By Laura Aiken
In every field there is a reason why something’s happening, and if you
are very interested in your field and becoming as good as you can be,
you have to understand the why,” says Dominique Duby
In every field there is a reason why something’s happening, and if you are very interested in your field and becoming as good as you can be, you have to understand the why,” says Dominique Duby, husband half of the pioneering duo behind Wild Sweets By Dominique & Cindy Duby. “It doesn’t matter what field: the why is typically through science.”
Wild Sweets is the Dubys’ testament to the search for “why” in food and have found passion in the process. The bean-to-bar chocolate makers operate as a certified organic online boutique while they carry out research projects in their lab for the University of British Columbia (UBC). They are also fierce culinary competitors on the world stage. Married for more than 30 years, the Dubys seem to have as much to appreciate in the rearview mirror of life as they do the
The Dubys took home gold, silver and overall top bar awards at this year’s International Chocolate Salon for recent releases such as their vanilla bean caramel, coffee and walnut bar, and their hazelnut, cherry and orange zest bar. In the luxury caramel category, they earned a gold for ‘most unique caramel’, ‘ best overall chocolate artistry’ and ‘official caramel’ of The Taste Awards. Wild Sweets presented its latest edition of the limited release caRaMel, a collection of soft butter-and-cream French-style caramel flavoured with summer fresh lavender, richly textured with dried apricots and deep roasted almonds, and elegantly finished with crystallized lavender leaves and sparkling apricots. This year, the Dubys received the Best Chocolatiers & Confectioners in America Awards from TasteTV and the International Chocolate Salon.
These are not the first awards for Wild Sweets. In the fall of 2012, the Dubys won several gold medals as well as the best overall chocolate bar in the (cocoa bean-to-bar) competition. This spring, Wild Sweets won a bronze medal at the Academy of Chocolate competition in London, England. Wild Sweets also won several gold medals as well as the best overall chocolate bar and best caramels at the Seattle Luxury Chocolate Salon in May.
The Dubys have been avid competitors for years in pursuit of culinary perfection. The couple typically enter four competitions a year, mostly in North America and d in Europe. They have competed from a regional level all the way up to the Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg and the IKA Culinary Olympics in Germany.
“It’s a part of what we do and we like to challenge ourselves,” says Dominique, to which Cindy adds: “We always enter to win and obviously you can’t win every time, but the live competitions really open your eyes. When you have to do it live and something goes wrong, you have to really be prepared to come up with something else right away on the spot.”
Outside of the stress and pressure of the competition spotlight, the Dubys spend much of their time in the lab. For the past five years, they have been submitting research project proposals to the faculty of food and nutrition at UBC, who in turn allocate four to six students to work alongside the Dubys.
Their latest project will investigate whether chocolate can be cellared and aged like wine. Part of the purpose is to see if altering the storage or part of the process of making chocolate will extend its shelf life, and part is to determine whether you can improve the flavour of chocolate the way a fine wine ages well.
Part of the team’s work has involved evaluating their entire bean-to-bar process to measure the antioxidant levels left in the final product on a micro-batch level.
|Dominique and Cindy Duby are successful culinary competitors on the international stage. |
A scientific inquiry into emulsions served as a vehicle in search of the perfect ganache. In this case, the Dubys used a machine that operates like a food processor with a vacuum so you can remove all the air and extend the shelf life. They did a number of tests with the machine, including putting the ganache in an ultrasound bath with the cream and chocolate in a vacuum bag, then turning on a sound wave, which shakes and would thus mix it in the bag. They also used a tissue homogenizer, which Cindy says is “like a really high powered immersion blender but so totally different.” This machine breaks up plant of animal tissue into very small pieces and rotates them at a minimum of 24,000 rpm, and is another way to make an emulsion such as ganache.
“Those are the kinds of things we are trying to find out about: how to make the best ganache – not just the shelf life, but the texture, because the emulsion is about the fat and the liquid together in a stable form. . . . We were looking into flavouring. To make cinnamon ganache, there are aromatic compounds that are either water soluble or fat soluble, so for a total cinnamon flavour you have to get both of those into the product. We use two different solvents, take a container, fill it halfway with water and halfway with oil, then pack it with cinnamon and shake it. We then use the cinnamon water to infuse instead of a whipping cream.”
The Dubys generally take on only one UBC project a year (sometimes two), because they are quite time consuming and Wild Sweets has customers awaiting such bar flavours as ginger caramel, coconut and macadamia; walnut, fennel caramel and smoked salt; and praline cherry and hazelnuts. Wild Sweets is carried in retail shops, and the Dubys were getting ready to relaunch the virtual boutique at press time. The plan is to offer several product categories, such as bars, drinks, spreads and desserts, but make them all with one particular chocolate, such as one from Peru. The menu would then rotate to have similar products but with a new chocolate. To maintain a nimble rotation, the Dubys buy small amounts of multiple varieties of beans through a group of artisans that combine their buying power to get a better price.
Their new salted series is selling very well, says Cindy. The bars are a blend of 72 per cent fair trade organic dark and 37 per cent organic milk. The Dubys know that high-percentage dark chocolate is often the favoured flavour for bean-to-bar clientele, but trying the bars seems to turn doubters into believers. Each bar has dried caramel inside, and a different nut and spice. The dried caramel is made from ground cane sugar and the salt is a light dusting on the back for a smoky finish.
The Dubys plan to keep certain products desired by their retailers consistent to keep their spot on the shelves and to let the online boutique be where their creativity can run wild.
Creativity running wild is a fitting concept of origin for the business name, but it’s not the origination of Wild Sweets.
“We always used to make a lot of projects that were inspired by nature, by products in the wilderness, and for many years we had a big interest in science in general,” says Dominique.
In 2003, the couple published their first book, Wild Sweets: Exotic Dessert and Wine Pairings, which won gold for the Best Book for Food and Wine Matching (2003) at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Spain. Prior to Wild Sweets, the Dubys owned a pastry and chocolate shop in B.C. and consulted internationally. In the new year, the Dubys plan to open a bricks and mortar store where people can come in and see the process, visit a tasting bar and buy the product, much as they would in a winery. As a bean-to-bar company, the chocolate crafted by the Dubys will always be distinctly theirs, and the couple finds that immensely rewarding.
“We are much more interested about the process, the quality of life and enjoying what we do. It’s not about saying ‘oh, we produce 10,000 croissant an hour.’ That’s not what we’re interested in. It’s about getting up every day and thinking about what can we do differently.”