Keep it sweet: talkin’ treats with Amanda Sandahl of the Chocolate General Store
When I started the #50DayWellnessChallenge, as part of the countdown to Opening Day at Whistler Blackcomb and the Winds of Change’s 5th annual Wellness Gathering, it occurred to me that an easily manageable daily task, in the name of health and wellbeing, would be to eat a piece of dark chocolate every day. (Of course, the greater challenge would be to stop at just one.) I opted for chin-ups, and rerouted my chocolate obsession in the direction of Amanda Sandahl, entrepeneur, chocolatier, and the founder of the Chocolate General Store. She also, marvellously, calls Pemberton home. Here, she shares her special type of maker magic.
So. Chocolate. Tell me, is it naughty or nice? Pure indulgence? Or can I justify it on a grander level as healthful somehow? (Oh please say it’s so.)
Ha-Ha, Of course it is nice! Research shows that dark chocolate can help lower stress, blood pressure and it has the highest concentration of antioxidants in any familiar food. “Doctor’s order” is one ounce of dark chocolate a day, has to be 60% or higher. Most of our truffles are made out of dark chocolate, to get an ounce you would have to eat 3 truffles a day. The caramels might be more on the “naughty side” – my motto however is that something that makes you smile is a good thing!
Next, can you tell me how you come to be in Pemberton? When?
We came to Canada and Pemberton for my husband’s work and also because we thought it would be a good family adventure before the kids started school – this is soon 10 years ago and we have now become proud Canadian citizens!
Does the name of your company, the Chocolate General Store, confuse people? You don’t have a store. You’re like a magical store… I want directions.
Our intention is to have a store in the future – at the moment the store is our booth at the Farmers Market or at craft fairs.
The name came to me when I was thinking about what I wanted my business to stand for – I knew I wanted it to be genuine and stand for quality. I started thinking about General Stores back in the days and that is how the name came about. That is also how I came up with our packaging for the Chocohappy cones. In the “olden days” in Europe one would go to the General Store and buy treats hand wrapped in paper cones.
With patience and taking one step at a time the store will come and the confusion will be gone.
Where do you do your concocting?
Ideas come to me everywhere and anywhere! I get inspired when travelling, trying different foods, from smells and from memories from eating great truffles as a child… I then start playing in my kitchen, sometime it works out and sometimes… not so good! We offer 10 different truffles and caramels now, but in my head I have so many more lining up fighting for my attention… and now I am starting to receive requests from clients: “Could you please make a peanut butter truffle?” “When will you make something with chili?”
Where do you source your chocolate from?
I was born in Belgium so in a combination of wanting really good quality, and wanting to honor my roots, it led to us source our chocolate from there.
What other ingredients do you work with? And are they sourced as rigorously?
Sourcing locally is something we want to focus more on, I feel we can get better and more knowledgeable on the options, focusing on taste and sustainability. If the quality is there we should chose local. As an example, we source our lavender for our delicious lavender caramels from the Okanagan – not from Provence!
What makes what you do different from what I might be able to pick up in bulk at Costco?
We use only natural ingredients. No artificial flavors or preservatives. Our confections are made by hand, in small batches, and wrapped by hand – with love and care. Our truffles and caramels are made fresh and you can taste it!
I also believe our packaging is unique and more fun to give and receive, even when a treat to yourself! We work together with a local artist who draws all our special cones.
What do people have wrong about chocolate?
Not all chocolate is created equal… Look at the ingredients, good quality dark chocolate should not have more than four ingredients – cacao, vanilla, sugar and an emulsifier. A fun thing to do with friends is to buy a couple of different chocolates, some dark preferably with the same % of cacao in them and some milk and have a tasting event.
Start with the darker ones and take a piece and let it slowly melt in your mouth and write down the flavors you discover – grass, vanilla, citrus, earth… then move to the next piece and you will realize how different they are! Not to mention how sweet you will think the milk chocolate is.
How do North Americans approach it differently from Europeans? What does a proud Belgian girl want to tell Canadians about chocolate and it’s role in our lives?
I think North Americans are getting the hang of it. More and more people seem to enjoy really good quality confections. I think West Coasters in particular are very aware of what they put in their bodies and it is trickling down to their choices of treats too.
As for the role of chocolate in our life – there is never a moment in life that chocolate does not make better!
I heard there was a link between chocolate and serotonin, ie that feel-good sensation that also comes from great sex. Is that for real?
You have done your research, ha-ha! Yes, dark chocolate can increase your serotonin levels – the darker you go the better your chances. Having said that for me, the sensation of pleasure comes from taste first so it has to taste good, the rest is a bonus!
How did you get into this line of work?
I believe my grandmother got me on this path as she used to give me really nice chocolates (truffles) growing up. I started making my own truffles and caramels, especially around Christmas, to use as gifts. Friends started saying “you should make something out of this.”
