Does anyone remember exactly when chocolate truffle candies became so “fabulous” looking? Today a truffle not only looks like a space-age work of art, it can taste like anything that you can imagine, as if right out of the Star Trek food replicator – cognac, chipotle-sesame, Turkish coffee, clover-honey, Gianduju, Champagne…
In Buffalo, we are lucky to have a number of chocolatiers to brag about. One of the newest businesses to take off is headquartered at Quaker Bonnet’s off site kitchen (until it can develop legs to stand on its own). Ben Johnson, owner of Blue Table Chocolates, creates all of his ‘out of this world’ chocolate truffles on the city’s West Side – the candies are presently for sale online until he is able to establish relationships with select retailers.
I asked Ben how it came to pass that he venture down the road of making confections. “After my wife completed her doctorate in Education from Boston College in 2010, we moved to Buffalo when she was offered a teaching position at UB,” Ben told me. “A few months ago I took my leave from the non-profit world to launch a fledgling chocolate business. [Until that point] our family had moved around quite a bit over the years, from New York City, to Boston, before landing in Buffalo. It didn’t take too long to realize that, between the close ties we found here, and the relatively affordable cost of living, it suddenly became much more feasible to take the plunge and start our own small business, something that had seemed impossible in either NYC or Boston.
“Last Summer members of our family went through a health related scare, that served to put everything in a different light. We had a series of conversations along the lines of, ‘If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?’ with the follow up, ‘Why aren’t you doing it right now?’ I had studied pastry arts years earlier in NYC, and worked for Choco Logo for a brief period when we first moved to Buffalo, and had always wanted to get back into the kitchen. After crunching some numbers, we decided to move to a smaller home downtown, cut expenses where we could, and plan for at least an initial period of reduced income until the new business takes off.
“When we were new parents, living in a small condo in Boston, we were pushing our stroller around Jamaica Pond one Spring day, when we passed a small house, surrounded by a painted wooden fence just short enough to allow us to see into the side yard. In the middle of a manicured lawn was a long, cobalt blue farm table, that looked to be set for an outdoor dinner party. The garden was immaculate, the place setting simple but elegant, and the whole scene was just cut straight from a cooking magazine. On our way back to our 500 sq.’ condo we talked endlessly about how, one day, we would try to recreate that Blue Table in our backyard, and have that kind of life where crowds of friends would come visit, we’d cook a rustic, but surprisingly interesting five course meal for everybody, and stay up late into the night laughing over one more glass of wine. The idea being that someday we’d reach a place where we we’re settled, comfortable enough in where we were and what we were doing, surrounded by people we loved and respected, and could host that kind of dinner party in our own garden.
“Over the years, when making career choices, or moving again, the Blue Table became our married person short-hand for ‘the good life’. Not necessarily wealthy or famous, just comfortable and secure, and above all happy. By launching this business, we decided to stop waiting for things to fall into place, and take steps to make it real.
Just looking at a few of the masterfully made truffles is enough to get anyone’s mouth watering. Then, to discover the various flavors that traverse the food spectrum, it’s as if Jelly Belly candies suddenly altered course and collided with a chocolate factory. “Blue Table Chocolates specializes in small batch, hand decorated and hand filled chocolates,” said Ben. “With flavors ranging from the more traditional (salted caramel), to the more experimental (Raspberry & Rose Water). Each month we issue a new limited edition seasonal flavor, currently Champagne in January, with Lavender & Elderflower on deck for February.
“The chocolates that I enjoy when traveling (Paris, Zurich, San Francisco, NYC, etc) were those that tickled the imagination as much as the palate. There seemed to be so much more out there beyond the standard dark with almonds, milk with almonds, dark with peanut butter, milk with peanut butter etc. The flavor collections we offer are looking for that balance of familiar tastes that people can relate too, but with a more elegant twist. Raspberry ganache with a few drops of rose water, a creamy pistachio filling blended with white chocolate, A dark caramel spiked with a fine cognac, etc. Chocolate for sophisticated and grown tastes.
“By far the crowd favorites to date have been the Salted Caramel, which newcomers can easily relate to, as well as the Creme Fraiche, which remains comfortably familiar but with an unexpected twist. The real joy for me though is the chance to experiment each month with special limited edition flavors, from our Pumpkin Caramel in October to the Spiced Eggnog in December.
“The chocolate community in Buffalo has proven to be very supportive, with fellow chocolatiers offering invaluable advice from recipe development to sourcing ingredients and supplies. If all goes well, we’re exploring ways to introduce a line of retail chocolate bars for the spring/summer of 2014. Where the industry standard more commonly develops products with an eye towards manufacturing efficiency and ease, I’m focused primarily on making each individual piece a beautiful object in its own right, appealing to the eye and imagination as well as the palate, and only then working backwards as to how to produce them efficiently.”
Once you know the life lesson behind Blue Table Chocolates, and you come to learn that the outside of the candy is as mesmerizing as the inside is divine, then you’re well on your way to the final leg of the journey – getting a custom box for yourself and sampling some of the finest chocolates to be found from Buffalo to Boston to New York and beyond.