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Chatting with Pastry Chef Norman Love

Chatting with Pastry Chef Norman Love

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Finding the perfect gift for dad for Father’s Day isn’t easy. So what’s a son or daughter to do? If you ask me, there’s only one answer: chocolate.

Pastry chef Norman Love is an expert on all things cocoa, and now his son, Ryan, is joining him in the family business. So, in honor of all things chocolate and all things dad, I chatted with Love about why so many people are so wild about chocolate and what it’s like to have your son follow in your footsteps.

What made you decide to become a pastry chef?

In high school, I worked at an ice cream parlor and that gave me my first taste of the culinary arts. My first love is art and creating pastries and chocolates allows me to bring my artistic flair to everything I bake.

People like creative desserts, so being a pastry chef allows me to express art through food. Dessert is a fun time of the meal and people are always happy when desert arrives. Also, a lot of memories are made during the last course – blowing out birthday candles, finding an engagement ring tucked into the dessert – I enjoy being a part of that.

Did you always have a love of chocolate?

I’ve always loved confections and sweets. I always felt, no matter where I’ve worked, that chocolate was the best received dessert. I’ve worked heavily in chocolate and appreciate the artistry and décor, and flavors. Chocolate makes people happy

I was the executive pastry chef for Ritz-Carlton Hotels for 13 years. I left the company to co-found a national and international pastry competition. During this time, I was anxious about my new business and about leaving Ritz-Carlton and started making chocolates in my office as supplemental income. Through my many connections from my years at Ritz-Carlton, I was able to network with chefs and restaurants in the area and supply them with chocolates. I started out by driving around Southwest Florida to deliver my chocolates. The chocolate business was so successful, I left the production business and started making chocolates full time.

We opened Norman Love Confections in 2001. In 2002, USA Today named our company as one of the top chocolates to buy for Valentine’s Day, which really launched our business.

Why do you think most people adore chocolate so much?

Chocolate makes people happy. A recent study by Wakefield International found that 8 of 10 of those surveyed said that chocolate improves their mood and two-thirds of the respondents ate chocolate when they were happy.

There is something decadent about chocolate and people feel that they are indulging in something sinful that’s delicious, and if they eat just one or two, they’re not destroying their diets. And the focus on the health benefits of chocolates – especially dark chocolates – has only enhanced its popularity.

What are your favorite methods for working with chocolate?

We use only the freshest, most delicious ingredients available and pair them in ways that people will understand, appreciate, and truly enjoy. I favor artistic expression because chocolate is such an expressive medium and I think of my chocolates as edible art. The design element is always top of mind when we are creating a new line or product. For example, this year, our theme for Valentine’s Day was “Wild Love.” So, our chocolate flavors and designs reflected that with tiger stripes and flavors like “Rum Rampage,” “Savage Spice,” and “Wild Fire.”

What are your favorite pairings with chocolate when it comes to food and drink, alcoholic and non-alcoholic?

Pairing a rich, dark chocolate with a hearty red wine is one of my favorite ways to enjoy chocolate. We have a new ultra-premium line of single origin dark chocolates from five of the finest growing regions in the world, called Norman Love Confections BLACK. Enjoying them with a robust glass of red wine – for example, a rich Italian like a Barolo or Amarone – truly enhances the experience. And of course, for the non-alcoholic, there’s nothing like a cold glass of milk with a great milk chocolate!

What’s the happiest accident you’ve ever had while experimenting with chocolate?

There are so many. I have a great team at Norman Love Confections. One of my pastry chefs, Maura Metheny, was just named one of the top pastry chefs of the year by Dessert Professionals. She’s my head of innovation and all of her energies are spent creating new products and continually improving existing products and developing line extensions.

Many years ago, I tried to melt chocolate in the oven because I didn’t have enough space and ended up caramelizing it and creating a dulce de leche-type of flavor. Now it’s become very popular and commonplace, but then it was pretty novel.

What do you think would surprise people to find out about chocolate?

The growing interest in chocolate in the U.S. The many talented artisanal chocolatiers who are opening storefronts and honing their skills are educating the consumer on true ultra-premium chocolate. They are bringing the European mentality to the U.S. For the last few years, there has been a growing trend of ultra-premium chocolates and chocolatiers are growing and experimenting with artisan chocolates, much like European chocolatiers do.

