Bitte Chocolate!

As most of these stories go, I met Mike Hoffman in college through friends of friends. Mike ended up graduating a couple years before me and moved to South Carolina to pursue his dreams. After working for a few years, he turned one of his hobbies of making his own chocolate into a budding business, Bitte Chocolate!

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I’m always looking for things to fulfill my life; finding my passions and making them prevalent in my day to day life. I think it’s really brave that Mike has taken this leap of faith to follow his passion. Check out the interview with him below!

Tell me about Bitte Chocolate! Where did the name come from?

Bitte Chocolate started my senior year of college. My friend Sarah and I started messing around with making chocolate. Well… it was more like she was watching while I made it but nevertheless she was there. I I started out by using different kind of beans and  a small food chopper to chop up beans and sugar. I had a hard time with texture/grittiness because I was using a mortar and pestal. Professionally, this process (called conching) takes about two days. My chocolate was very gritty, almost like Modica Chocolate  where they do not conch and the sugar is still big and gritty. 

After graduation I moved down to Charleston, SC and didn’t  make much chocolate at the time. I worked for a French Chocolatier for 6 months but became bored doing the same things over and over again. In the beginning of 2014, I bought equipment to really make chocolate. At first, I  was just playing around when my boss encouraged me to turn it into a business. I was skeptical; I didn’t want to ruin my love for making chocolate by turning it into a business and having to do it all the time. So I took it slow and never let it overwhelm me. It has slowly formed into what you see today after a year of formula testing and packaging design.


The name was the hardest part of the entire process. I wanted something  strong, classy, and not cheesy. I came up with a hundred different names but couldn’t decide on one. I always pictured something  that was short, sweet and too the point but could never quite put my finger on it.  I would dream about it, wake up and write the word but nothing seemed to fit. After about 3 months of brainstorming, I was bouncing ideas off of my roommate and she recommended something like bittersweet. It was too cute and nice; it wasn’t me. Then a light bulb went off! Bitte (bit-tah) is the German word for ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘please’. After researching, testing the word on friends and chatting with a german exchange student from high school, I settled on the official name Bitte Chocolate.I find that the word Bitte is a perfect fit for my chocolate as I produce chocolate with strong flavors uninhibited by vanilla or other flavorings. 

What inspired you to start your own company? How have you broken into the market?

Ever since taking a chocolate class in college, I fell in love and  knew I wanted to be a chocolatier. I feel like most great pastry chefs are great at chocolates. Chocolatiers are always seem very confident. I think I started this company because I saw a void in the market here. Charleston has such a great food scene- it’s impossible to come across a bad meal.  I figured that if there was any time to do it, it was now! It was perfect- I love to make it and market needs it. I have had a very soft opening for the most part, and I am just starting to sell to local businesses.

Explain the chocolate making process. How long does the entire process take?

Once I receive the beans, I roast them. I make sure to test the beans by eating a couple to double check they are up to my standard. I then winnow/ grind them. Winnowing is the process of separating the bean from the skin.  After grinding them, I add cocoa butter, sugar and sometimes milk depending on the kind of chocolate I am making. After, I put the mixture in a melanger which are stone rollers that crush the sugar small enough so it creates a smooth mouth-feel. This part of the process takes about two days. Once the chocolate is ready, I temper** and mold them. I let them sit, wrapped in foil for about 3 weeks to mellow out a hard acidic flavor from the beans. Once they age, I package and sell them! So the entire process takes a little over three weeks.

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(**Side note: tempering is the process of creating a balance in the chocolate so it hardens quickly, can resist slight changes in temperature and moisture, and keeps fat from rising to the surface on chocolate)

Where do you source your ingredients? Any particular reason you pick that location to source from?

I get my beans from Peru. I’ve tried dozens of different beans but prefer the ones from Peru called Criollo beans. Criollo beans make up 1% of  cocoa beans in the world, but have the best flavor! I also get beans called Tumbes.They have a malty fruity flavor that really helps bring out the chocolate flavor!

How did you get started in the industry? What keeps you passionate?

I don’t know exactly how I got into the industry but I think I can speculate. As long as I can remember, I wanted to be a chef besides the usual pipe dream of astronaut or baseball player. Being a chef was the first real job I wanted to do. I hear from my friends that they got into the industry because they loved making things with the mom/grandmother or something cheesy like that but I just had the love of food in me.. In high school, I had figured out that I liked baking more than cooking which eventually lead me to pick the four year pastry program at Johnson & Wales University.

