More than a hobby - an obsession!
Karen Bryant and her obsession!

My son shared a Kafka quote with me that advocates “following your intense obsessions mercilessly.” It’s been on my refrigerator door for eight years. Today, I’m going to use it as a road map. Welcome to Red, White & Chocolate, a two-month road trip and blog exploring the people, companies and dynamics molding the US chocolate experience. I’m Karen Bryant and I’m following my obsession – chocolate – mercilessly.

For a more linear explanation of this journey, check out the About This Road Trip. To get a glimpse of obsession incarnate, read on here.

While obsession often gets a bad rap, I believe it can make the difference between daydreaming and doing. It’s not comfortable, though. Obsession gets under your skin. It finds its way into conversations about unrelated things causing friends and family to look at you askance. It sets you off on a journey of the unknown and thrusts you onto foreign territory. It makes you gnash your teeth and then sigh with delight.  You feel triumphant one moment and a failure the next. And you devour every moment.

Chocolate has been my obsession since 2011.  Not just eating it, but the quixotic quest to become a chocolatier. Quixotic because I had no skill or experience in the kitchen, I was working full time, didn’t have lots of money to embark on a costly “hobby” and didn’t know where to begin.

Enter Ecole Chocolat, an online course that provided the foundation of basic information and encouragement to start experimenting.  I graduated, but still had not mastered tempering.  But the experience gave me the confidence to enroll in a three-day intensive at the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Chicago.

I found myself in a small group of chefs, chocolate retailers, a food scientist and people oozing with confidence. And then there was me – so close to quitting.  I told myself, “If I don’t walk out of here able to temper, I’ll be finished with chocolate!” Within the first 15 minutes, under Chef Christophe Mazeaud’s watchful eye, I was tempering!  We made whiskey truffles, coconut-curry bars, lavender infused bonbons.  I was hooked!

Fifteen minutes into the Barry Callebaut Academy and I'm tempering!
Fifteen minutes into the Barry Callebaut Academy and I’m tempering!

The Barry Callebaut Academy was my “gateway drug” to classes with master chefs like Mellisa Coppel of Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier and a week-long chocolate and confectionery course at the San Francisco Baking Institute.

That's me in the middle front (white jacket) at a master class at Bakon USA with Chef Melissa Koppel of Jean Marie Auboine Chocolatier of Las Vegas.
That’s me in the middle front (white jacket) at a master class at Bakon USA with Chef Melissa Coppel of Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier of Las Vegas.

I started hanging around the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) events in San Francisco as a volunteer, going undercover to stalk luminaries like Todd Masonis of Dandelion Chocolate and Richard Tango-Lowy of Dancing Lion Chocolate.

When a paid role opened up at FCIA, I was perfectly positioned and well suited thanks to my other life as a marketing, special events and non-profit professional. Of course, I thought I, not my obsession, had orchestrated this opportunity. I could quit any time.  Yeah, right!

Today, I’m the Executive Director of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) and I’ve been a student of chocolate since 2011. But I’m not going to pretend to be a chocolate expert. I have questions, so many questions.  And I know you do, too.  Whether you are a consumer who loves chocolate and wants to know what makes fine chocolate “fine” or a fine chocolate professional who wants to know where the industry is headed, this is a journey for you. I’m going to use my connections to people in the industry who are shaping the American chocolate experience to get our questions answered.

Please sign up to follow my blog (signup is in the footer) and I’ll send you an email about once a week to let you know where I’ve been, who I’ve talked with and what insights I can share with you.

Red, White & Chocolate is also on Facebook and Twitter for even more fun.