CREATING AWARD-WINNING CHOCOLATE WITH CONSCIENCE & HEART
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.”