What keeps me passionate? What doesn’t keep me passionate is the real question. I love everything I do. Everything about chocolate is amazing. I love that I can be artistic as well as scientific. It’s hard to put into words the way I feel about my craft. I commit so many hours to my job and it can really wear on you but it’s still amazing to be able to produce these lovely works of art.I was sitting at a chef’s table, watching the wonderful ballet that is a kitchen and my heirloom tomato came out. Before I took a spoon and destroyed it, I stopped and took a step back and admired it’s beauty. I took a bite and savored every moment of that delicious tomato. I thought about everything that it had been from the farm to mouth. I feel like people need to see that food isn’t just a way to survive.

What’re your future goals for Bitte Chocolate or otherwise?

My future goals are just to grow. Right now, I am just doing it in the back of the bakery but would like to open up my own place when the right time comes. I have a couple of ideas brewing at the moment. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself or give away any of my secrets!

I have noticed in my time making chocolates, that some people are afraid to admit milk chocolate is there favorite. Milk chocolate shouldn’t just be related to Hershey products or other products loaded with sugar and vanilla. I’m confident I have a milk chocolate bar that people won’t be afraid to say they like! My milk chocolate uses high volume cocoa liquor and milk to give it a high end taste and a less sugary taste.

If you are in Charleston,  you will start to notice Bitte Chocolate popping up in local shops! We hope to start shipping this fall. You can go to our website at bittechocolate.com or follow us on instagram bittechocolate or on Facebook!

632I hope you guys enjoyed another inside view into the industry! I wish Mike the best of luck and I can’t wait to order chocolate bars from him! Check back on Tuesday for a new post!

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America’s Test Kitchen!

My first job out of college was with a company called America’s Test Kitchen! ATK is an amazingly huge conglomerate of all sorts of food media- a couple magazine publications, two TV shows on PBS, TONS of published cookbooks and even an online cooking school. ATK is a test kitchen dedicated to finding recipes that work to share with the home cook and also explain WHY they work. It’s a company focused on the fun and education behind food.

I was a total PBS kid growing up since I didn’t have cable. SHOCKER I KNOW. Given that we had 8 channels to choose from, I would watch so many shows on PBS. Throwbacks to Arthur or Zoom anyone? I can even remember memorizing the address for the show Zoom- BOSTON MASS 0-21-34! Send it to Zoom! Totally ironic now that I live here now.

I would spend day and night watching PBS and would watch all the cooking shows with my mom on the weekends which is probably where my interest for food began. DAMN YOU EDUCATIONAL SHOWS! Julia Child and Jacques Pepin were my favorite people to watch and of course America’s Test Kitchen. ATK showed you not only recipes, but they talked food science, kitchen gadgets and product reviews. I LOVE knowing how things work so I was hooked.

I jumped at the chance to work for them so when I saw the internship posting, I knew I HAD to apply even though it was supposed to be a culinary internship. After phone interviews and giving my references, I was one of four interns who landed the job for the spring term.

Photo team!

Photo team!

Part of the kitchen before renovations began!

Part of the kitchen before renovations began!

I was place on the photo team and it was my job to help prep and execute all finalized recipes for the magazines, cookbooks and online cooking school. It was a super cool job! Occasionally, I’d spend a whole day outside manning the grills in sub-zero temps since we tested recipes about 6 months in advance. Other days, I would be able to stand in on the photo shoots and watch the food photographers and stylists works their magic! (Don’t be fooled, their hands touch EVERYTHING!) I occasionally got to switch teams when they needed help and mise/test recipes for Cooks Country, Cooks Country or the Books team.

My little mise station!

My little mise station!

Grill dayyyyyy

Grill dayyyyyy

The coolest part of my internship however, came in May when they filmed the 15th season of America’s Test Kitchen for PBS. They filmed right on our facilities (you’d never know the kitchen was even there from the outside) and set up camp. Our storage room turned into the tech room where the director sat watching and giving feedback during filming. Half of the kitchen was filled with camera and audio equipment as well as craft services which is a fancy way to say FREE FOOD/SNACKS. Our dry goods room turned into the runners area with a live feed tv set up in it so we’d always know what was happening.

Setting up for TV!

Setting up for TV!

The back kitchen was used for prep of the recipes! You know the magic of television, when they pull out a perfectly golden turkey out of the oven after about 3 seconds of cooking? Well, we’d be in the back pushing out these recipes so everything would be ready when they finished filming the talking segment beforehand. We’d have to prep recipes upwards of 15 times- on set, on set back-ups, back kitchen, flash forwards, flash backs, food props, half prepared foods, etc. You could only walk on and off-set when the camera’s weren’t rolling and you could NEVER look directly at the cameras. All the cooks in the background usually were testing their own recipes and actually getting real work done, but sometimes I’d get to stand in and chop some carrots to look busy while the other cooks were doing a tasting or prepping their own recipes.

Prepping for tv... I always wondered what a whole box of lemons zested looked like

Prepping for tv… I always wondered what a whole box of lemons zested looked like

Trying to look busy on set...

