By Hand From The Heart is a biannual Makers Market held in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
We talk to India’s first and only certified chocolate taster, L Nitin Chordia about how it all began, his adventures with cocoa and his sheer passion for taking Indian artisanal chocolates and cocoa to the global audience. And why he thinks it is important to support the artisanal chocolate makers in India.
A bit about yourself. Do you have a food background?
L Nitin Chordia is a M.Sc in Retail Management from the University of Surrey, UK and a Retail business consultant/sparring partner by profession and is now India’s 1st and only certified chocolate taster and a curator of the best chocolates from across the world. I have a very relevant Food & Grocery Retail background and have worked closely with Godrej Natures basket in helping them set up their business in Mumbai in 2008.
Why chocolates? Have you always been drawn to chocolates?
While setting up the entire merchandise at Godrej Natures basket during the launch, chocolates were an important category. I spent a lot of time researching chocolates from across the world (I am talking 2007!) and figured out the intriguing difference between fine chocolates, bean to bar chocolates and commercial chocolates. Something the larger world and even the fine food audience did not bother to understand. I got very curious and understood in detail the bean to bar making process. I was all of 27 at that point in time! I had no idea what was leading me to this knowledge and now (in the famous words of Steve Jobs) I am connecting the dots. I had no indication that a search for the finest food products would lead me to focus full-time on chocolates. Hence, I have had my fair share of exposure to chocolates from a very young age. Looking back, I think it was only natural that I did something about my passion and interest in fine chocolates!
About the beans and the chocolate makers you work with – Coming from a sensory background as a certified chocolate taster, I have an approach of working backwards. I work with most bean to bar makers across the country in various capacities/aspects. Flavour development, Recipe development, Sourcing of beans, Sourcing of equipment, distributing their product, promoting their products, educating the consumer to name a few. I work with beans from across the world and also distribute chocolates from reputed makers in India and overseas. Most chocolate makers are young and do not follow the old school thoughts but surely are worth their weight in salt. I work only with selected chocolatiers who know what they are doing and who want to make a sustainable difference.
Bean to bar. What’s involved?
The process of converting bean to bar has always been the way chocolates were made in large factories. With the invent of smaller sized equipments, this process is now being made possible by artisans in much smaller units with a lot lesser investment. This process involves, selecting the right cocoa beans, sorting/grading it, roasting it, taking off the shells, grinding pure cocoa (after de-shelling), conching it for flavour evolution, tempering and then moulding them into delicious chocolate bars!
Describe a typical day at Cocoatrait.
A typical day involves tasting a piece of a new chocolate and providing feedback! These are the samples that I receive from various bean to bar makers who have been trying really hard to develop the finest chocolates with available ingredients. I provide them my feedback. Apart from this, a few educational conversations about how to taste chocolate and also a few presentation options are always researched. The aim is to present fine chocolates in the right forum and right manner to the deserving audience. Overall my son always wonders how much chocolate can i talk !?
Your work space
I work in the confines of cocoa and chocolates (both good and bad). We are in the process of setting up a chocolate making/appreciation school called Cocoashala and this will entail being surrounded by chocolates through the day. Apart from this, i represent 5 bean to bar chocolate brands in Tamilnadu and am always looking at appropriate channels to place them so that they reach the eight target audience. Further, I make the right bean to bar making equipment available to enthusiasts and regularly experiment with these equipments to get the best out of them.
Your most interesting cocoa travels & experiences.
My 1st backpacking trip (which was to Belgium) was a very memorable one. I tasted many chocolates for the 1st time. A visit to Amsterdam for the worlds largest chocolate festival where Cocoatrait had hosted the India Pavillion with representation of various bean to bar makers and cocoa farmers from India. I have singled out these 2 events because these were game changers and the latter helped establish in the fine chocolates map of the world! The other that I can remember is a Europe trip with my wife. The pretext was a vacation but the hidden agenda was to get her an insight into the fine chocolate world. As a result of that interesting chocolate experience/trip, I now have my wife Poonam Chordia become my most severe critic and an accomplished chocolatier who experiments and pushes the boundary with flavours (not bean to bar though!)
Tell us about your products that you propose to showcase at the By Hand, From The Heart.
I will showcase the latest collections of Mason & Co, Earthloaf, Bean Therapy, Pascati, Marou & Enchante. At the show, you will see a very broad spectrum of fine chocolates ranging from Single Origin, Organic, Vegan, Infused, Blended etc. This will be by far the most extensive, exhaustive and elaborate chocolate table you will have ever seen! I travel to almost all chocolate exhibitions across the world and I promise you that you will never be able to see the diversity in chocolates on one table that you will see at the Cocoatrait chocolate table.
What’s your favourite pick with Cocoatrait ?
Its difficult. We aim to showcase diversity in chocolates. This is a chance for people to taste a whole array of chocolates, understand terrior, flavours, harmony among the various ingredients and decide what they like and also what they don’t like! Personally, I like fruity notes in chocolates and I would recommend all the chocolates with a hint of fruit!
What’s the best thing about being a food entrepreneur?
The energy that you get charged with when you connect with peers! The food community is one where you have the youngest minds at work/play (apart from IT perhaps) and this helps better ideas to flourish! In my case, I can live eating chocolates and I get to do what i like!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten along the way in building your business?
Give it your all. If you are scared of (and thinking twice before) investing all your savings into this business, you should not be doing it! You are looking at a safe haven and an FD in the bank would serve you better! The market is very large. Find the gap and ensure that you approach it severely positively. No job is small. Please respect the plumber for what he does and achieves. The watchman for his efforts and the sweeper for his time! All this comes from none other than my dad! While many may think I am already successful, I do not consider myself as an achiever until my dad pats me on my back and says that I have done a lot. AND that is not going to be easy to come by so soon! Hence I have miles to go!
Your advice for aspiring food artisans / food entrepreneurs? Do not ever believe, for even one moment, that a concept or product or idea that you have seen and liked is going to be liked by your customers! Understand the gap in the market. The gap cannot be a simple one. Your offering has to connect many dots and make it worthwhile to do this business! On the way, remember what Jack Ma once said, ‘When Selling to close friends and family, no matter how much you’re selling to them, they will always feel you’re earning their money, no matter how cheap you sell to them, they still wouldn’t appreciate it.’ Focus on your customer. They are the most important. He further said “There will always be people who do not care about your Costs, Time, Effort, they rather let other people cheat them, allowing others to earn, then supporting someone they know. Cause in their heart, they will always be thinking, ‘How much did he earn from me?’ instead of “How much did he SAVE/MAKE for me?” Ignore such people and focus on the customer’s needs!
This is a magical city! Every one from outside of Chennai looks at it with a question mark (might be because of various factors) but to me, Chennai offers a perfect balance of everything!
Meet Nitin Chordia of Cocoatrait , Chennai at By Hand From The Heart: MAKERS MARKET – 18th Edition
Friday – Saturday, 5th – 6th August, 2016
10:00 a.m – 8:00 p.m
Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park
132, T.T.K Road, Alwarpet, Chennai – 600018, Tamil Nadu. India