Vancouver-based pastry chef Adam Chandler on why his team's recipes are reaping the awards and crowds
When CH was in Vancouver, BC for TED week, a friend's recommendation resulted in a pitstop at the BETA5 chocolate and pastry shop. While it's a bit out of the way in an industrial area, the line stretched out the door and we managed to nab some of the cream puffs that hadn't yet sold out.
The BETA5 craze is legitimate, and it's no wonder the awards—and crowds—are pouring in, as the 15-member team (including seven cooks) spends anywhere from two weeks to six months formulating a new recipe. They wield the properties of the highest quality ingredients into surprising flavor combinations and unusual textures. BETA5's Polygon bars, for example, eschew the standard "brick" layout for a unique three-dimensional surface inspired by the mountains outside their workshop window. All of their offerings—from Maker's Mark-infused cashew candy bars to hazelnuts covered in milk chocolate praline—are consistent in their ability to subtly excite the tastebuds and allow customers to experience chocolate on a new level.
Co-owner and pastry chef Adam Chandler worked at luxury hotels, production bakeries and restaurants before a trip to Belgium, when he had the opportunity to study and work with the technical supervisor at Belcolade. "I learned a lot about the classic Belgian style of chocolate-making, as well as a number of interesting techniques for making ganache-filled chocolates and chocolate sculptures," Chandler says. "Prior to my time in Belgium, I didn’t really have a solid understanding of the science of chocolate or flavor pairing. After leaving, chocolate was no longer a mystery to me, but instead a blank canvas to express flavors and ideas."
Upon this foundation of traditional chocolate-making know-how, Chandler adds a contemporary mindset—which includes sourcing the best local ingredients that are at their freshest, making BETA5 look more like a farm-to-table restaurant than just a chocolatier. "Our hazelnuts are grown just an hour’s drive from our kitchens, and the cherries we use are grown organically and dried in the hot sun of the Okanagan Valley, just a few hours east of Vancouver," explains Chandler. "During the spring and summer growing seasons, we try to process as much local fruits as we can to use for the rest of the year. We get citrus fruits direct from a grower in the San Joaquin Valley in California, and we make as much marmalade and candied peel as we can while the season’s at its peak."
And the key ingredient—chocolate—is manufactured by the French company Michel Cluizel, which sources cacao directly from the source. "The majority of the world’s cacao is bought and sold on the commodity market for the cheapest price. Cluizel is committed to sourcing the best beans, and paying above market price for quality. This model of trade is much more sustainable than a commodity-based system, as farmers are rewarded for quality over sheer volume, allowing them to re-invest in their farm and the workers. Top quality cacao, combined with Cluizel’s expertise in post-harvest processing results in a range of chocolates with beautifully nuanced flavor profiles with a smooth, creamy mouthfeel."
All Chandler's beliefs are proved true in the chocolate bars and caramels. The salted butter caramels are nice and buttery (the perfect amount of melty) and they don't stick to your teeth. Chewing the raspberry caramels, the immediate reaction is that you are tasting real raspberries, instead of that all-too-familiar artificial flavoring.
The unanimous favorite, however, were the Marcona Almond Pebbles. Using caramelized Marcona almonds—native to Spain—and 63% dark chocolate these treats offer a satisfying crunch that balances perfectly between sweet and savory.
We also asked Chandler about his local haunts for when he needs to take a break from sweets. "Vancouver has an incredibly diverse food scene—from great contemporary high-end restaurants, to fantastic ethnic foods," he says. "We love L’Abbatoir, La Quercia, Farmer’s Apprentice and Hawksworth for a special meal. On days off, we’ll hit up Au Petit Café for Vietnamese, Toshi for sushi, Motomachi Shokudo for ramen, Rangoli for Indian, or Tacofino for a local spin on Mexican." (Be sure to check out our Word of Mouth guide to Vancouver for other carefully picked locales.)
BETA5 chocolates are available online or in person at the brick-and-mortar shop located at 413 Industrial Ave in Vancouver, BC. Keep an eye out for BETA5's Easter collection, which will be unveiled on their website within the next week.
Photos by Nara Shin