Jodie Van Der Velden – chocolatière extraordinaire

HIVE OF ACTIVITY Josophan's Fine Chocolates.
HIVE OF ACTIVITY Josophan’s Fine Chocolates.

A Writer’s sweet encounter with real chocolate.

ONE of the first pieces of lifestyle media I ever wrote was an interview with Leura’s beloved chocolatière Jodie Van Der Velden, at that time in the process of shifting her Josophan’s Fine Chocolates factory onto the Mall.

I was delighted that Jodie was willing to share the tribulations behind one of her early triumphs.

This article was published in the April-May 2010 edition of Blue Mountains Life magazine.

Jodie and her chocolate factory

Jodie Van Der Velden on sweet secrets she learned in Chicago.

JODIE Van Der Velden won her ticket to Chicago by taking a cake in an esky to the Hunter Valley. Not just any cake, but an elaborate six-layered gateau which she planned to “pop in the freezer” on arrival.

This was the day of the Australian Culinary Federation’s Callebaut Chocolate Dessert competition, and Jodie, husband David and daughters Sophie and Hannah arrived at 4.30am.

But the freezer door where they were staying wouldn’t shut with the gateau inside it. Jodie had to fill and seal the sizable gap with tape and hope it would chill. With only a few hours before Jodie was due in front of the judges, there was much to achieve for her ‘palet d’or et noisette’ without the resources of most of her competitors.

The list of ‘extras’ on this exquisite dessert included hazelnuts with chocolate soil and passionfruit cream. “I had to make the ice cream over electricity not gas, and by  9am I’d burnt it, and knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep before the competition,” Jodie adds, wincing.

“Chocolate is complex, it has top, middle and end ‘notes’, just like wine.”

In the marquee where competitors plated their desserts, Jodie was found a small space next to a microwave. It was frustrating, she confesses: “Not just the lack of space compared to come others, but while I was trying to place 23-carat gold leaf on delicate lace chocolate spheres, the microwave door was being slammed by other competitors”.

“David and the girls were parking the car and had a bowl full of leftover gateau and garnishes with them. We hadn’t had breakfast in all the rush, so out came the spoons. By the time they’d found me plating-up my gateau, they quietly approached me and whispered: “It really is good Mum”.

“It confirmed for me just how good it was… they’re my toughest critics, I trust their judgement!”

Jodie walked-off with two gold medals and the overall first prize – an all-expenses-paid trip overseas for further chocolate training. From a field of twenty-three, including several culinary luminaries, this was a “very sweet victory” Jodie concedes.

She then had to decide which of the worldwide Callebaut Chocolate Academies she would visit.

“I’ve visited France and Belgium every year for the last three years,” she says when asked why she picked the United States over Europe, “but I’d never been to Chicago… it is a brand new academy, with state-of-the-art equipment, and, as it turns out, my trainers were French anyway!”

Jodie took two classes, one in chocolate sculpture and another in plated desserts.

Apart from new territory in the world of chocolate, what Jodie found in the Chicago food culture really inspired her. “There’s a real community feel to cuisine there,” she enthuses, “in some of the new popular restaurants you share larger tables, or sit together at bars, it’s more of a communal dining experience. There’s a very different atmosphere around food. I fell in love with Chicago.”

Jodie was also exposed to Molecular Gastronomy, where science meets cooking. For someone who tackled the best in Australia and came out on top, I imagine Jodie’s not afraid of a few scientific utensils.

SMOOTH SCIENCE Jodie is effusive about the work that goes into creating flavour.
SMOOTH SCIENCE Jodie is effusive about the work that goes into creating flavour.

“It’s all very precise,” she reveals of learning how to make caramel pearls. “They are made by adding one per cent alginate to a liquid, then dropping tiny pearls of it into a water bath that has two per cent calcium added to it. The reaction is such that when the droplets go into water, they develop a skin around the liquid sphere. They’re drained, then eaten. The outside skin bursts in your mouth and the liquid drizzles out. Yum!”

Jodie cites chef Ferran Adrià i Acosta of el Bulli restaurant in Barcelona, creator of Apple Caviar, as her inspiration in this pursuit of a sensual food experience.

“Whilst I wouldn’t say molecular gastronomy principles are used in my everyday chocolate work, the concepts surrounding it are very much part of the inspiration that moves me forward, experimenting with flavours, textures and presentation,” Jodie says.

Visitors to Leura are familiar with what Jodie and her husband David have achieved with Café Josophan’s in only five years. Sensing there was a gap in the market for a fine chocolate boutique on the Mall, Jodie embarked on an ambitious plan to make chocolates here in the mountains. Ambitious because Josophan’s is about the indulgent experience of chocolate over just taking something home in a box.

Jodie doesn’t believe that experience has to be the way it’s always been for Australian chocolate appreciators. “Chocolate is complex, it has top, middle and end ‘notes’, just like wine,” Jodie explains. “When this is considered, combinations of flavours can really bring out the best in fine chocolates or desserts.”

Partly because she insists on using fresh ingredients (meaning a limited shelf life for her chocolates), Jodie has created in Josophan’s a true chocolaterie.

“In countries like France and Belgium, high quality chocolate is part of everyday life. There’s a chocolaterie on every corner. Here in Australia we’re only just developing that tradition. We’ve gotten used to what I’d call ‘chocolate-flavoured confectionary’, which has a long shelf life and has been created in a laboratory to taste like chocolate and other flavours.

“Josophan’s chocolate is about using fresh ingredients, in our mint chocolates, for examples, we infuse fresh cream with real fresh mint leaves and add fresh butter.

“We’ve developed a signature style,” Jodie says when I ask about the shape and colour of her chocolates. “Many recognise our chili-flavoured chocolates, for example, with the bright swirls. There’s a lot of brightly-coloured cocoa butter being used out there now, but I’m a bit of a purist, we only use a little. I like my chocolates to look classic.”

Jodie is very keen to share her knowledge and hosts chocolate appreciation classes in the new Leura chocolate boutique. She laughs when I ask if she gets self-confessed chocaholics coming along.

CHOCOLATE WITH CLASS Chocolate appreciation at Josophan's.
CHOCOLATE WITH CLASS Chocolate appreciation at Josophan’s.

“Many people say ‘I don’t need a class to appreciate chocolate!’, but we’ve created a way for participants to learn how to discern quality in chocolate.

“We follow the process from bean to bar, exploring what happens during growing, harvesting and manufacturing that makes the end result so different amongst chocolates, and of course we also get a lot of chocolate tasting in!”

Jodie has many plans for Josophan’s, not least the intention to expand the chocolate factory from Blackheath to Leura. She also plans to introduce Josophan’s hot chocolate to the wholesale market, “something we haven’t been able to do with our fine chocolates,” Jodie elaborates, “due to their fragile composition and the use of no preservatives. We’ve added a real couverture chocolate flake (high cocoa butter content) to our hot chocolate mix, creating a luxurious blend allowing customers to make an indulgent hot chocolate at home.”

There’s a chocolate factory on its way to Leura. Rejoice!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.


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