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An Artist In Chocolate And Shop Design


Truffle Guy
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Recently I was back home to visit my family (I'm a KC native) and as always I made a trip to Chris Elbow's store. I knew he was moving to a new, larger store that he had designed and was glad to see the move officially happened on 4/24 and was eager to visit his new location.

I've gotten the okay from Chris to post the pics of the new store and share my thoughts and I hope it might be of value to those like me are looking to make their own next steps in owning a chocolate store.

He is located at 1819 McGee which is near downtown and the art district. For those not familiar with KC, the downtown area has been undergoing a revival with upscale lofts and updating of historic buildings for businesses. Chris has setup his new shop in a historic brick building that has been renovated

Chris Elbow Storefront

Storefront

As I've been working towards opening my own shop, I'm always interested in how a store is designed. In the last 12 months I've made trips to NY and SF and visited over 25 shops, checking out both product and building design. That being said, it takes a bit to impress me but that is exactly what happened when I entered the shop. Just as he doesn't miss any details on his chocolates, Chris was just as exacting an artist in designing his shop. As you enter the front door what really catches your eye is the stunning display area with vibrant backdrops and simple elegance of the glass display protecting his chocolates.

Front Counter

Counter - Another View

It is all very understated and reminisient of a visit to a high end jeweler with clean lines and a smooth flow of design. The chocolates rest on a stone countertop behind glass, although the smallest features in the shop they become the primary focus and draw the viewers eye.

Candy Display

Candy - Closer Look

Something new is the addition of shelves that house other products and like many others....I couldn't resist picking up a few myself

Shelves

View from the bar

I don't have pics of the work area but you can see everything is behind glass and allows customers to observe the whole process. I went back and Chris gave me a tour of the new work area and the attention to detail seen in the front of the shop extends all the way back.

Work area behind glass

There are also other required areas in a store that invite guests to stay for a while and a visit to the restroom continues the artistic theme

When Nature Calls

One feature I really like is the bar area where customers can sit and eat/drink chocolate. The view is to the outside with glass all around and remote enough for private conversations.

Bar area

View from inside

Of course I also go to shops to try the products and see what is new and different. One thing that immediately struck me was the growing number of drinking chocolates Chris offers. Foolishly I didn't try any but will make sure to try some on my next trip. I had a chocolate bar with "Pop Rocks" and after figuring out to let the chocolate melt in my mouth found it a very interesting (and addictive) treat. As always I tried the Pate de Fruit and a few of my favorite pieces (Strawberry Balsamic, Banana's Foster, Fleur De Sel Caramel, Passion Fruit and Rosemary Caramel). I love traditional pieces but I'm impressed when someone can get a complicated flavor to work and all of the above are good examples of getting it right.

Well, that completes my tour of Chris Elbow's new store...make sure to visit yourself if you get the chance. For those, like me, still in the process of starting a chocolatier career it is a great lesson to learn that nothing should be left to chance, everything is an extension of who you are. If you're an artist driven by your passion, each step of your business is a chance to show your talent and creativity. As my boss likes to say, "The devil is in the details" and she is right and when someone has the attention to details down...all the other pieces fall in place. Good job Chris!

Edited by Truffle Guy (log)
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How would you rank Chris' chocolates in the USA and what makes his different? I have never had his but have only heard good things so far...

I will resist the urge to rank as there are so many great chocolatiers and often it is a matter of taste and there is no real way to validate opinion. However, Chris has done well in recent years when it comes to contests and recognition and deservedly so.

What I think makes Chris so good is that he approaches his work with passion and is always learning new things. He could have slowed down at this point but he continues to stay on the leading edge. Visually, I think his pieces are excellent and stand up to anyones. My experience is that Chris is fanatical about the taste, getting it right and always looking to improve a piece.

From a taste perspective, his pieces are so smooth and consistent. He uses some unusual flavors as well as more traditional so it is a good balance. Also, he has a nice balance of enrobed and molded pieces...something for everyone.

As someone who is also a bit of a fanatic I also think highly of Chris because he loves what he does and shares his knowledge. I've spent a few days in his shop learning techniques and he has always given me good advice when I encounter a problem. I know it is a business but I just don't respect those who don't share what they learned...which of course someone else invariably taught them. I have to give Andrew Garrison high marks to as I took his class and he was open and a wealth of knowledge...and his pieces are also outstanding.

Maybe it is just having higher expectations than anyone can ever live up to and when you visit a famous shop for the first time, you can't help but be disappointed. When the chocolatier is friendly and sees a kindred soul rather than an enemy...I always find myself thinking very highly of the person and their product. Sometimes the bad taste in your mouth isn't the chocolate.

I also loved Kee in NY...her chocolates were very creamy and intense in flavor and she took the time to talk and have me sample her pieces. When I mentioned I was looking to start a business she didn't call security either and showed genuine interest.

I also got some samples from eGullets own Kekau Chocolates and really enjoyed some of Shane's pieces (try the Spiced Berry, Great Scott Caramel or Lavendar Noire) again someone who was very helpful and loved sharing his passion (I do owe him a box though...haven't forgot Shane).

I'm looking forward to taking Wybauw's class soon as I think he is another example of a person who loves what he does and not just what it gets him.

Before you order any pieces from Chris I'd suggest making sure you follow your tastes (know thyself). If mixing savory with sweet is a sin....don't try those pieces but rather the consistent and smooth flavors of his single origins or caramels. I think when it gets down to it....if someone is using top ingredients and not taking shortcuts, the product will be good. Also, remember sometimes the piece you taste may not be at the peak of freshness and its too easy to dismiss as representative of the overall product when it may be conditions that have minimized the quality. I've had chocolates from resellers who just didn't maintain product correctly and it made the chocolatiers they are selling look bad.