I came to a cross point in life, and inspired by the local entrepreneurial spirit and with the support of my family and friends, I decided to give it a shot. Having a sweet tooth and thinking of it as a “bad thing,” I decided to turn it around and make it work for me instead. I am, and will always be, passionate about food. Passion drives me to keep going and wanting to improve and evolve, which as a business owner I think is crucial.
Where did you study? Who are the masters of chocolate? What’s the best way of acquiring this knowledge? Is it a person to person thing? A youtube video kind of thing?
For me there are different kinds of masters. There are masters from history who developed techniques of how to make chocolates, truffles and caramels. There are masters of our time making great tasting chocolate, there are masters of making beautiful chocolates – pieces of art. As for everything in life I think each person has his or her own story. It’s figuring out what works for you and where you want to go with it.
I get inspired by looking in books, trying different recipes, remembering a taste and trying to re-capture it by playing in my kitchen. I did get my degree as a Chocolatier a couple of years ago, but I consider myself an “infant” in this universe with so much still to learn. I think you can learn and master a great deal on your own and for certain techniques youtube videos can be of great help. Trial and error are good teachers, but if you can learn from a master and fast forward by them sharing their knowledge, why not?
What is most fun and/or fascinating about working with chocolate as a creative medium?
When I daydream about a taste and my efforts result in a truffle or caramel that hits that spot, that gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Then, having people taste it and see their smile spread on their face – the best reward of all. That something we make brings someone joy. Can it get any better?
Are you an artist, an artisan, a confectioner or a cook? Drug dealer? Something else?
I’m a chocolate lover wanting to share my passion!
What scenarios do you imagine people in, eating your chocolate? It sort of intrigues me that they’re available at Ivy’s Le Petit Spa and Mile One Eating House… so I’m making an association between getting a pedicure and eating a piece?
I have never thought of it this way, ha-ha! I will say this – many things can be resolved with kindness, even more with laughter, but there are some things that just require chocolate…
And what kind of headspace? Mindful? Reverent? Joyous? Defiant? Or does each “flavour” have an attitude profile?
I think it depends on who you are buying it for and what the occasion is – that will affect your choice…
Talk to me about the price point? $16 for a cone seems like a serious investment when I can usually pick up a KitKat at the gas station for a toonie and quell the craving.
Our customers appreciate the value of our confections. If you look at the quality of what goes into our confections and what goes into a KitKat as well as how they are made I hope you will find the investment worthwhile. To me, it’s like comparing a meal at McDonalds with a meal at Rimrock. Yes, both fill you up, but the experience you have is quite different.
How receptive has Whistler and Sea to Sky been to quality artisan small batch chocolate treats?
VERY receptive– I am so grateful to be living in such a supportive community with everybody wanting us to do well!
It comes with a sense of pride when I look around and see fellow entrepreneurs and to realize I am now a part of it.
How difficult was it to make the 100% commitment to go all in? (or do you have alter-egos, side-jobs etc.)
I am lucky to have a very supportive family and friends, without them I am not sure I would have mustered the courage… so thankful!
Once I decided to do it there was no going back, this is one of those things I truly would have regretted if I had not pursued. We are also doing it in a financially sensitive way, hence the reason the shop has to wait a little before we can open it’s doors.
When was the moment that you thought, yes, this is going to work?
We haven’t been in business a year yet so I would be naive to think that we have had that moment – however the feedback that we get from customers as well as shop owners tells me we are going in the right direction.
How quickly do I have to eat them? I hear there are no preservatives. And I’m typically a scarfer… but I have a friend who manages to keep her Easter chocolate until Christmas, and has since she was a kid. What is the best way to consume your chocolate?
Let’s just say that if you get melted chocolate all over your hands you are eating it too slowly…
As for your friend, she is a rarity! I sometimes joke and say that our booth at the Farmers Market is the confession booth, people walk up to me and say “don’t tell anyone, but I ate a whole cone of Hazelnutcrunch yesterday on my own” or “don’t tell my husband, I hid the Sea Salt caramels so that I don’t have to share” – I love hearing these stories.
To answer your question though, because we do not use preservatives my recommendation would be the sooner the better. We date our confections, depending on what is in them, 2-3 months out from when we make them.
What are your best-sellers?
The 64% Madagascan truffle is the best seller of the truffles and the Sea Salt Caramels and Lavender Caramels are fighting for first place amongst the caramels.
What is your personal favourite?
We have only made confections I love myself, so I would have to say it depends on my mood and the occasion. If I have a chocolate craving the 64% Madagascan truffle always hits the spot. For after dinner, the mint truffle is delicious. For when I am reading a book, I will indulge in the Hazelnut crunch but I think that right now I have a major crush on the Lavender Caramels.
What’s new/coming up?
The idea is for us to come up with special confections for special seasons, like Valentines, Easter, Halloween and Christmas. We pair the confections with specially designed paper to fit the theme. This Xmas we will offer a Gingerbread caramel dipped in milk chocolate – yum! Julie, who does the papers, has made the cutest paper with little Santas – the perfect stocking stuffer!
And finally, where are your treats available?
We will also have a booth at Bizarre Bazaar Nov 29-30.
Where can people find you online, too?