An Interview with Kate Weiser, Dallas' Next Top Chocolatier
In the world of food, there are few skills more complicated than producing excellent chocolate. The United States may not have the chocolate-making reputation of, say, France or Belgium, but there are plenty of chocolatiers across the country who have been trying to elevate the American palate. Even though most of us are more used to Hershey's bars than bittersweet dark chocolates, the trend seems to be growing.
She may have just opened up her new shop in Trinity Groves, but Kate Weiser has been a fixture in the Dallas dessert scene for longer than you might realize. After getting her start at Chocolate Secrets, the young and effervescent Weiser is stretching her wings at Trinity Groves. Just a few days after opening her new shop, I sat down to talk with Weiser about opening her first business, how she became a chocolatier, and the one chocolate flavor that she really doesn't enjoy.
Your new shop, Kate Weiser Chocolate, has only been open for a few days. What has the first week been like?
It's insanity. More than crazy. The cheesy answer that most people would say is that it is a dream come true, and it really, really is. I'm probably working 18-hour days right now, and it's honestly so much fun. Every part of it. Even the boring stuff like invoicing and getting my dry storage organized. All of that is fun because it's all mine. I'm totally in love with every single step of the process, from making the chocolate to putting them in the packaging.
It's like having a baby that you can't put in a carseat and take with you places. I have to be here to take care of my baby. It's scary to leave, even if it's just to go get something to eat for lunch. I'm here all the time.
I know that you guys had experienced some delays in opening. Was that related to the city and permitting, or were there other forces at play?
I actually think it was an excellent strategy on Trinity Groves' part. When all of the incubators got involved with Trinity Groves, the idea was to open every place at the same time. But then they realized that it would be so much better if we let each incubator kind of have their own moment in the sun. We decided to stagger the openings of the restaurants and shops here so that everyone could generate their own excitement. For me, that was great because I started wholesaling in the meantime.
By the time we opened up the storefront, I wanted everyone to have heard about me and my chocolate. People were already enjoying my chocolate from places like Eatzi's and Ascension Coffee, and now they come into the store and tell me how excited they were that the shop had opened. So I guess our plan to build the hype worked.
How did you become a chocolatier?
Oh man, total fluke. I went to culinary school about ten years ago, right out of high school. I really wanted to be in fine dining and work in the restaurant scene. I met my husband after I finished culinary school, and he had moved to Dallas, but I was in love with the restaurant that I was working with. For two years, he tried to convince me to move to Dallas, and I just wasn't having it. Finally I decided to, and we ended up getting married.
When I moved here, I was looking for a gig as a pastry chef, but I couldn't really find something that I fell in love with. I just kind of strolled into Chocolate Secrets, and it was kind of fate. She had just lost her chocolatier, and I walked in not knowing anything about chocolate. I know about pastry, though, and I knew I could figure it out as I went along. So we tried it out and I realized how awful I was at making chocolate. It was this great challenge. I would make chocolate, then go home and research what I was doing wrong technically. I really had to learn it all by myself, and I gained confidence over time. I did a painted collection at Chocolate Secrets that got a lot of buzz, and it just sort of took off from there. After getting all that positive attention, I thought that there might be something to me making chocolate.
Is that why you left Chocolate Secrets? To start your own shop?
Absolutely. I left to start this business. If I didn't have Kate Weiser Chocolate, I would definitely still be working there. I love that place, and it was such a great experience for me as a chef and chocolatier. I really thought that opening my own shop was going to be a retirement plan, something I would do after the kids are at college. But Trinity Groves literally landed in my lap, and I had to decide if I was going to take the risk and start my own place or just keep doing what I was doing. It was hard to leave Chocolate Secrets because I loved it so much, but I knew I would always look back and say 'what if' if I didn't take this opportunity, so I took it.
What made Trinity Groves the right fit for you as both a chocolatier and businesswoman?
They provided something that I didn't have: business experience. I'm 28, and that's pretty young to start your own company. There are so many things involved in starting a company, and that's what they're really good at. I make chocolate. I don't know anything about what makes a good POS system or how to do accounting, so there were a lot of holes. I probably could have figured all that out on my own given many, many chances to make mistakes, but they have a team that helps you do it right from the start. To start a company and do it right from week one? That's crazy, and of course that really appealed to me. And Phil [Romano] and Stuart [Fitts] are so proud of me, and they want to see this place grow. To be surrounded by people who believe in you so much was really the biggest part of why it works for me.
When you walk in the door, there's no mistaking who this chocolate shop belongs to. It is thoroughly branded with Kate Weiser. Was it intimidating to brand your very first business with both your face and your name?
Absolutely. I'm twenty-eight, and I'm not completely and totally comfortable in my own skin yet. I'm sure when I'm fifty, I'll think I'm great and not care about having a huge picture of myself on the wall, but it was intimidating. This photograph was taken by one of my best friends, and I showed it to my business partner and he's actually the one who suggested I put it on the wall. I initially was really nervous about it, but it did make sense. I am the brand, and it's a talking piece in this store. People want to take selfies in front of it, they're picking my nose, and that's been funny.
I had to get used to being in the public eye, but I'm getting used to it. I also don't look like that all the time. That's makeup, that's PhotoShop, and people don't even realize that picture is me when they walk into the shop. They'll ask me, and I always say that it's a professional model. Making fun of it has been fun, but I still worry that people think that I'm really full of myself. It wasn't my idea, but I do like it now.
Back to the chocolates. The bonbons are beautiful, and that's part of the reason that people love them so much. What made you decide to hand-paint chocolates? Do you have a background in art?