The rapidly growing artisanal market is educating the American public about what true ultra-premium chocolates are. My belief is that starting with fresh, pure ingredients and singular flavors always provide the best product. Nothing too exotic or jarring, just simple and delicious.

What would you say is the biggest myth about chocolate?

That you can’t ship chocolate during the summer or from a hot climate. So many people say to me, “A chocolate maker who’s based in Florida? Don’t your chocolates melt all the time?” And the answer is no. When we started out, I reached out to a friend who ships medicines and asked him to help me create a shipping method that would ensure our chocolates arrived in perfect condition.

Since we don’t use any preservatives, our chocolates have a very specific life span. But, since much of our business is done online, getting our confections to consumers quickly and in perfect condition is paramount. We make sure each box is refrigerated in shipping. In our nearly 15 years, we’ve never had a box returned for melted chocolates.

Your son is also a pastry chef, correct? How long have you been working together?

My son, Ryan, went to college with the intention of becoming an engineer. Then, part-time jobs led him to the hospitality sector and then into the culinary world. I was worried when he said he wanted to follow in my footsteps and become a pastry chef. The hours, the stress, the time away from family – it’s not what I wanted for him. But, he’s so dedicated to his art.

After college, he spent three years working in our chocolate factory and wanted to pursue pastry, so we sent him to the French Pastry School in Chicago. He’s now been back in our pastry kitchen for the past year and a half. I was invited to be part of the Cayman Cookout this past winter with Anthony Bourdain, Daniel Boulud, and many other distinguished chefs. I decided to bring Ryan with me to assist. It was the first time we worked together in the kitchen and it was a great experience. I saw his passion, his talent, and his commitment. He’s working for our company now, but I hope to be able to send him to France for some additional training in the near future.

What is it like to work with him?

Wonderful. It’s great to spend the time with him and to collaborate. When I worked for Ritz-Carlton, I traveled all over the world and spent so much time away from my family. My son and daughter rarely got to see me. Now, I can make up for lost time, cooking and collaborating with Ryan!

Pastry Chef Roger von Rotz. He is the premier chocolatier in Switzerland. Roger and his wife own and operate 6 luxury chocolate shops in Switzerland. He has received numerous awards for innovative chocolate creations.

Pastry Chef Thierry Busset. Born in France, He was the pastry chef at two three-star-Michelin Guide restaurants in London: Le Gavroche and Michel Roux Jr. before moving to Vancouver, Canada to open his own chocolate shops. Thierry was voted the maker of the Best Desserts and Best Pastries in British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver Magazine said, ‘Thierry is widely regarded as one of North America’s finest pastry chefs.’

Chocolate demo by Norman Love

Thanks to breadster who told me about these happenings, otherwise I would have never known about them!! In Chicago the pastry chefs are busy holding demos ($20.00, 10. for students) with really great pastry chefs. These are my notes and thoughts from the one I attended on chocolates.

There were about 40 to 45 people in attendance in the back room of a large bakery. Normans' assistant was Jackie Pfieffer from Chicagos' French Pastry School.

Norman buys his chocolate molds either from Chocolate World or Chocolate chocolate companies. He likes the type that have magnetic closures. If you've noticed there are clear molds and opaque pro molds. After much experimenting he insists that the clear mold do provide a better shine on your chocolates (even thought no one can figure out why).

He thinks American consumers buy first by the visual appeal and to make his line of chocolates different he's using color and transfer sheets for appeal. They really like PCB Creations (buy from European Imports) chocolate fat soluble colors and dusts. He heated some up in the micro to 98F and with a gloved hand first spread red into his mold. Then came back with orange and then a light dust of gold powder. When he unmolded these they were INCREDIABLE. He used dark chocolate to mold and the gold made the two colors glow on top of the chocolate!

Before he molded any chocolate he tempered it, etc. and talked abit about crystalization. There's 7 forms of crystal in melted chocolate and the good one (for tempering). He didn't have any really tricks or short cuts on tempering and holding. Just mentioned how you need to keep adding your warm chocolate to your tempered bowl (and agitate) to keep what your working from warm. He thinks most people under-heat and under agitate their chocolate while tempering. Don't be scared and you MUST move around your chocolate to develop the good crystal.

He mentioned that when he rubs the color into his molds with his finger that that process actually over crystalizes the chocolate and that makes the chocolate shinier.

