It’s a happy occurrence when the fall time change lands on the same day as a chocolate show. Having that extra hour of sleep and devoting an entire afternoon to sampling cocoa-based delicacies is a fine way to spend a Sunday.
On Nov. 2, Roy Thomson Hall in downtown Toronto hosted the second annual Luxury Chocolate Show. The city’s most enthusiastic chocoholics gathered at this one-day event to sample the latest artisan products, watch and participate in chocolate-making demos, compete in eating contests and shop early for the holiday season.
I had the opportunity to catch up with another innovative exhibitor, Royce Li, head chocolatier of Shoko Chocolates based in Toronto. Founded in 2013 over a dinner party with friends, Shoko is a relative newcomer to the city’s artisan chocolate scene.
With a background in Electrical Engineering, it’s Royce’s passion that got him to where he is today in the decadent industry. Originally set on doing his Masters, he changed course and decided to pursue a career in cooking.
After honing his skills in the kitchen, Royce entered a sugar competition in 2010 and came in a close second after his creation shattered just minutes before judging. That competition led him to compete against veteran chocolatiers at the World Chocolate Masters national pre-selection, where he “didn’t stand a chance” but awakened his appetite for working with the decadent ingredient.
Good Food Revolution: Where do you get your creativity?
Royce Li: I draw my inspiration from trying to be unique. As you can see from our tablet line, I like to work with ingredients and flavours that are less commonly found in commercially available bars. One of the things that I enjoy most about this venture is the freedom to try out different ideas (like our green tea bar, our signature blend with our secret spices) and offer people new flavours and experiences with chocolate. I also find inspiration in the nostalgia and memories of the holidays and events that we associate with chocolate.
GFR: How do you want customers to react to your product?
RL: I want our customers to say, “That was the best chocolate/ bonbon” we’ve tried. It’s a good feeling to have customers come back to us during a chocolate show and tell us that our products were the best they’ve ever had. To hear that brings a smile to my face and tells me that my job is done.
GFR: How do you source and select your ingredients?
RL: I use flavor as a guideline and I try to source chocolate products that are socially conscious. The products that I use are often organic and the companies that I get my chocolate from give back to communities where the cacao bean is grown. They help farmers grow a better product and they build communities and schools in those areas.
GFR: Where would you like to see Shoko Chocolates a year from now?
RL: I would like Shoko to have more locations where our products can be sold. Long-term goal, there’s no reason why Shoko can’t have a store in Pearson Airport just like Laduree and Maison du Chocolat have shops in the airport in Paris. I want people to know that Shoko is a Canadian product, and it would be amazing to have people buy the product to bring back home from travels.
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In addition to being Shoko’s head chocolatier, Royce was formerly a coach for Team Brazil at the World Chocolate Masters, and is now a mentor for Culinary Team Canada Junior and a part-time professor at Humber College’s Baking and Pastry Management Program.
Shoko products can be purchased from All The Best Fine Foods in Toronto.