CRE­AT­ING AWARD-WIN­NING CHOCO­LATE WITH CON­SCIENCE & HEART

EatingWell - - SWEET POTATOES -

Shawn Aski­nosie (above), CEO and founder of Aski­nosie Choco­late in Spring­field, Mis­souri

the first thing clients no­ticed upon en­ter­ing Shawn Aski­nosie’s law of­fice back in 2005 was the aroma. “I housed my lit­tle choco­late­mak­ing op­er­a­tion in the kitchen right be­hind the re­cep­tion area, and the smell of choco­late would hit you right when you walked through the front door,” he says. At the time, Aski­nosie was a crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­ney with two decades of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing on high­pro­file cases—mur­ders, drugs, rob­beries. But his pas­sion for the work had waned and choco­late­mak­ing—which had started out as a hobby—was in­creas­ingly be­com­ing his call­ing. “I would be in a drug case sen­tenc­ing in the morn­ing and then, in the af­ter­noon, I’d go back to the of­fice and make choco­late,” he re­calls.

The setup was mod­est: a pop­corn pop­per set on a hot plate served as the co­coa­bean roaster; a juicer was used to pre­grind the co­coa nibs; and equip­ment from In­dia (de­signed to pul­ver­ize rice and pulses) was used for milling. Aski­nosie’s par­ale­gals and re­cep­tion­ists were of­ten asked to watch over the choco­late while he was in court and, oc­ca­sion­ally, jumped in to lend a hand.

Aski­nosie had no clue about what choco­late­mak­ing en­tailed when he first be­gan dab­bling in it. But, like any good lawyer, he dug into the re­search. An ex­cur­sion to Ecuador to learn about co­coa cul­ti­va­tion fur­ther whet­ted his ap­petite for knowl­edge. “When I started meet­ing farmers and see­ing and touch­ing co­coa pods, it was an ex­pe­ri­ence that felt al­most sa­cred.”

It took about a year for the fledg­ling choco­late maker to wind down his law prac­tice and, in 2007, build his choco­late fac­tory. To­day, Aski­nosie is one of the most cel­e­brated choco­late mak­ers in the U.s.—craft­ing award­win­ning sin­gle­ori­gin bars from co­coa im­ported from Tan­za­nia, Ecuador, the Ama­zon and the Philip­pines. He’s one of just a small hand­ful of ar­ti­sans to source di­rectly from farmers—peo­ple he con­sid­ers not only sup­pli­ers, but friends.

At least once a year, Aski­nosie makes the long trek from Mis­souri to each of the vil­lages where he gets his co­coa so that farmers can taste the fruits of their la­bor and bet­ter un­der­stand how the work they put into grow­ing and pro­cess­ing co­coa beans trans­lates to the end prod­uct. He also shares the com­pany’s fi­nan­cial state­ments, en­gages in profit­shar­ing and sets up pay­ments to fi­nance farm op­er­a­tions. Aski­nosie treats their crop with equal rev­er­ence. “When we re­ceive these beans in our lit­tle ware­house, our job is to not mess up what the farmers have done—to be care­ful, to un­der­stand how del­i­cate the fla­vor is, as we cre­ate the choco­lates that peo­ple will en­joy.”

This hu­mil­ity sets Aski­nosie, who has been de­scribed as the “con­science of craft choco­late,” apart from other mak­ers. “I al­ways knew there was no bot­tom to the pool that would al­low me to one day say, ‘I got all this fig­ured out.’ Twelve years later, that’s still the case. It’s hard to be a part of this process and

not walk away with a sense of awe and won­der.” And, he be­lieves, a deeper ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the dif­fer­ences in choco­late: “be­tween bars, be­tween crops and be­tween mak­ers—a dif­fer­ence to be cel­e­brated.”

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