got family over because we don't spend enough time with each other all day long, we have to spend the weekends together, too (laughs).



Q

WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOUR "GUILTY PLEASURE"?

A

The books I read are no great shakes!  Cozy, British mysteries and vanilla ice cream are probably my guilty pleasure.  I love Agatha Christie.



Q

IF YOU WEREN'T MAKING CHOCOLATE FOR A LIVING, WHAT
WOULD YOU BE DOING
?

A

It probably would still be centered on food, somehow. I might make cheese or I thought about being a writer or a book editor. I could publish cookbooks, that’s what I could do!

 

 SEE WOODHOUSE'S FEATURED RECIPE

Feed by Round Pond

Written by Feed by Round Pond

The Feed by Round Pond is a collective voice of the staff that embodies the ethos of all we do--from making wine to making artisanal food products to just plain having fun--here at Round Pond.

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