CARLSBAD — If you’re driving near the Joy Chocolate Factory in Carlsbad, you will surely smell success — literally and figuratively.
It’s here at 2350 Camino Vida Roble, Suite 101, that Chuao Chocolatier (pronounced chew-WOW), the first Venezuelan chocolatier based in the United States and Southern California’s premier artisan chocolatier, creates some of the most remarkable chocolate in the country.
And if you ask co-founder and Master Chef Michael Antonorsi whose chocolate his creations might compete against, he’ll be partial and say “none.”
“We like to think outside the chocolate box, combining innovation and creativity to deliver sweet treats with delicately balanced layers of flavors and textures,” he said.
Antonorsi, 54, co-founded Chuao in 2002 with his brother, Richard, who has since left the company for other ventures back in Venezuela.
“Chuao Chocolatier is on a mission to share joy with the world through deliciously engaging chocolate experiences,” Antonorsi said.
The company was named Chuao Chocolatier after the legendary cacao-producing region of Chuao located in central Venezuela. The brothers’ decision reflected their commitment to high quality and their Venezuelan family heritage.
That’s because chocolate was and remains a part of their roots; their ancestors ran a small family farm that was once an important part of the criollo cacao plantation industry.
Initially, the company started with a single boutique in Encinitas in 2002 featuring a one-of-a-kind confectionary menu of chocolate bars, bonbons, truffles and drinking chocolate. Its signature flavor was Spicy Maya, a modern twist on the Mayans’ ancient drinking chocolate recipe, infused with cinnamon, pasilla chile and cayenne pepper. The Spicy Maya flavor has since extended across all Chuao’s product lines.
Today, those creative flavor combinations are at the heart of Chuao Chocolatier’s decadent chocolate experience including: Firecracker, a Chipotle caramel fudge truffle with popping candy, a hint of salt, and dark chocolate and Salted Chocolate Crunch, a dark chocolate bonbon filled with toasted Panko bread crumbs, and olive oil ganache with a touch of sea salt, Chef Antonorsi explained.
About 13 years ago the chocolatier started selling its chocolates across the United States at fine specialty retailers including CVS, Target, Whole Foods Market, Cost Plus World Market, Bed Bath and Beyond, as well as fine restaurants and hotels including Omni Hotels and W Hotels nationwide. It has three lines: Signature, California Line and Bonbons.
A sweet childhood
Antonorsi said his respect for chocolate grew into an appreciation for food and that it all began during his childhood. His favorite memories are in the kitchen, standing by his German mother’s side as she cooked and baked, and cooked some more. Between his Venezuelan upbringing and his exposure to European cuisine, flavor and texture became his best friends.
But being a famous chocolatier wasn’t always at the forefront of his career plans.
“When I was 16, I left home to study biomedical engineering at the University of California at San Diego,” he recalled. “I watched a lot of the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ and I thought the prosthetics that Steve Austin (actor Lee Majors) was pretty cool, and I wanted to do that, so I started studying all about bio-engineering.”
Antonorsi said he also wanted to do something that would make his parents proud and biomedical engineering sounded impressive.
“Whatever I decide to start, I always finish, he said. “I pretty much followed my ego and finished with a degree.”
While at college, Antonorsi used his mother’s favorite recipes to fend for himself, and many of his friends. After graduation, he returned to his homeland to continue studying, taking amateur cooking classes on the weekends. The more he explored the world of food, the more his curiosity grew.
But again, cooking took a back burner and he went back to school to earn his MBA.
“My nature has always been to be an entrepreneur,” he recalled.
Once he earned an MBA, Antonorsi started a telecom company with his brother and they grew it to 65 employees.
“But, I was still trying to find my place in the world though,” he said. “After 14 years, I had had success, but something was missing.”
He was still secretly longing to cook; so, in his mid-30s, he, along with his wife, Isabella, and two daughters, decided to follow his passion for food all the way to culinary school in Paris, where he trained as a French chef at École Supérieure de Cuisine Française Ferrandi, followed by a specialized training in Pastry and Chocolaterie at the École LeNôtre.
“It was super hardcore and there were a lot of younger students who I couldn’t really keep up with, I was 37 at the time,” he said.
Even though he worked at a two Michelin Stars Restaurant in Paris, he opted to return to San Diego.
“I didn’t want to open a restaurant for the same reason, it’s really hard work and a lot of strain,” he recalled.
Following his Parisian adventure, Antonorsi was on a mission to share joy with the world through deliciously engaging chocolate experiences. With his European chocolate-making techniques and culinary creativity, he felt he had a recipe for success.
That’s when the brothers opened the store in Encinitas, which later closed in 2017, and all work and the business moved to the Joy Factory in Carlsbad.
“After closing the store, I was able to crack the code so to speak,” he said. “I think I was just too focused on my own ideas; and during the process, forgot about connecting with the consumers.”
That’s when the mission was transformed to an intention: “To share joy with the world through deliciously engaging chocolate experiences.”
“Our goal is to arouse the senses with the unexpected experience of when they bite into one of our chocolate bars,” he said. “We engage in joy, and how we make people feel when they eat our chocolates. It’s all about the senses.”
Even at the Carlsbad factory, they have created an environment where everyone is “free to express themselves and share the joy,” he said.
Today, some of the company’s bestselling flavors include: the Firecracker with dark chocolate, popping candy, sea salt and chipotle, and the Potato Chip bar, made with crushed kettle-cooked potato chips and creamy milk chocolate.
Speaking of The Joy Factory, it’s where 53 full-time employees work making chocolate and where Antonorsi experiments with new recipes.
“The ideas just come to me,” he said. “I’m continuously thinking about food, and chocolate, and creating in my mind new flavors, new things. Being a chocolatier is a fun business; I’m always coming up with new recipes, experimenting and creating what I call, ‘moments of sensory expression.’”
Later this year, Antonorsi said the company will be launching a new food line in San Diego. As for now the Joy Factory is open for tours on Fridays and continues to crank out chocolate daily to be dispersed to the many stores nationwide.
In between creating some of the world’s best chocolate, Antonorsi enjoys spending time with his wife and four kids.
And during his career as a chef, Antonorsi has been named Top Ten Chocolatier in North America by Dessert Professional Magazine and has received international acclaim for his chocolate creations, with TV appearances on the Food Network, Cooking Channel, “Dr. Phil” and “CNN en Español.”
As for what makes him happy he said: “There’s nothing better than watching someone’s face when they bite into a Chuao chocolate bar and seeing them smile and light up,” he said. “This for us, is what success is all about.”