Hearts, flowers and cut-out paper cupids merge on Valentine’s Day, but chocolates are the sweetest expression for the annual love-in.
They take on an especially important meaning for Ramon and Nicole Perez, who opened the online confectionery Puur Chocolat a year ago (www.puurchocolat.com). They market a line of artisanal bonbons, truffles, bars and caramels in unique combinations of flavors ($7 into the $50s). For instance, Asian citrus-and-herb with gin, and banana-caramel ganache with rum and cubeb (Java) pepper. Shipping is by overnight or two-day mail.
“I do the packaging, marketing, accounting and sales, and let him create,” Nicole said.
On special offer for Valentine’s Day is a 9.5-ounce chocolate heart filled with lemon-rose gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut paste, $27) and a six-piece assortment ($15) with flavor combos that include pink peppercorn with grapefruit and rose; Sichuan peppercorn and Marcona almond praline; and matcha green tea with orange liqueur.
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Ramon Perez is a chocolate artist and food chemist, an award-winning pastry chef and a winner of the StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition. He graduated from the New England Culinary Institute and later worked at a trio of Michelin star-holding restaurants in Europe. He pairs South American and African chocolates with a remarkable array of nontraditional ingredients, from fermented chili paste to fennel pollen.
We met at their small production facility in a warehouse district of Sacramento.
Q: How did you go from pastry chef to chocolatier?
A Ramon: When I was executive pastry chef (for a Los Angeles restaurant group), we had a shop called Boule Patisserie. … It was my baby, and when it closed I knew at that moment I wanted to launch my own (chocolate shop).
Q: Why an online store?
A Ramon: This is a safer approach than brick-and-mortar. We wanted to test the market and ease our way in. At the same time, we want to (continue) fine-tuning our products. We want to look at doing a brick-and-mortar eventually, and add pastries.
Q: Are you in retail stores?
A Ramon: We have caramels and chocolate-covered Marcona almonds at Taylor’s Market, and our full line of bonbons, chocolate bars and sea salt caramels at Andy’s Candy. We’re diving in with more candy bars – macadamia praline with pineapple ganache and rum caramel, and black sesame praline with crème fraîche ganache and marmalade.
Nicole: We haven’t really pushed the marketing. We’re having fun, and we’ll go where it takes us.
Q: Your pop-up store at the Roseville Galleria over the holidays was a hit.
A Nicole: It was a learning experience for us (and the customers). People don’t know the process it takes to make chocolate.
Ramon: Making our chocolates is a three- to four-day process.
Q: What makes the chocolates so special?
A Ramon: They’re an experience. … A lot of our (flavors) were created from our travels (in Europe and Asia). We had one flavor based on tapas, with olive oil and sea salt. Another was coconut and nori (seaweed), a magical pairing. I’m heavily influenced by Japan – the textures and clean lines.
Q: Who comes up with the flavors?
A Ramon: I do, but I always run them by her.
Nicole: I never say no. I just encourage him because it’s always going to be good.
Q: As a pastry chef, where are your own go-to’s for croissants and the like?
Nicole: And the Bouchon Bakery in Yountville.
Q: Are you giving chocolates to Nicole for Valentine’s Day?
A Ramon: Of course.
Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.
Ramon and Nicole Perez
The husband and wife own the online confections store Puur Chocolat