Tammy MacDonald’s chocolate factory is about as far away from Willy Wonka as you could imagine. The magic happens in an unassuming home in a Morinville subdivision. Two rooms have been converted into chocolate-making areas. There’s a spot to grind the cocoa beans and transform them into a paste. There are boxes piled in the living room. A fridge filled with natural colours and flavours.
This is the home base for Au Chocolat, a place where MacDonald imports beans from 10 different growing regions from around the world. Making chocolate bars and bonbons from raw beans is not an easy thing to do — and that’s why MacDonald loves it.
“There are so many opportunities for things to go wrong and ruin a batch of chocolate,” she says. “I like that challenge.”
How did this chocolatier emerge? It’s anything but a straightforward story.
MacDonald launched the Hair Massacure campaign 20 years ago. Her daughter, Kali, was battling leukemia. A campaign to raise money by having supporters step up to have their heads shaved has become an annual tradition to support kids with cancer. Kali was the “Miracle Child” for the Stollery in 2001.
Kali won her cancer battle, and Hair Massacure has become an event that brings hope to many families who are ensuring their own fights with the disease. But, the emotional toll on the family was huge. Tammy suffered what she calls a “breakdown,” and went on an extended trip to Hawaii, a place she sees as her home away from home, to recharge. It was there that she discovered Hawaiian cocoa farms. She toured them, learned about ethical practices and was enthralled by the complexity of the cocoa bean. “I was always a chocoholic,” she says. “But this brought it to a new level.”
And so began her new career. She now has her full certification as a master chocolatier.
She has learned that beans from different regions can make very different flavour notes in the chocolate. Terroir, she says, may play even a bigger role in chocolate than it does in wine.
“Chocolate is the most complicated food in the world — more so than wine,” says MacDonald.
She creates boxes of mini-chocolate bars. Each bar is made from a different cocoa from a specific part of the world. I try the Vietnamese, and it tastes fruity and has a pronounced tang. Yet, there are no additives. Then, I try a bar made from Honduran beans, and it’s smooth, almost coffee-like.
She has placed bonbons on a tray for me to try. She says she uses natural flavours and there are some decidedly Albertan influences. There’s a “Rye and Coke” filled chocolate, and she’s condensed cola to help create the filling. She uses ube, a purple sweet potato, to colour a chocolate heart. There’s chili with Kahlua, and chili with cream cheese. She’s also used beer from nearby Sturgeon Brewing to flavour her chocolate.
She has been selling out at the Morinville Farmers’ Market, and she is taking orders online. But it might be worth the trip to the farmers’ market to visit her in person. That runs every Sunday from noon until 4 p.m.
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