By Laura Aiken
Singing on the job is a sign of one of two things: either you earn your
daily bread as a vocalist or you’re having an awfully good time at work.
Singing on the job is a sign of one of two things: either you earn your daily bread as a vocalist or you’re having an awfully good time at work. Since Bakers Journal isn’t in the habit of writing about musicians, you can place a blue chip bet that Annie Larivière, who names listening to country music and singing in the kitchen as highlights of her job, is the type of colleague that can brighten her own day right alongside yours. She admits that Brian Beck, president of Cococo Chocolatiers, owners of Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut, where she is employed, has caught her vocal stylings in action. No wonder he describes her as a fun-loving girl.
|Photo courtesy of Cococo Chocolatiers, owners of Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut|
“There’s not a lot of French Canadians landing in Calgary for the specific purpose of hoping to improve their English, so right away that tells you something. She has a kind of twinkle in her eye and she was popular as soon as she walked in the door. She has a very lighthearted sensibility and always a big smile on her face, so she became a real character early on and fit right in.”
The mischievous Larivière came up with one funky brownie to win this year’s Bakers Journal Ultimate Brownie contest sponsored by Callebaut, Cinelli Esperia Corporation and Mimac Glaze Ltd. Her Brownie Almond, Maple, Cranberries is an intriguing concoction of sweet s’mores flavoured finish, tart cranberry pucker, nutty crunch, smooth chocolate and something or other that made it difficult to stop eating. The combination of flavour balance, texture contrast and layers of surprise landed Larivière’s brownie on top during a very competitive tasting event.
“I’m really a big fan of maple syrup and I thought maybe I should do something with it. I know if you want to have success in your pastry it’s very important that your pastry have a good look, texture and good taste.”
Larivière knew her brownie was just right when she could check off all the requirements on her list of what will make it just right, with just the right bake time. It took four test runs to create this particular brand of sinfully delicious.
Will and wanderlust
Larivière took her first independent breaths in Montreal in 1981, and it seems the first taste of wanderlust from the mothership was not to be her last. As a little girl she dreamed of being a veterinarian, but it was no surefooted conviction.
“I didn’t know much about what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I took a while to really decide what I want,” she says.
She discovered a fondness for all things crafty, and was drawn to the art of chocolate making in her early 20s but was first given some advice that it wasn’t the best way to make bank. Pennies or lack thereof aside, Larivière did take alternative career advice and entered the pastry arts field, completing a year and a half of culinary education in Quebec (which included a two-week stint in Sicily) before heading off to work for two years at Chocolaterie Le Cacaoyer. After one Easter, when chocolate sales grew slow, she hit the road for six months, landing in Guadeloupe and Haiti.
“One thing about travelling: I learned a lot about myself and what I really want in life. I always want to be in customer service. I always want to learn more and if one day I don’t have a chocolate place maybe I will have my own bed and breakfast and I can make my chocolates there. I always love people and I love to help them.”
Through her church, Larivière spent a few months helping the homeless, bringing coffees to them and sometimes chocolates. It was at that time that she realized she wanted to learn English. She nearly landed in Texas to do so, but luckily for Cococo that didn’t work out and she ended up rolling into Calgary. In the true spirit of independence, she said the mountains were calling and she wanted to be far enough away that she wouldn’t be able to come home too easily. A girlfriend helped her out for a few months until she found work and got hired as a baker/pastry chef at Cococo in 2009. Larivière works alongside co-workers making things like macarons, verrines and hot chocolate for Cococo’s retail café settings.
Work and play
It is fitting that a woman with lots of life stories should end up in a company with an equally intriguing tale. Cococo’s leader, Beck, was a former employee of Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut Partnership, which is now bankrupt, before coming back after a five-year absence to organize the purchase of the well-established chocolatier’s business from its receiver. The “Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut” name, which Beck says is deeply rooted as a brand with their dealers and the public, necessarily came along with all of the other business assets of the defunct company, and Bernard Callebaut the man later reopened a new chocolate shop. The new Cococo name was introduced in 2011 with plans to nurture it in a co-branding environment, says Beck.
|Beautiful biscotti dipped by hand in Cococo’s bakery.
Photo by Sergei Belski
Larivière has the opportunity to work with some of the world’s elite talents in chocolate while working for Cococo. It was a real boon for the company to land Derrick Tu Tan Pho, former director of Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Quebec, as its mâitre chocolatier.
“I’m very excited by our team’s skill set,” says Beck. “I’ve got a really wonderfully talented group of people . . . Derrick is certainly a rare person worldwide with his depth of background in chocolate both on the pastry side earlier in his career, and on the pure chocolate side as he did coming most recently from the chocolate academy, so there’s not many things about the handling or manufacture or differentiation of chocolate that we don’t know about. Derrick works with two other chocolatiers in our shop each of whom have more than 25 years of experience making chocolate confections. It’s like that Malcolm Gladwell book which talks about crossing over the 10,000 hours’ threshold of expertise, and the folks around here would have way more than 10,000 hours each doing what they do. That’s exciting because you can throw ideas to them and they throw back more opportunities than we can manage to market as quickly.”
It’s a happening place Larivière landed in, and she’s discovering the countryside while she hones her culinary talent. When she’s not making treats, she likes to stay active at the gym, and get outside, enjoying snowshoeing in the winter. A hardy girl, she is car-less in Calgary, and likes the city but not necessarily the bus ride to work in the winter. She is enjoying the laid-back nature of the west, and dreams of one day travelling to Ireland, Cambodia or India. One day, she says she’d like to have her own little shop where she can sell chocolates, pastries and freshly roasted coffee. There’s no doubt, where there’s a will there’s a way.
“We are our own enemies,” says Larivière. “It’s really easy to give it up if you don’t think you are good at it, but just persevere if you have a dream. There will always be people around to help you reach your goal…whether we make a bad decision or not, we will learn about everything so it is important to continue and not look back.”