Another technique he showed us was airbrushing color into his molds. He uses "Mini Spray Gun Set 250-4" made by Badger company. It's the cheapest air brush out there. He hooked up to a can of air instead of a compressor. This cheap air brush lets you spray thick liquids (chocolate) and has easy clean up and no cloging. He mentioned plumpers use this type of brush. Oh, the can of air gets very cold while using and can freeze up. So he places it in a warm pot of h2o to prevent that from slowing him down. It also can be hooked up to a compressor, of course.

The last technique was using transfer sheets in a magnetic mold. That's to basic for any notes.

Then for his fillings (ganche) he really really talked about technique. Comparing it to making mayo it's an emulsion and you must stir from the center out, infusing your cream slowly using a spoon NEVER a whisk (that brings air into it). He adds his butter last (usually) and waits until his ganche is 95F before filling his molds 3/4 full. Any hotter temp. melts your molded chocolate shell.

He made a lavender ganche. Bought organic lavender from Purple Haze Co. in Oregon. He always infused his flavors (cinnamon or lemon etc..) in the warm cream and strained into his ganche. He insists you should never push down on your herbs because that releases too much oil and unfavorable flavor, while straining.

I have to run, but you can find him at and he organizes and promotes too.

Oh, one last tip. When making fans using the heated pan technique (where you chill in the cooler then bring to room temp. and scrap) he said add 5% oil to your chocolate and it gives it more elasticisty while scrapping.

Top 10 Questions You'd Like to . Ask Norman Love

Most people have seen the influence that Norman Love has had on chocolatiers all over the world, without really knowing much about the person behind the techniques. Since even before founding Norman Love Confections in 2001 with his wife Mary, he was known for innovative and intricate surface decorations on his molded chocolates using colored cocoa butters applied using various techniques.

Today, almost every chocolatier who makes shell-molded chocolates has at least one piece that uses one of the techniques that Norman has perfected.

Now is your chance to ask Norman questions: About his techniques, his inspirations, what it's really like to produce millions of pieces a year (he's a creative force behind Godiva's G collection as well as doing the production), what he looks for in chocolate and how he chooses the ones he uses, business advice, anything you like.

You can ask your questions by replying to this Forum post. You have until Valentine's Day to post your questions. Then, he and I will look over all of the questions that have been submitted and he will answer the 10 of them that we find most interesting. I'll give him a week or so to compose responses, then he'll send those answers to me, I'll format them, and then post them for you to read and comment on. I hope to convince Norman to join TheChocolateLife so he can respond to your comments.

Norman contacted me a couple of weeks ago to let me know he was about to launch a new collection, BLACK, in time for this holiday gifting season. BLACK not only takes the surface decoration techniques he is known for to an entirely new level, it is a collection of five origin bonbons. Anyone who knows chocolates well will immediately recognize the chocolates he chose for the collection: Felchlin's Grand Cru line. Norman has been using Felchlin chocolates for a long time but this is his first collection that features the Grand Cru collection - 74% Cru Hacienda (Dominican Republic), 72% Ecuador, 68% Cru Sauvage (Bolivia), 65% Maracaibo Clasificado (Venezuela), and 64% Madagascar.

When I first tasted them I found them to be not only recognizable from the outside as a Norman Love product, but inside the silky, buttery texture and flavor that are his signatures were immediately evident while complementing and not overpowering the unique characteristics of each chocolate, a delicate balancing act. So, I thought it would be interesting to "interview" him in this fashion rather than talking to him myself on the phone and writing my impressions up.

Here's what the box and the bon bons look like (click to see a larger version in a new tab/window):

And for those of you who've never seen a photo, here's an official one:

Chef Chocolatier Maura Metheny’s Hazelnut and Lemon Cake Recipe

Meet Blonde. Exquisite. Delectable. Savory.

Chef Chocolatier Maura Metheny created her hazelnut and lemon cake masterpiece called “Blonde” at the 24th annual U.S. Pastry Competition for Pastry Chef of the Year in New York City in March 2013 and earned a bronze medal! Congrats Chef Metheny!

For all of our adventurous chocolatiers in the making, check out Chef Metheny’s recipe below to recreate this delectable dessert.

If you want to take it to the next level and learn from professional artisan chocolatiers and pastry chefs in Southwest Florida, Norman Love Confections has summer classes and you can check out their class schedule here. The new schedule will be published after Valentine’s Day 2016.

