For those of us brought up with mass-produced chocolate, discovering chocolates like those made by Chuao is like opening a whole new pleasure area of the brain. I mean really, how many times has a Snickers bar produced an endorphin release similar to that of a nice scalp massage? Nothing against Snickers, as they have satisfied many a sweet craving, but when you enter the realm of gourmet chocolate, produced with the finest ingredients, the difference is dramatic and from my personal experience, one of life’s great pleasures.Chuao Chocolatier is based in Carlsbad and I recently sat down with Chef and President Michael Antonorsi to talk about his business.Lick the Plate: Michael, your Venezuelan roots included a German mother and relatives that had a cacao farm. It seems like a natural foundation for a career in the culinary arts. What was that experience like?
Michael Antonorsi: My mother had the hardest job that exists: homemaker and mother.
She gave her 1,000 percent to keep a perfectly run home (German style with a tropical twist) and raise four children. Watching my mother prepare feasts for her friends and family in our home was always amazing because of the care she put into every detail. Venezuela is known for the best cacao in the world, so growing up there, you’re surrounded by incredible chocolate.
It’s a part of our culture and, in my family, it was a part our roots, as our ancestors had a cacao farm. I must say though, that the vibe around the tropical, coastal cacao plantations was always enchanting.
LTP: You did not go right into the culinary world upon graduation from college, opting for a few years in the technology sector followed by culinary school in Paris, where you trained as a French chef, followed by a specialized training in pastry and chocolatier. What was that experience like?
MA: All I wanted to do after graduating from UCSD was go to Europe for culinary school … but I was afraid that my dad would kill me after he just supported me through my studies to become a bio engineer. So I continued to try to please my family, getting my MBA in Venezuela and starting up a computer networking and telecom company. It wasn’t until my mid 30s, when I was married and had my first two daughters, that I decided to listen to my heart. We took a leap of faith and moved to Paris for culinary school. Sometimes making the decision to follow your dreams is hard; but not following them is a lot harder.
LTP: You returned to the U.S. in 2002 and returned to your chocolate roots by opening Chuao with your brother Richard. You settled in Encinitas. What was it about this area that appealed to you?
MA: After my culinary studies in Paris, my brother and I were looking for our next adventure. He had married a native San Diegan woman and, as USCD alums, we both had a special place in our hearts for this city. We also saw a lack of fine chocolate here, so we set up shop in Encinitas, a laid back beach town that our families had fallen in love with. Our entrepreneurial adventure began, with my brother as the business side and myself on the creative side as the chocolatier. The rest is history.
LTP: Your business has exploded, with three chocolate cafes in Southern California and a wholesale business that has expanded nationwide. What are your plans for future growth or are you comfortable with where you are at?
MA: Yes, we have been very blessed by the support of our chocolate and our mission to arouse the senses. I believe the whole world needs this … and we just might be the ones to share it with them.
LTP: With Valentine’s Day coming up, tell me about some of your chocolates and related treats that would make good gifts.
MA: Our Love Child bonbon is the result of two Valentine’s favorites — the chocolate covered strawberry and dessert wine — becoming one. We soak dried strawberries in port wine before enveloping them in a decadent dark chocolate and port wine ganache, and then enrobe them in dark chocolate and a drizzle of white chocolate. We only make them once a year, they are coveted that much more.
We also offer an Aphrodisiac Bonbon Collection featuring bonbons and truffles infused with luscious fruits, fragrant herbs and exotic spices to get you in the mood. We can recommend wine pairings in our cafes, as well, to take your evening to the next level. And, for the little ones, we have the Bundle of Love, a bag of mini chocolate bars to share at parties or school.
Chuao has three San Diego locations. The Lumberyard in Encinitas, UTC, and Del Mar Highlands. Get more information at chuaochocolatier.com.