Nope, not at all. I draw stick figures. I would never have considered myself an artist. I think it's funny because we're kind of like the pretty girl in school. You walk in here and see all these pretty chocolates in the case, but we only spend about 10% of our time on the appearance. There are certain rules you have to follow according to the flavors. If you're making a pineapple chocolate, you've got to incorporate yellow, gold, and green. We'll never make a raspberry chocolate that is green, because that just doesn't make sense. It only takes about ten minutes to figure out how to paint them, but we spend months working on flavor, texture, and mouthfeel. People do really focus on the appearance because it smacks you in the face, but my team is mainly focused on the taste and the quality. That might get swept under the rug a little, but that's what matters to us.
Does that bother you?
A little, yeah. I love when people say that my chocolates are too pretty to eat, but please eat them! I've worked so hard to make sure that they taste good. I gave a box to my grandma and she put them up on her mantle and invited all her friends to come look at the pretty chocolates, and she never ate them. So, eat the chocolate. I make pretty chocolate, but they taste damn delicious. That's my gig.
How do you develop such intense flavors in your chocolates? Where do the ideas come from?
When I was choosing my collection, I knew that there were some staples I would need to have. I want people to be able to find something they know that they like, so I've kept the flavors familar. Everybody knows what peanut brittle tastes like. I'm not using some weird spices that people don't recognize, and I think that's important. I want everyone to feel welcome here, and that means using familiar flavors. We're presenting the chocolate in such a crazy way, so people have to know that when they bite into the chocolate, it's going to be something that they'll recognize. Otherwise, I think people would be really intimidated.
I did flavors that are from my own childhood. My dad loves key lime pie, and I remember eating buttery popcorn on the couch with my mom in front of the TV when I was growing up. I also love fruit and chocolate together, like passion fruit, strawberry, and raspberry. And then I have the staples. As a chocolatier, you have to have a coffee chocolate and chocolate with nuts. And I think this formula is kind of working. We've only been open for a few days, but I haven't had anyone ask for something that we don't have in the case.
Are there any traditional chocolate flavors that you don't like?
Oh yes. I will keep making these for everyone out there that loves them, but I'm not a fan of cherry cordials at all. We're actually sold out of them right now. The older generation still really loves cherry cordials, but they're not my thing. I eat all of my chocolates, but I won't really eat that one unless I'm tweaking the recipe or something.
But there are still a ton of flavors in the case, maybe more than at Chocolate Secrets or anywhere else. What is that production process like?
Really, really overwhelming. I have a great team, but it's still intense. We already have to buy more molds and increase production because we're selling out. That's a good problem to have, but we've already been selling out at least one flavor a day, and that's insane. Especially when you're talking about the holidays coming up. I did set myself up with a lot of flavors from the beginning, and I'm kind of regretting that right now. But we have something for everyone, so I guess that's the trade-off.
What about the process of creating the recipe and getting the best flavor in each bonbon? You've talked about how tedious it can be before.
It is always ongoing. Just last week before we opened, we were tweaking the orange butterscotch bonbon. We have to get a perfect texture because the caramel can't be too gooey or too hard, so it's a constant process of adding 50 grams of this or taking out 20 grams of that to get the right consistency. Then, you have the new products that are constantly coming out on the market. I'm really into this Valrhona Opalys, which is this amazing white chocolate, and we've had to start all over and re-do the recipe that use that chocolate. Other times, it's beautiful and amazing after one shot. Certain bonbons give me more headaches than others, that's for sure.
Which are the most complicated?
The liquor bonbons. Eesh. They're so popular, so I have to keep working on them. We have four flavors, and it's basically a shot of alcohol inside a truffle. I think we actually have to card people who are buying these, and they're very complicated. They don't come from a mold, and the recipe is very technical. It involves hydrometers and a lot of chemistry, and those are a pain in the butt. I love to eat them, and I love to see people's faces when they eat them. The center is liquid, and you can tell the instant that it explodes. People love them, I hate making them. But I'm going to keep making them.
How long does the process take? Does it vary from chocolate to chocolate?
Nope, it takes about four days, and you can see exactly where we are in the process in our open kitchen. We have two dedicated chefs on bonbons alone. First, we "paint" the chocolate with chocolate and cocoa butter, then fill and cap them. I can get really technical if you want to take a nap. It's a long story, but it's really fascinating to watch. If you come in and see us, we're happy to explain the process.
How did ice cream fit into your chocolate-making equation?
Number one, it's really hot in Dallas. Trinity Groves also doesn't really have a dedicated ice creamery, and I wanted to increase my sales when people aren't buying chocolate. When it's August hot out there, you don't really crave a bonbon. You want something cold, like ice cream or a frozen drink. It was really a business decision to do ice cream, but I love my ice creams. When they're freshly spun, they're the best thing ever. We have some unexpected flavors, like sweet basil and balsamic ice cream, and everything has its own housemade topping. We'll keep the ice cream throughout the year, but we might pare it down during the colder months.
How much chocolate do you actually eat on a given day? Be honest.
I have chocolate every day, multiple times a day. I taste everything, so it's not like I'm eating a lot of chocolate, but I do eat it frequently. It helps me make sure that I'm being consistent, and I sometimes realize that flavors are sometimes really tricky. The mango habanero, for example. That one is really hard to keep consistent because it's all about how hot the pepper is and how long it steeps in the cream. I'll usually warn customers if a batch is particularly hot, and you really never know what you're going to get.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Dallas dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.