Hazelnut and Lemon Cake Recipe

Hazelnut and Lemon Biscuit:

1. Whip toasted and cooled hazelnut flour, confectionary sugar, eggs, yolks and lemon zest to a light ribbon.

2. Whip Egg whites and sugar to soft peak.

3. Fold 1/3 of meringue into egg mixture.

4. Fold in sifter cake flour into egg/meringue mixture.

5. Fold in remaining 2/3 meringue and pour into desired cake pan to bake at 155 degrees celsius for 25-30 minutes until center is dry when tested.

Praline Glaze:

160g 99% Noel Liquor Chocolate

1. Microwave Mirror glaze to 50 degrees celsius.

2. Bloom gelatin with cold water.

3. Boil cream and pour over chocolate to create a ganache.

4. Emulsify hot ganache into hot mirror glaze.

5. Add hazelnut paste and melted bloomed gelatin mixture while continuing to blend.

6. Store in refrigerator for 24 hours before reheating to use.

Milk and Dark Chocolate Mousse:

100g 33% Noel Lactee Chocolate

145g 64% Noel Royale Chocolate

1. Cook Yolks, sugar, heavy cream and milk all together in a pot to 85 degrees celsius.

2. Strain into mixing bowl and whip cool.

3. Melt chocolates together.

4. Whip heavy cream to medium consistency.

5. Fold chocolates into whipped Anglaise.

6. Fold 1/3 whipped cream into chocolate mixture.

7. Fold chocolate mixture into remaining whipped cream.

Praline Cream:

1. Bloom gelatin in cold water.

2. Roast Hazelnuts and puree into paste.

3. Boil Heavy cream and pour over praline and hazelnut paste, stir to create an emulsion.

4. Add bloomed melted gelatin and blend with emulsion blender.

Hazelnut Creameux:

1. Toast and grind hazelnuts to paste.

2. Cook, cream, sugar, and yolks to 85 degrees celsius.

3. Pour Anglaise over hazelnut paste and mix until emulsified.

4. Bloom gelatin and cold water for 5 minutes and add to ganache.

5. Stir until fully incorporated.

Lemon Cream:

100g Ravifruit Lemon Puree

1. Boil Puree, 1st sugar and butter.

2. Whisk starch with 2nd sugar and whip with eggs and yolks until smooth.

3. Temper egg mixture into hot liquid cook to 85 degrees celsius.

4. Bloom gelatin with cold water for 5 minutes.

5. Add bloomed gelatin mixture to hot lemon cream and stir until smooth and fully incorporated.

Hazelnut Crunch:

75g Toasted Blanched Hazelnuts

135g 35% Cocoa Noel Lactee Chocolate

1. Roast, cool, and coarsely chop hazelnuts.

2. Melt chocolate and cool to 35 degrees celsius.

3. Mix all ingredients and roll to desired thickness.

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Norman Love Reflects on Lifetime Spent Building Chocolate Business

This story appeared in the October 2015 issue of Naples Illustrated.

When Norman Love, one of the world’s great pastry chefs and chocolatiers, is asked to recall how he came into his vocation, he thinks back nearly 50 years to the school book fair where, as a second grader, he found himself drawn to Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook. Its cover depicted a boy in a white apron and chef’s toque holding up a chocolate cake to the wonder of his siblings. That settled it. “I knew my destiny at a really early age,” Love says.

His youthful enthusiasm survived early disasters, such as the time when he made peanut butter cookies and used, instead of a quarter-teaspoon, an entire quarter-cup of salt. The Betty Crocker cookbook survived, too, and remains one of his prized possessions. “I think the pages are still smeared with batter and eggs,” he says. Some three decades later, he led the United States to a third-place finish at the prestigious World Pastry Cup in Lyon, France.

Norman Love Confections produces nearly seven million gourmet chocolates a year, each one made by hand.

His namesake artisanal sweets business, Norman Love Confections, headquartered in Fort Myers, now has 72 employees and four retail shops, including locations in Naples and Estero. In his 6,000-square-foot chocolate factory, a dozen chefs labor to produce nearly seven million pieces of gourmet chocolate a year, each one made by hand. Edible art in vivid colors, they are designed to be eaten first with the eyes.

Over the decades, Love has been variously a charming beggar—talking his way into positions despite a lack of experience—and a relentless perfectionist, demanding extraordinary efforts from himself and his colleagues. Despite never attending culinary school, he has managed to rack up awards and revolutionize an unforgiving industry.

