sweet dreams

IN THE LEAD UP TO EASTER, WE VISIT A HUNTER VAL­LEY LO­CAL CEL­E­BRAT­ING THE FINE ART OF CHOCO­LATE MAK­ING.

Country Style - - ENTERPRISE - WORDS SA­MAN­THA VAN EGMOND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MARK ROPER

CHO­CO­LATIER Aymee Slaviero has a bet­ter ex­cuse than most for spend­ing Easter at work. “I tell the kids I’m help­ing the Easter bunny,” says the owner of Co­coa Nib, an ar­ti­san choco­late shop in Pokol­bin in the NSW Hunter Val­ley. Aymee, who lives in nearby Brunk­erville with her hus­band Gianni and their sons, Lucca, eight, and Louis, four, loves the ex­cite­ment and cre­ativ­ity the hol­i­day brings de­spite the crazi­ness. “For me it’s a sea of choco­late!” Aymee was just 17 when she left the Hunter Val­ley to pur­sue a career as a chef in Syd­ney. “Back then there wasn’t a lot hap­pen­ing in the Hunter on the food scene,” says the 35-year-old, whose nat­u­ral flair for pas­try soon led her away from con­ven­tional cook­ing. Fast-for­ward a few years and she’s now back in the renowned viti­cul­ture re­gion, with a shop at Keith Tul­loch Wine es­tate where she’s neigh­bours with award-win­ning restau­rant Muse Kitchen. A visit to Co­coa Nib’s café and tast­ing room, nes­tled be­tween the nat­u­ral beauty of the Bro­ken Back Range and the es­tate’s vines, leaves lit­tle doubt as to why. “I was never re­ally a Syd­ney girl,” she says. “I al­ways felt my heart was here.” Fol­low­ing more than 10 years in the kitchens of some of Syd­ney’s high-end restau­rants in­clud­ing Catalina — where she met Gianni, a chef, in 1999 — it was dur­ing a stint in Mel­bourne in 2005 that Aymee’s interest turned to choco­late. Af­ter ac­cept­ing a job with lux­ury choco­late re­tailer Koko Black and fur­ther hon­ing her skills, Aymee de­cided it was, “what I wanted to do for­ever”. Re­turn­ing to Syd­ney, she be­gan mak­ing choco­late for friends in her spare time while still work­ing long hospitality hours. In 2011, af­ter Louis was born, she be­gan look­ing for some­thing more flex­i­ble and fam­ily-friendly. Af­ter mov­ing back to Brunk­erville, Aymee con­tem­plated start­ing her own busi­ness. “I was on ma­ter­nity leave and I thought, now is my chance to see if it’s go­ing to work,” she says. Setting up a com­mer­cial kitchen in the fam­ily home, where all the choco­lates are made to­day, Aymee launched Co­coa Nib at New­cas­tle’s monthly The Olive Tree Mar­ket. “Ev­ery­body went crazy for it so I thought, I’m onto some­thing here,” she re­mem­bers. In the midst of search­ing for a shop space, a lady who happened to work for Amanda and Keith Tul­loch took some Co­coa Nib choco­lates into the win­ery with her. “She knew they had an empty lit­tle spot,” says Aymee. “They loved the sam­ples and called to of­fer me the space.” Opening her shop in early 2015 was an ex­cit­ing al­beit ex­haust­ing time, and the chef cred­its her mum, Linda, who runs op­er­a­tions at Co­coa Nib, with hold­ing the busi­ness to­gether. “She is my rock,” says Aymee. Linda loves work­ing alongside her daugh­ter, help­ing out with ev­ery­thing from clean­ing to book­keep­ing. “It’s like work­ing in heaven!” she says of be­ing sur­rounded by choco­late all day. “Cus­tomers say they can tell I’m a very proud mum.” Aymee or­ders her base choco­late from France, where she has sourced a variety with a unique flavour pro­file. “Aus­tralia uses pre­dom­i­nantly Bel­gium choco­late and I wanted to give my­self a point of dif­fer­ence.” she says. Sourc­ing lo­cal and sea­sonal pro­duce where pos­si­ble, other ingredients might include hon­ey­comb or macadamias bought at the lo­cal farm­ers mar­ket. Not surprisingly, there’s no short­age of vol­un­teers of­fer­ing to help. “There’s al­ways some­one putting up their hand to taste test,” she says. In the months lead­ing up to Easter, Aymee looks to In­sta­gram and mag­a­zines for in­spi­ra­tion for her de­signs. “All the eggs and choco­lates are hand­painted and air­brushed with coloured co­coa but­ter,” she says. A year-round favourite are the freck­les, which are all in­di­vid­u­ally hand-piped. For th­ese, Aymee uses choco­late with a slightly higher co­coa per­cent­age so they’re not as sweet as stan­dard milk choco­late. “They’re very adult-like,” she says, “I think I have more mums and dads hooked on my freck­les than I do kids!” Leav­ing her heart in the Hunter tem­po­rar­ily to gain ex­pe­ri­ence from the best in the busi­ness has paid div­i­dends for Aymee, who can now share beau­ti­ful ar­ti­san choco­lates with her lo­cal com­mu­nity. “It has been nice to bring some­thing back, to give peo­ple some­thing spe­cial that they didn’t have here be­fore,” she says. Co­coa Nib is at 982 Her­mitage Road (Cnr of Deasys Road), Pokol­bin, NSW. (02) 4998 7350; co­coanib.com.au

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