Jacqueline Jacek, Cocoanista

As the Canada goose flies, it’s more than 12,000 kilometres from 406 Kaska Road, in chilly Sherwood Park, to these balmy Pacific islands of New Zealand.

Why, then, would a smart girl from Legal, after 11 years in New Zealand, choose to come back to Alberta winters?

To make chocolates, of course.

As the old year wound down, Jacqueline Jacek opened her amazing Chocolate Couture shop.

Not just any chocolates, however. We’re talking about fabulous, beautiful, edible-art-chocolates.

As in all the best stories involving chocolate, there’s a romantic angle. Jacqueline, back in Canada for a cousin’s wedding, met her Canadian husband-to-be. Odds are there was chocolate involved.

“New Zealanders are crazy for chocolate,” she muses, looking back.

So true. Chocolate is part of New Zealand’s food culture. From the iconic chocolate-dipped marshmallow fish to the chocolate-covered frozen jelly tip, chocolate-drizzled neenish tarts and the famous cookie known as an Afghan, chocolate is a major Kiwi food group.

But I digress. Given that Jacqueline could have stayed in a nation of chocolate lovers and enjoyed warmer winters, why pursue her passion in snowbound Alberta?

“Climate had something to do with it,” she explains.

True. Our cold, dry Alberta winters are perfect for making chocolate, while New Zealand’s heat and humidity can be devastating.

Still, she couldn’t help being inspired by the vibrant South Pacific food culture

“The food scene in New Zealand is amazing,” says Jacqueline, who attended Victoria University in Wellington.

“It has the sea and the sub-tropical climate. They grow everything. There’s a real café culture. I’ve heard that Wellington has more restaurants per capita than Paris, France. The cuisine is so fresh and creative.”

She’s all about fresh and creative. An entrepreneur who started her own hat-making business at 11, Jacqueline is a definitive fashionista. The vibrant changes in Edmonton’s burgeoning food scene continue to inspire those creative urges.

One of her new interests is pairing chocolate with wine. She’s still experimenting.

“In pairing red wine and chocolate, you’ll find winners and losers. The winners are immediately obvious. They elevate both the wine and the chocolate. With the losers, you get a really tannic, puckery sensation. It’s cool to play around with the various combinations; to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Although she would love to use locally produced ingredients, it’s a challenge.

“Sixty per cent of my ingredients are single-origin cocoa beans, and the chocolate is manufactured in France. I do use Alberta butter, and coffee from Transcend. Fruit? I buy it locally but I don’t know where it originates. I’d love to use more Alberta ingredients, if and when they’re available.”

Seeing Jacqueline’s work for the first time is a lesson in the art of the possible. Chocolate Couture moves beyond the traditional to an explosion of colour.

“I love all things beautiful. Fashion inspires me from an artistic perspective, and chocolate is a perfect canvas. You can shape it, design it and colour it without compromising flavour.”

Colour sets her chocolates apart. Not just shades of dark and white, but a rainbow of colour.

“It’s coloured cocoa butter. I made up a verb: pollocking. It means brushing colour into the molds, so there’s a sheen of colour on the finished chocolate, and well-tempered chocolate is naturally shiny.

“A lot of commercial chocolate is loaded with hydrogenated fats and palm kernel oils. We use fine chocolate only, so it retains all the cocoa butter and is a purer state — cocoa liqueur to cocoa butter, fifty-fifty.”

The down side of being a cocoanista?

“Margins are really slim. It’s a tough business. I’m already at the top of premium pricing, but that’s the cost of handmade product.’’

And the storefront where she displays her chocolate couture in true boutique fashion?

“I want to educate people about chocolate. It’s my legacy to my son, Oliver.”

Judy is a food and travel writer who divides her time between New Zealand and Alberta. Catch up with her blog judyink.ca.