After growing up in Pennsylvania, he moved with his family to Florida, just south of Fort Lauderdale, when he was 15 years old. His love of sweets turned into a high-school job at a local Swenson’s ice-cream parlor, where he quickly moved up to store manager. He found himself increasingly drawn to the culinary arts and even applied to the Culinary Institute of America, but landed on a wait list. To fill the 13 months before the program would begin, he secured a job as an apprentice pastry cook at a restaurant in Pompano Beach, which meant making bread rolls at four in the morning.

“I still smell that smell, and it still excites me, and I’m still really intrigued by how wonderful the smell of fresh-baked products is,” he says. “It’s almost hypnotizing. And I’ve never forgotten it.”

At that point, he realized he wanted to make nothing but pastries and sweets. (In the old Betty Crocker children’s cookbooks, desserts come first in the table of contents.) Instead of enrolling in the CIA, he talked his way into the all-French-speaking kitchen at the Turnberry Isle Yacht and Racket Club in Miami Beach, striking a bargain with the executive chef. He would work on the “hot line” at night if they would also let him work as an unpaid apprentice to the pastry chef during the day. So Love, who recalls himself being “this 18-year-old kid who didn’t know sugar from flour and cut himself more than he actually cut the vegetables,” sweated it out there for three years. That was followed by two years in France, where he continued to learn about European pastry.

Compelled to return to Southwest Florida when his mother was stricken with cancer, he returned to Turnberry Isle as a pastry chef. He left again nearly three years later when his mother’s condition temporarily improved, landing at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was 1987, and Wolfgang Puck and other star chefs in California were creating the next wave in American cuisine. It was an exciting place to be. By now Love was married, however, and his wife, Mary, hailed from the Midwest. Neither of them wanted to raise a family in La-La Land. (Their son was born in 1989.) Shortly thereafter, Love seized the chance to become the pastry chef at a new Ritz-Carlton in St. Louis, kicking off a period of all-consuming work. “The personal sacrifice was huge,” he says.

Travel kept him away from his family 42 weeks a year for more than 12 years, as he participated in the openings of more than 30 Ritz-Carlton hotels around the world. He had become, he says, “a stranger in my own home. I missed all of it: school recitals and church recitals and sporting events and school plays. When they were young, my kids thought I worked in the airport.” The prolonged absence from home remains the biggest regret of his life.

Norman and Mary Love, with their children, Ryan and Carly, in 1999.

Yet this period also felt like “winning the lottery”—jet-setting like a rock star, meeting chefs from around the world, and picking up new cooking methods along the way. It was a time of accelerated growth. Keegan Gerhard, a fellow chef who met Love in the mid-1990s when Chocolatier magazine named Love one of the country’s top 10 pastry chefs, is astonished by his friend’s unsleeping ambition. “He’s just a supreme example of focus and professionalism,” Gerhard says. “He is relentless.”

In a foreword to Love’s self-published book Artistry in Chocolate, released in December 2014, Gerhard shares Love’s motto, known to all his employees: “Be better today than yesterday, not as good as tomorrow.” It was this intensity of purpose that inspired Gerhard to leave the Waldorf-Astoria, where he was executive pastry chef, to be Love’s assistant at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, where he had settled after St. Louis.

Soon the two men found themselves at the 1999 World Pastry Cup—Love as team captain and Gerhard, known for his plated desserts, as a member of the support staff. After winning the bronze medal, they got to talking—Love, Gerhard, and the team coach—and hit on the idea of organizing a world-class dessert competition of their own in the United States. Gerhard still marvels at Love’s audacity: “What kind of balls does it take to go to the world’s biggest and best competition, and go, ‘I think we can do this better’?”

Partnering with Michael Schneider, the editor of the now-defunct Chocolatier, Love set up a competition in Beaver Creek, Colorado. By its second year, in 2001, Food Network was on hand to televise the event. The day of the competition was warm, and confectionery masterpieces were melting, falling. All this crashing of sugar made for great TV. Such great TV, in fact, that Food Network turned the event into a major new series called Food Network Challenge, of which Gerhard became the host.

With Love and Schneider’s TV production company taking off, Love decided it was finally time to leave the Ritz-Carlton. Worried about losing the steady paycheck, however, he equipped his 700-square-foot office with a stainless-steel table and a small refrigerator so that he could make a few chocolates to supplement his income. Then, in January 2002, USA Today featured his sweets on a short list of the best chocolates for Valentine’s Day. After that, Love says, “my phone never stopped ringing.” He was in an industrial park in the middle of nowhere with no sign and no credit-card machine, but customers found him.

