When I had a book signing at Three Tarts in Chelsea, I met a very sweet woman named Cathy Selin. Within weeks, I was staring at one of her darling pink boites du chocolat, which beckoned me to indulge.
Cathy launched her delicious company, Chocolate in Chelsea, in 2005. It started on a small scale and remains available through web order only. But after savoring nine of her fresh, delicious flavors, I can assure you, Chocolate in Chelsea is worth seeking out. I asked Cathy a few questions about chocolate-making and her responses reveal someone who’s completely devoted to the philosophy, craft and pleasure of creating something both artistic and artisanal.
You have a background in pastry and law. What drew you to chocolate-making?
The first impulse was to bring the wonderful flavor experience of the bonbons I had in France to the USA. I loved the rich, deep chocolate centers either on their own or infused with herbs and spices. It was such a contrast to the light, sugary, extract flavored centers of bonbons here in the states.
Then it became much more. It was working with chocolate itself that I loved. I loved that it took time, skill and mastery; you had to learn from masters and work at it. I respected the craft. A craft with a history that was here before me and would be after me. I respect that mass production and speed are desirable for some elements of our lives, but I need a place for slow, careful, time consuming creating, some things just need time. I also love that with time and attention you can bring something lovely and delicious to people… Few of us can afford to experience the best on a regular basis, but an outstanding piece of handmade chocolate can be enjoyed as a part of everyone's lifestyle.
What are your own favorite flavors?
I don't have favorites because I won't include a flavor until I just love it. I've worked on some for a couple years before getting it the way I wanted it—tea in particular has taken a long time. All of our flavors are obtained by fresh herb and spice infusions and some fruit purees. We don't add ground spices to chocolates as it changes the texture and lacks nuance.
How do you come up with your pairings?
It can begin with an idea of a flavor combination: lemon basil, fresh mint with lime, coconut cardamom, or ginger rose to name a few. It can also begin with the chocolate itself. High quality chocolate, such as the kind we use (Cathy uses Valrhona and Michel Cluizel Fair Trade chocolate) has its own flavor notes—red fruits, dried fruits, banana, herbal etc. Like coffee or wine it absorbs flavors from its surroundings. Whichever it begins with, these elements must all be harmonized. A certain couveture with red fruit notes is perfect for a raspberry puree; a more herbal tasting one may be a good foil for certain herb or tea. We don't just add a lot of different flavors into any chocolate, it’s about balance and harmony.
Since we are using fresh herbs and spices each batch much be tasted as it is made and each year some of the chocolate we use for a flavor combination must be reevaluated because a fine chocolate may have a stronger emphasis on a particular flavor note one year. For example, Michel Cluizel's remarkable couveture from plantation Los Ancones seems to be particularly reminiscent of green olive this year.
Any plans to open a storefront?
We don't have plans to open a storefront yet because of the expense. If we had the backing we probably would. We will probably be looking to have a chocolate counter in an appropriate store, bakery, or restaurant.
In the meantime, where are your chocolates being sold?
Presently our chocolates sold through our website at www.chocolateinchelsea.com. We ship, deliver and have pick up in Chelsea. Where to have our chocolates sold has been a big question for us and we are being very, very cautious. We have given it try first with Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We chose them because there commitment to quality is becoming legendary. Their chocolate case is pristine and it has worked out well.
That said, we want to keep as much control as possible because the product is delicate. If the right situation comes up we are open.
Sounds like a brilliant opportunity if there ever was one, n’est-ce pas??
I highly recommend ordering yourself a box online. I’m not normally a big caramel person, but Cathy’s Salted Burnt Caramel was “juicy”—the caramel wasn’t too thick, it wasn’t too thin, and the balance between it the chocolate was just right. Delicious.
Similarly, I find many ganache bonbons a bit too thin. Cathy’s are wonderfully generous and rich and her quality ingredients and thoughtful pairings are evident in every bite.
These are my kind of chocolates.