Demispheres filled with Honey Caramel, Cinnamon Honey Ganache, Salt Caramel and Winter Mint Ganache. Honey Foam, Box Turtles and Dark Chocolate Almonds with Cocoa Powder. These are only some of the sweet rewards resulting in the very worthy journey of chocolatier Rick Jordan, who set up shop in Chesterfield in July 2011.
While a number of his creations names may be unique—with exploration encouraged—what is even rarer and almost incomparable about Jordan is that he actually makes his own chocolate—one of very few true creators of chocolate in the state of Missouri. “I am the only one making my own chocolate in St. Louis,” says Jordan, founder of Rick Jordan Chocolatier. “Making chocolate requires a whole other skill set, as well as specialized equipment and space, due to the purchasing of large quantities of cacao beans. It also is a very laborious process--I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment. But I’m so happy that I’ve chosen to do it this way—it’s what I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.”
That ‘very long time’ goes back his attending culinary school after realizing that his computer science degree from University of Missouri-St. Louis wasn’t going to be a part of his future. “After I graduated, I realized that really didn’t like working in an office environment,” Jordan explains. And after a failed attempt of opening a pizzeria, he enrolled at L'Ecole Culinaire. “I was in its second class—the place was still being built when I was there,” he recalls. “I discovered baking and pastry by accident; and you know, you can only get your feet wet with chocolate there, as they didn’t have one-quarter of the equipment that I have here in my shop. We were doing everything with knives and sheet pans, but everything was done by hand, and I had a knack for it. I really enjoyed the artistic aspect of chocolate—I could mold and shape it—texturally, it was a cool medium.”
While the chefs at L’Ecole Culinaire encouraged Jordan, it was a Parisian chocolatier who caught Jordan’s attention. “Patrick Roger was someone whom I looked up to going back to culinary school,” Jordan explains. “His work was just insane! I immediately loved his style, and I had never seen a guy so married to his work. I was just a huge, huge fan.”
After L’Ecole Culinaire, Jordan continued his education and his journey with chocolate at Barry Callebaut in Chicago. He returned to St. Louis and helped to open Villa Farotto in Chesterfield, working his way up to pastry chef—all the while, he was making chocolate and refining his craft at home. Eventually, he began selling his chocolates at Villa Farotto.
Then, after multiple trips to France and Italy for research and continuing education (read: “beating down doors to meet with chefs”), an opportunity presented itself that left Jordan with no other choice than to quit his job and follow his passion.
“So, I kept going back to France, and I kept beating down the door of chef Patrick Roger, because he was my idol,” Jordan says, adding that he would visit the Patrick Roger boutiques often; and eventually, he befriended a woman with the Roger group. She offered Jordan the chance to meet Roger.
“When I met him, he was like a French Bob Dylan,” Jordan laughs. “He mumbled every word, and I couldn't understand what he was saying. And then I had this whole speech planned—that he is my biggest inspiration, blah, blah, blah—and everything just escaped me. He was polishing something and not looking at me and then he asked, Are you done? He then said, OK, go. And as I started to leave, he said, No, get to work!”
While he was at Patrick Roger, Jordan says there were only five chocolatiers, and he was the only American. They worked 12- to 16-hour days, which required a very high level of skill at a very fast pace to supply the eight or so Patrick Roger boutiques around Paris proper. “We were busting it out all day, every day,” Jordan explains. “I would go home and wash my chef's coat in my bathtub with a scrubby, hang it to dry; and in the morning, it would still be damp. I'd walk back to work, and there would be nothing open to eat but maybe a crusty baguette and some warm wine. But this was a changing moment in my life. I was already doing chocolate on a professional level at home and doing it very well, but that experience showed me how much more I could get out of myself and how much more anyone working for me could give me. The experience was so hard, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
After turning down a position with Patrick Roger, Jordan returned to the U.S. to follow his dream of opening his own boutique. But before Jordan left Paris, he asked Roger for some words of advice. “He told me that I shouldn't look at what my competition is doing, but to only pay attention to what I am doing."
Once back in the States, Jordan was excited to learn that a machine he had become accustomed to using with the chocolate-making process in France was now being imported to the U.S. “I could have bought a new car or one of these machines by Selmi,” he recalls with a laugh. “I opted for the machine. I really fell in love with it—it even features a little conveyor belt like what we saw with I Love Lucy. It’s an enrobing machine. Without it, you just can't keep up a shop full of products and wholesale accounts. I was ready for it.”
Jordan says that the cacao beans for his chocolate are sourced through Fair Trade from the Guya Gua region of Venezuela. Beyond the beans, Jordan is very conscious to use local ingredients in his products, including herbs from his garden and honey from his own backyard beehives, local goat cheese, elderberries, Missouri pecans, and black walnuts that he gets from his grandfather in Steelville, Missouri, among other local fresh and in-season ingredients.
In the chocolate making process, Jordan explains that after receiving the cacao beans, which are fermented and dried, he roasts them to the flavor he desires. The beans are then cooled and the shells are removed from the nibs. “Last year. Missouri S&T’s senior class built a machine for me for this process because not a lot of equipment exists for this level of the craft,” Jordan explains. “I had a system that I was using, but it was very slow. Every year, the senior class of Missouri S&T in Rolla works on a class project to solve a real-world problem. They fell love with my problem, and the class wanted to take it on.” Jordan notes that 70 percent cacao is standard for his chocolate.
And getting back to Jordan’s demispheres—he says these colorful, intriguing treats are his top seller. “Demispheres are molded half-circles, and I learned a little secret at Patrick Roger as to how to get them to look the way they do,” Jordan says. “I spray them with cocoa butter, which gives them color and they are completely smooth like glass.”
Yes, it’s been a long journey for Jordan. But, when he finally found his passion by chance in the L’Ecole Culinaire kitchen, he never looked back. “When I went to France and Italy, I never even considered that I wouldn't get what I needed,” Jordan recalls. “I knew exactly where I needed to be, and I was very, very fortunate to see the path that was laid out in front of me. I had eyes to see it and a means to walk it. It was never easy. It was always awkward, but I have been very blessed."