So did Godiva, which convinced him to design a new limited-edition line of chocolates. Love initially protested that his facilities weren’t up to the task, but he wound up agreeing to make 350,000 pieces, hiring part-time pastry chefs to help out. The new “G” line sold so well that Godiva asked for 1.3 million more pieces. That was when Love built his chocolate factory. His wife, Mary, a dental assistant, joined the business. “I wear one hat and she wears 100,” Love says. “It’s her business, too, and she cares as much as I do.”

Together, they have built a business that brings in approximately $10 million a year, according to Love. In addition to selling its products to restaurants, hotels, and, in one case, a cruise line, Norman Love Confections has four retail locations in Southwest Florida, including a gelato shop that opened next to his Fort Myers store in 2012. “I started in ice cream, and it is my personal weakness,” Love says. Two years later, he opened a chocolate salon in Estero. Around peak holidays—Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day—“police officers have to come to our stores to keep control of the crowd,” according to Love, who says he is humbled by the experience.

During the busy season from October through Mother’s Day, Norman Love Confections can churn out 60,000 pieces of gourmet chocolate in a single day. Love has made a conscious choice to focus on molded rather than dipped or enrobed chocolates, feeling that he could “accomplish artistic expression at a very high level” with the former. Years ago he pioneered the use of colored cocoa butter to add vibrancy to bonbons and other treats. Today his decadent, hand-painted creations exist in rainbow profusion, their speckles and swirls and bright bands of color enticing the eye.

Love recently added 11 new flavors to his Signature Collection, including carrot cake, passion orange, and sea salt caramel truffle.

“My friends in Europe, back when, used to give me so much crap: ‘How can you put blue and green on chocolates?’ And today the world does it,” Love says. “Consumers love to be wowed. They love to see beautiful things.”

Maura Metheny, one of his chef chocolatiers who has been with the company for 14 years, now serves as head of design and innovation: “All she does is create newness.” The constant development of new techniques and designs is necessary, Love adds, “if you want to separate yourself from the rest of the oh-so-many chocolatiers who are dabbling in color today.”

Edible art in vivid colors, Love’s gourmet chocolates are designed to be eaten first with the eyes.

His willingness to delegate only goes so far, though. Six days a week you can find him on the premises, working 12 hours a day, often wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins ball cap. Love is a die-hard fan, and at one point during his teen years, his life revolved around ice hockey. He aspired to play at the collegiate level, maybe even turn pro. Only after his family moved to South Florida in the early 1970s—a hockey-culture desert—did he rediscover his love of sweets. However, the sport remains one of his great passions. He attends games, plays the sport recreationally, and continually adds to his collection of ice-hockey memorabilia. No matter what Love focuses on, he’s all in.

“Norman as an owner isn’t the type of guy who sits behind a desk and barks orders,” says Amy Sedlacek, the company’s former sales manager. “He’s on the floor, he’s calling vendors and suppliers, he’s back there making chocolate or in the kitchen making gelato, he’s stocking the shelves. At holiday time, he loves to be behind the register, talking to customers and ringing them up. Norman’s right in the fray. And Mary’s right beside him.”

Norman Love at a team meeting.

Love’s success has given him a certain standing in Southwest Florida, and he has put it to good use, raising money for the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, scheduled to open in 2016 in South Fort Myers, and volunteering as a wish granter with Make-a-Wish Southern Florida. Sedlacek, who is a co-chair of the advisory board of Make-A-Wish Southern Florida and a wish granter herself, says, “His passion to help people in any demographic, in any circumstance is really overwhelming.” In all, Love’s company gives to more than 200 charitable causes.

Meanwhile, he wants to expand his business into Miami and other parts of Florida. He is planning to open two or three new retail shops soon in Naples and Sarasota in the next 24 months. He’s even toying with the idea of a food truck.

Through it all, Love has adhered to a simple business philosophy. He shared it with Gerhard when his former assistant was preparing to strike out on his own. “Keegan,” he said, “there is always room for the best.”