Trying to look busy on set…

Waiting off set but still watching the live feed!

Waiting off set but still watching the live feed!

At the end of TV filming, the whole crew gets together to do a rice krispy treat competition! We would split into teams and work together to create the best rice krispies. It was all VERY competitive. Then the filming crew would be the judges in the end. Of course, team intern bonded together (WILL WORK FOR FOOD PROPS) and made a lemon meringue RKT. Sadly, we didn’t win but it was a lot of fun!

286I really loved working there and made some pretty great friends there as well. Most of the work was culinary based so I knew I had to move towards something more in my field but it was definitely an experience I won’t forget! Check out an episode below where I might actually be seen walking around in the background and my name is in the credits! I’M FAMOUS!

ATK Family!

ATK Family!

Bon Appetit and see you all on Tuesday for another post!

Click here to see me in the background in the first couple minutes!

Michelle Scurio- Cake Monstah

So as I mentioned when I relaunched my blog, I have some incredibly talented friends, most of whom I met in culinary school. Most of my friends and I have graduated with the same degree- a B.S in Baking & Pastry and Food Service Management, yet all of our jobs are so different from one another. Food service such a vast field; not everyone who goes to school for pastry works in a bakery like me! So therefore, I wanted to take a moment and brag about how great my friends are, okay?

So Michelle and I met my freshman year in college and were fast friends who lived down the hall from one another. Michelle’s a Boston native with a Boston attitude! She’s always down to have a good time whether it was having a night on the town or just playing Nancy Drew computer games in the dorm for a night. We spent a year living together and even traveled abroad with one another where we studied pastry at a French school called E’cole Nationale Superieure de la Patisserie (ENSP).

Even when we met, Michelle talked about having her own business called Cake Monstah. It was something she started in high school, doing business with her friends and family in the local community. It has blossomed into something much more after the years Michelle spent marketing herself. She has now been featured on The Knot which is basically the ultimate wedding website across the US with a magazine publication that debuts twice a year. With all of this attention, I had a ton of questions for Michelle!

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A: So tell me about Cake Monstah! How’d you come up with that name?

M: I started Cake Monstah 6 years ago in high school making cakes for all occasions for my friends and family. All of the people in my family are interested in art in some way and cake became my medium. I wanted to have a name for my business that reflected my Boston attitude- nothing cutesy but something unique. Overall, it’s gotten a good amount of positive feedback!

A: So you’ve been featured in The Knot and you have a decent following on your Facebook page for Cake Monstah… That’s gotta feel pretty great! How has that changed how you do business? 

M: I’ve used The Knot to try and gain new clientele and expand my business. I also worked really hard to find my way into bridal shows and expos to set up a table and showcase my work to the guests. I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of new contacts and now I’m asked to work and fill in at all sorts of different shows when I have time. Having a certified wedding website like The Knot drummed up new and trusting clients. I’m booking up for dates quickly. I only focus on one wedding per day so each client knows that I’m working 100% to make their day special. My work is personalized and I think that’s why I have to turn people away. It also helps that people are filling out yelp reviews and reviews on wedding websites to get my name out there.

230A: I know your Mom plays a huge part in your business; what kinds of things does she help you out with?

M: My mom is my business partner. She helped me a lot when I was in college to fill orders on the weekends and she’s also a graphic designer which is great since we’re working on re-branding this year. My mom gave me $200 to start the business when I was in high school which was a huge boost in the beginning. Now I teach her how to bake off cakes and do some more of the intricate fondant work for fun. We conceptualize ideas together and then my mom helps put paper to the computer!

A: Was going to Johnson & Wales University a good experience for you? How has it helped your career?

M: While I feel like I probably paid too much for school, JWU’s name brand has really boosted my business and made me more marketable in the industry. It’s really hard to get accredited without having a degree these days so I knew I wanted to get my Bachelor’s in Baking and Pastry. Now that I’m a graduate, I can charge more for my cakes since my skill level has changed.

229A: So all in all, why do you do this? Why work in the food service industry?

M: First and foremost, I know I’ll always have a job and that the business is never ending. There’s always going to be someone who’s getting married that needs bridal shower cakes, grooms cakes, wedding cakes, etc. Then those people have kids and that generates a whole new set of business. Cake decorating is also my passion, my art form. I practically had a midlife crisis at the age of 17. I was going to go to Quinnepiac University for business but changed degrees and schools 2 months before going to college. I knew I wouldn’t be as happy doing something that would perhaps be more lucrative but rather I knew I had to follow my passion!

If you want to see more of Michelle’s work, click on the highlighted link here: Cake Monstah!

Like I said, I’m proud to have such talented friends and wanted to take some time to brag about them! The food service industry is filled with all sorts of different facets which is why I find it so interesting. Check back on Tuesday for another post about my post grad life!