The biannual makers market event held in Chennai aka Madras, dedicated to handmade & design by independent talent, artisanal & homegrown labels.
Let’s find out more about Karthikeyan Palanisamy and Harish Manoj Kumar, of Soklet and Regal Chocolates from Pollachi. In this blog feature, the team shares their tree to bar artisan chocolate story, their cocoa farm, tree to bar process, packaging and their plans for the By Hand From The Heart makers market in Chennai.
A bit about yourself. Do you have a food background?
Karthikeyan – I am a textile engineer & entrepreneur running a textile business that still pays the bills. The foray into food started due to my interest in food and cooking from an early age. I have for years looked at various opportunities to get into the food world but didn’t do anything about it. Chocolate came as an accident – My wife’s family has been growing cacao for more than a decade, and I had not given it a second thought. Two years ago, I decided that it was now or never to do something about my dream of setting up a food related business. And one night over a few drinks with my brother-in-law, we joked that we need to do something crazy, and that we will make chocolate from the cacao grown in the farm! And here we are after two years, as India’s 1st & only tree-to-bar chocolate maker…
Harish Manoj Kumar – An Enterprising cacao farmer turned chocolate maker. I have always had a great passion towards farming from the beginning. When we got introduced to cacao as an intercropping alternative to mono cropped methods of pure coconut plantations., it meant additional responsibilities and added revenues. I have been experimenting with sustainability related farming from early days and now follow Korean Natural farming and permaculture. The methods i follow also give excellent returns in yields. And the proof is in our sustainably produced cacao/Chocolates.
Tree to bar. What’s involved?
Tree-to-bar means that we are involved from the breeding of cacao trees to the packaging of the chocolate bar! We work with our own plantations located in the scenic foothills of the Anamalai’s, producing fine cacao. The plantation is pesticide free, and managed in a sustainable way. We harvest the cacao and ferment the beans as step one in flavour development, before selecting and sorting the best lots for our chocolate production. Once the beans are sun dried and ready, they are then roasted, cracked, winnowed, refined & conched to transformed into chocolate. Tree-to-bar chocolate production involves being a farmer, engineer, scientist, chef, designer & an entrepreneur! We were lucky that each member of the team were ideally suited for the different roles. Harish – Farmer & fermentation specialist; Karthi – chocolate maker& flavour development guy; my wife, Sujini and her friend run a graphic design studio who do the branding.
Describe your typical work day.
A typical work day starts with a religious visit to the farm by Manoj, handling daily farm management issues so that all our trees will produce to their full potential. We have to monitor the daily irrigation & fertigation schedule and ensure that the cacao trees are well taken care of. Karthi on the other hand briefs the production team of the days production schedule and updates on the continuous trials taking place to ensure that we make great tasting chocolate. Come afternoon, it’s usually chocolate tasting time and inspecting to make sure that the chocolate bars produced are looking & tasting great! The daily grind then leads to shipping out our orders, speaking & emailing customers and listening to their feedback.
Your plantation and work space.
The plantation is located in the foothills of the Anamali’s, close to the Indira Gandhi wildlife sanctuary. We grow coconuts, cacao, nutmeg & pepper in the farm, with the main crops being coconuts & cacao. The farm contains close to 10,000 cacao trees. There is a small herd of desi cows (Indian Breeds of cows) & fish stocked in water tanks that play a central role in our sustainable farming practices. The cacao is harvested, fermented & dried in the farm. The chocolate production space is located in Pollachi close to Manoj’s house so that we can keep a close eye on the production process. Our dedicated team produce more than 1000 kgs of chocolate every month from the raw beans received from the farm.
Tell us about your showcase at the By Hand, From The Heart.
At “By Hand, From The Heart” we would like to showcase India’s 1st tree-to-bar chocolate – Soklet; and our line of gourmet baking bars & couverture chocolate for professionals – Regal Chocolate.
What’s your favourite pick with Soklet & Regal Chocolates.
Our favourite in the Soklet line up is the 70% Dark Chocolate bar! It’s a two-ingredient chocolate that is made using only cacao beans & cane sugar. The chocolate maker has nothing to hide behind like vanilla & other emulsifiers. This chocolate showcases the flavour of the beans as they are…
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten along the way in building your business?
Start small – fail early – learn fast – think long-term.
Your advice for aspiring food artisans / food entrepreneurs?
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to get into the food space – You need to be passionate about what you do and believe in yourself. Respect local ingredients, and aim to create a healthier world, as ultimately we are what we eat.
Make in India – what does this mean to you.
We are proud about what we do and this reflects in every aspect of our business. We named our brand as “Soklet” as a twist on the Tamil colloquial word for chocolate, we designed our packaging based on Kancheevaram sarees and south Indian motifs where the brand originates from. We are the 1st tree-to-bar chocolate maker in India. Make-In-India means everything to us, as we strive to show that we can create great tasting chocolate from Indian origin cacao beans and put India on the world chocolate map.
By Hand From The Heart: MAKERS MARKET – 20th Edition
Date: Friday – Saturday, 7th – 8th July, 2017
Time: 10:00 a.m – 8:00 p.m
Venue: Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park
Address: 132, T.T.K Road, Alwarpet, Chennai – 600018, Tamil Nadu. India