I'll make you this promise Robert....if you order a box and don't like it...I'll pay for it! Enjoy!!!

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Thanks for the report and the pics! I'll have to make a pilgrimage soon - although I found a certain charm to his earlier spots, I'm sure this will be great for him - and his staff.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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Another store you should consider visiting for design AND content is Boule on San Vicente blvd

in Los Angeles( boulela.com ), tremendous store this side of Pierre Herme

Tarek

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Does anyone know what chocolate Christopher Elbow uses?

I know he has used a variety of different chocolates over the last few years. I believe they are the same brands you might see from other top chocolatiers and may have changed over time. I believe he uses E. Guittard and has used El Rey in the past but really only Chris could tell you the answer. I would say it's less the chocolate and more the process that makes his chocolates good. If you look at his pieces, they are always shiny with a crisp snap...you won't see anything that looks marginal.

From my conversations with him, Chris looks for not only the quality/taste of the chocolate but how it pairs with the ganache, there is a compatability component that he understands very well. He has a high degree of technical understanding and the chemistry of chocolate and how to construct a piece.

There are not a lot of people I've talked with who you just listen to what they have to say on chocolate and absorb what you can, Chris is one of those people. Andrew Shotts is also in that small group of people and as a shameless plug I'd suggest attending his class at the Notter School of Pastry Arts Notter School of Pastry Arts for anyone who wants to build on their knowledge (there is a class May 22-24).

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Thank you for the report Truffle Guy , I have always admire Christhoper Elbow's work and now I have to say I am even more impressed.

I will have to organize a little trip to KC and visit him ( I wish he will start chocolate classes :biggrin: )

Gourgeous store , I love the chocolates display.I agree that a chocolate store of that scale needs to be like a jewelry store.I love the idea behind that.Your prodocts should be displayed like that.

I always try to picture what my store would be like ( in the event I will decide to have one later ).This is a great inspiration for the artist chocolate lover :smile:

Great Job.

Vanessa

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Wow, I didn't realize Chris had moved. He used to be right around the corner from my place, but now I will have to walk a little farther. Guess I'll strap on the Rollerblades. :biggrin:

Robert, I can't imagine anyone being anything but impressed with Christopher's chocolates, and his pate de fruit (do not miss the strawberry if it's in stock) is some of the best I've had. The only thing that I have not loved is the coffee, but I attribute that to the beans coming from a local KC roastery that's pretty mediocre in my opinion. Everything else is top notch, so it's hard to go wrong.

I'd like to give TruffleGuy's statement about the herbed flavors a 180. If traditionally savory flavors in confections have turned you off before, consider giving Chris' chocolates a shot. TruffleGuy mentioned what a fanatic about flavor Christopher is, and that really shines through in the calculated harmony of his flavors. I've had some chocolates where the presently trendy herb/spice flavors border on putrid, but Chris does it very well. He has a knack for keeping the flavors crisp and identifiable, yet they harmonize well with the chocolate in the ganache and the shell.

If any of you visit Kansas City, be sure to dine at The American Restaurant while you are here. A friend of mine is the pastry chef there, and he does a fantastic job. Incidentally, Christopher Elbow was the PC at the American before moving on. Check it out here: The American Restaurant.

Josh Usovsky

"Will Work For Sugar"

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  • 2 years later...

Marmish and I went to Christopher Elbow while in town for the Heartland Gathering. I picked up some drinking chocolate, chocolate-covered almonds, one each of the spiced and fleur de sel turtles, and a box of four chocolates--caramel with fleur de sel, Venezuelan spiced caramel, yuzu, and one more that I don't see on his website (from the insert in my box I think it was hazelnut, but I vaguely remember it having "praline" in the title, as well, and it was square).

I thought I'd try one, so I started with the yuzu. Smooth, delicately flavoured, and not too sweet. I decided I needed to try another one, so I tried the maybe-hazelnut. Oh my god, I should have saved that one for last. Again, perfectly sweetened, and very smooth. Had to try another one--went for the Venezuelan spiced caramel. Perfect again. So I had to try the last one--fleur de sel. Four for four--a home run. Perfection in every piece.

I'm often disappointed with chocolate, even high-end ones. I find the fillings to be too sweet or the shells to be too bitter, but Christopher Elbow chocolates really are perfect. I wish I could go back and pick some up for friends in Japan. They would suit Japanese taste buds perfectly. I hope he opens in Japan soon! (Like before March 2010, when I leave!)

Now I wish I had bought a bigger box and tried one of each flavour. :sad:

I still have the two turtles left, but now I think I should eat them slowly and try to savour them. But I really want to eat them now!

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I loved the shop and bought a 21 piece box. My husband and I have been sharing them each night after dinner. There were a few we thought were ok or were not to our taste like the bourbon pecan, which we thought had little to no bourbon taste, rosemary, which was better than I thought it would be and would probably be deemed excellent by someone who preferred that flavor more than I do, and lavender, which was rather nice, not like eating soap as I often find rose and lavender things. I wouldn't eat more than one, though. Everything else was excellent, especially the fleur de sel, vanilla caramel and some of the spicy ones. I took notes each night and will post more when I find them again.

Note to Chicagoans, the website says they are available at Trotters To Go.

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I can't believe I was in Kansas City and didn't make it to the shop!  Next time.

I had planned on asking you if you wanted to go once we arrived at the venue (it was just a few minutes away by car, so we could have gone and come back whenever you had a brief respite from cooking), but I forgot once I saw the cheeses and the focaccia.

Sorry!

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