Freshly returned from a cacao-sourcing trip to Guatemala and Belize, French Broad Chocolates owners Daniel and Jael Rattigan had the opportunity this winter to highlight their obsessively crafted product on a national platform. On Thursday and Friday, Feb. 25-26, PBS television series “A Craftsman’s Legacy” filmed a segment for its third season at French Broad Chocolates‘ Asheville factory and shop.
“Dan and Jael are creating chocolate in a very organic method and with a very hands-on approach.” says the show’s host, Eric Gorges, a Detroit resident who designs custom motorcycles. “They are actually creating chocolate directly from a bean, and they’ve gone and visited those farms and talked to the local farmers in different countries. They are developing relationships there. To me that really fits well with the spirit of our show.”
The Rattigans say their business is part of a worldwide movement toward smaller-scale chocolate manufacturing. The Chocolate Lounge finished its transition into bean-to-bar production in the last year and a half, says Daniel, meaning that the chocolate the company produces is now scratch-made from cacao beans it imports. “We started out outsourcing all of our chocolate and phased in our bean-to-bar production as much as we were able,” he explains. “At this point we are making 18 metric tons of chocolate per year, and the existing French Broad Chocolate Lounge pastry and confection operations comprise a majority of that. But it took us a while to get to the point where we could really make our own chocolate.”
The couple’s original desire to work with chocolate came from time spent living in Costa Rica. “We have a small farm there ourselves that we are slowly rehabilitating,” says Daniel. “We had originally purchased the farm in 2004 as a homestead, but we didn’t end up living up there. When we arrived in Costa Rica, we were pregnant with our first son, and that’s how we wound up getting into the restaurant business.”
The Rattigans acquired a space and opened a bakery called Bread & Chocolate in the town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. They ran that business for a year and a half before selling it to one of their cooks, who this May will celebrate 10 years of ownership “It’s still thriving down there,” says Rattigan. “It’s still mostly the same menu and same head baker.”
The passion for cacao and chocolate that the Rattigans discovered in Central America keeps them returning to the region regularly and motivates them to pursue wholesome, honest production of farm-to-factory chocolate. And that zeal for craftsmanship is what Gorges hopes to convey on his show.
“They care about what they are doing. They care about what and how things are affected by what they do, and that says a lot,” says Gorges. “The care that they take in sourcing the materials, the care that they take in producing their chocolate from that material, the way that they look at everything and even the way they handle their waste and byproducts … it’s just an incredible company.”
Gorges also aims for the episode to examine the history of chocolate and what is involved in the process of producing it. “It’s been around for literally thousands of years, and it has such a substantial history in so many different cultures, even to the point that it was once used as currency in some cultures,” Gorges explains. “I don’t think that today we all realize the history behind it, where it came from and how important it was.”
The third season of “A Craftsman’s Legacy”premieres in September, and the episode featuring French Broad Chocolates will air sometime this fall. That installment will also highlight a number of other North Carolina artisans. “We’ve been in North Carolina for the past week or so, and we’ve worked with a number of different people, from a duck decoy maker down in Durham to a metalsmith in Penland,” says Gorges.
As for the future of French Broad Chocolates, Daniel says the company is positioning itself to take its craftsmanship to a new level. Although production is maxed out at its current facility with an average output of 1.5 tons per month, the business is laying the groundwork for imminent growth.
“We’re working on plans for expansion right now so that we can share our chocolate with a wider audience,” he says. “We’d like to be able to offer chocolate for home chefs and for restaurants, but right now we’ve had to hold off on adding additional wholesale clients because we just can’t produce anymore chocolate than we currently make.” He adds that the time frame for this expansion is uncertain, “but we are actively pursuing it.”
For more information on “A Craftsman’s Legacy,” visit www.craftsmanslegacy.com. For news on an airdate for the French Broad Chocolates segment, visit “A Craftsman’s Legacy” on Facebook and follow the show on Twitter at @CraftsmanLegacy.