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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Starr of Gourmet Chocolate

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Milwaukee native Andrew Starr loves chocolate. From his early days baking Toll House cookies with his mom, to years tweaking fudge recipes, Starr has turned love into vocation. Along with business partner Jennifer Spielman, Starr created Black Star Chocolates, a Denver-based company dedicated to using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Now he's creating the gourmet chocolates of his dreams.

What's your earliest chocolate memory?


I remember munching on baking chocolate, standing next to my mom, who explained that I wouldn't like it, as it was unsweetened. I still found something wonderful about it, perhaps foreshadowing my love of dark chocolate.

What was your company's genesis?


Jen and I worked at the National Center for Voice and Speech and both love food and cooking. One Christmas, I brought in selections from the 12-piece truffle collection I'd made, and she brought chocolates and caramels, and talk turned to going pro. A couple months of pondering, six months of cooking together, and we began laying the groundwork to launch.

Why "Black Star Chocolates"?


Jen came to the table with Black Star, a loose translation of the Mayan god of cocoa and the harvest—totally unrelated that I consider the Mos Def and Talib Kweli album of the same name a favorite.

Describe an average chocolate-making day.


We work with fresh ingredients, some of which aren't always available. We spend 12 to 16 hours in the kitchen for two to three days, hand making each piece. We often work on three recipes over the course of a weekend. We work with fresh ingredients: fruit purées, herbs, spices, cream, butter and different chocolate types. We've got cherry cordials in development now for Mother's Day, and we did a line of floral creams for Valentine's.

What inspires new flavors?


My sister introduced me to The Flavor Bible, an amazing book that details how flavors work together and offers thousands of combinations. With the correct approach, pretty much any flavor that works as a savory dish can work in a sweet dish. So dishes outside of the world of chocolate inspire our brainstorming.

How's the climate for a small business?


We're only six months in, but we're steadily finding a customer base. We mostly work with other small businesses for supplies, and often there is a strong "we're in this together" attitude. We decided against opening a retail location, which has helped make this about our passion for chocolate and how to share it with people rather than the bottom line.

What's your current favorite Black Star product?


The Salted Caramel Truffle. Everybody does a salted caramel, and for good reason. However, we use freshly made caramelized sugar to flavor a ganache made with two of our favorite French chocolates, then dip it in dark chocolate and add Fleur de Sel to finish. I have a hard time packing those up when I'd rather sit home and eat them. Maybe I'll drop a pan by accident one of these days.
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