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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Two Cowboys on a Journey: Kako Chocolate - Auckland, New Zealand


(Learn: *** Inspire: ** Amaze: *** Live: **)
(The Two Cowboys Subjective Rate-o-Meter.   )

Every few weeks we head to New Zealand to do work for some of our most loyal clients. It is also an ideal opportunity every time, to find and profile inspiring Producers. New Zealand has many, as you probably already know. These people are examples of ingenuity, dedication, innovation and inspiration.

If you've been following our journey, you will know that we get to live and work in two of the most beautiful places in the world: Canada and New Zealand. You would also know that we have some favourite pastimes: Beer, coffee, meat, food festivals, markets, and more. For me, chocolate is a passion. I like to seek out chocolate businesses like Otago Chocolate Company (OCHO). It is wonderful to meet the people behind the business and learn about their inspiration, passion, and motivation for doing what they love to do.

Whenever we make the trip to New Zealand, I have to look up Stu and his team at Kako Chocolate in Auckland. Stu is a fan of my Nougat. That is not why I visit him. He is also the person that introduced me to the world of a chocolatier. Thanks to his chocolate making classes I fell in love with flavour profiling and what Stu calls: "Chocolate Art". Where chocolate is my hobby, for Stu it is a vocation. In his words: "The world without chocolate, is the world I don't want to live in."

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In true Kiwi fashion, Stu and Kako are punching above their weight when compared to other similar businesses elsewhere in the world. At least, we've not met his equal (yet) in Western Canada. What is even more inspiring is to see how this amazing little business has grown over the last couple of years with outstanding and unique products, market reach, and their well-attended chocolate school, which recently celebrated its 2,000th attendee.

Some will consider New Zealand already an overcrowded chocolate market, where companies like Cadbury's are running tail between legs thanks to iconic chocolate manufacturers like Whittaker's Chocolate dominating the market. However, as we all know in business: "Where there is competition, there is also quality." It is this relentless focus on quality and innovation that makes Kako such an interesting business to profile.

A chocolatier is a person or company who makes confectionery from chocolate. Chocolatiers are distinct from chocolate makers, who create chocolate from cacao beans and other ingredients.

If you've spent any time amongst chocolatiers, you will know that they are a tricky bunch. Recipes and processes are closely guarded. Suspicion reigns. I will even go as far as to call them a little prickly at times. It may be due to the precision and patience of the craft, or merely the unpredictability of cocoa butter crystallisation and sugar states that rubbed off. It is truly a mad science if you do it right. You have to be more than a little mad to make it a passion.

However, chocolatiers are not as sensitive as chocolate makers. These people deserve a whole blog post to themselves.


I've spent a fair bit of time with Stu at Kako, and two observations stand out.

Instead of being the jealous, mad scientist that he can justifiably be, he stepped out of the stereotype by sharing his knowledge. His product is phenomenal, and he shares his knowledge freely through the Kako Chocolate School.

In fact, one of his students in Edmonton supplied chocolate to a store in Canmore, Alberta, Canada. This is where I first came across Kako's colour techniques and tasted its unique flavour profiling. Seeing and tasting this chocolate moved me to research and looked up the company. Big was my surprise, to find them in little New Zealand of all places.

It is safe to say that to learn what Stu can teach you will cost you thousands more with other much larger companies, and you will probably have to relocate to Belgium or Melbourne to get up-to-date technical training in this kind of chocolatiering (yes, I know this is a made-up word).

Stu has lifted the bar on the craft of artisan chocolate, and he is training his competition. New Zealand is better off for it, and soon it will be the world (I will keep this development a secret for now).

The second part of the profile that made an impression on me is that this is a person that decided to re-invent himself, and hasn't looked back since. From being an office worker, he decided to make something. Simple. He still continues on this journey, and the chocolate industry, New Zealand and his community of chocolate lovers are better off as a result.

I am proud to know Stu and to be a graduate of Kako's Chocolate School. I hope there will be much more like me; that benefit from this inspiring little business, on a tiny Island in the South Pacific Ocean called: New Zealand.

Hendrik van Wyk
Chocolatiering Cowboy

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