Norman Love Cooking Classes

Check out this video from one our latest Norman Love Confections cooking class and see why it’s an experience you’ll never forget! Students come from far and wide to learn from Norman Love Confections chefs in the very kitchen where the nationally-renowned gourmet chocolate creations are made every day.
Every class is taught by Norman Love Confections chefs, many of whom are award-winning pastry chefs themselves, or have been trained by them. In these videos from one of our latest classes, students learned to make gourmet tarts with Chef Ryan Love, son of company founder Norman Love. You can see how thrilling it is to be part of the Love family for an evening, learning skills you can replicate at home, creating the perfect dessert from start to finish. You bring home the desserts you create, as well as the recipes to make them again. Plus, all of the ingredients are included in your class registration of just $95 per person.

The chocolatier offers classes from March to September so there are still classes available, but they do sell out fast. Call 239-561-7215 now to register for any of the following classes. Private classes can also be scheduled, but dates are limited, so arrange for your private group class ASAP. It’s a great way to spend a fun evening with family, friends and coworkers, whether it is for an adult birthday party, to reward employees and encourage team building, or as an anniversary or graduation celebration. Any reason to get together for an unforgettable experience will do!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Greek Yogurt with Blueberries

No, this isn't a recipe. I laugh at the idea of me making yogurt from scratch, Greek or any other nationality. Why? Because I don't actually like yogurt. Too sour/bitter, not sweet enough, don't care for the texture.

So it might astound you (or maybe it just astounded me) that I've been eating a serving of Greek yogurt with half a cup of blueberries every day for the last few weeks. I give full credit to the Hungry Girl Diet Book because I got the idea there. It's listed as one of the low-calorie snacks to keep you full but also within range of your supposed calorie intake.

I'm posting this as a snack idea for anyone else trying to lose weight or just eat healthier. Here's the thing. Diets don't work for me. I've tried them all, beginning with the Beverly Hills Diet when I was 16, to moving to mindful eating a la the Beck Diet, to time-restricted eating to low carbing, Atkins, South Beach, paleo, Whole30 and more recently, keto. I lasted 2 days on keto but could never manage to eat enough fat for the diet.

Throughout it all, the only thing that's ever worked for me longer than a few weeks is to count calories. And even then, calorie counting simply sucked. It made me obsessive about weighing all my portions, fretting about logging every morsel I ate, thinking about food all the time, dodging invitations to lunch or dinner because I simply didn't know how many calories I was eating in a restaurant. I'm a numbers person so I was also overly focused on how many calories I had left to go to satisfy the ever-present vortex that was my stomach. Quite frankly, I hate being hungry. In my non-dieting times, I also eat like an adolescent. As in, I love fried foods, salty chips, sweets. Is the last any kind of surprise? Then you haven't read the last 10 years of blog posts.

Anyway, back to the yogurt. I had a vanity goal to lose 10-15 pounds for my niece's wedding this fall. Plus our upcoming family reunion taking place two weeks before that. I've been half-assing trying to lose weight all year. As I run out of time and with the weight loss challenge at work coming up at just the right time, it was time to go full ass.

I mentioned I don't like yogurt. I decided to try Greek yogurt in an eat-your-vegetables (I don't like veggies either) martyrdom mindset. Took the first spoonful. Yep, didn't like it for the aforementioned reasons. But the Hungry Girl Diet Book as well as web searches extolled the benefits of Greek yogurt. So I got the brilliant idea of freezing it or at least partially freezing it. So my inner adolescent could pretend it would be like ice cream.

Astonishingly, this kinda worked. It diminished the texture issue of Greek yogurt being too thick and creamy if it was partially frozen. I say partially frozen because fully frozen makes it too hard to eat. Because let's not kid ourselves, this really isn't ice cream, no matter how much I like to pretend. It's more like ice milk than ice cream when frozen. It's still bitter and sour for my sweets-loving taste buds but adding the fresh blueberries helps. A lot. You can substitute another fruit or berry of your choice but blueberries are also pretty good for you.

Even bigger benefit is because I only partially freeze it, eat the parts that are frozen and put it back to freeze the rest, it takes me awhile to eat a whole serving. 80 calories for the yogurt, 45 calories for the blueberries. Voila, a 125-calorie snack that lasts the afternoon in terms of eating it and keeping me from being hungry.

I'm back to counting calories to lose weight but it hasn't been as onerous as in the past because of foods like these that keep me full and don't have a lot of calories. It still isn't Ben & Jerry's but for my health and my weight loss goals, it'll do. Partly thanks to this snack idea and to the Growing Oatmeal Breakfast I've been eating each morning, as of this writing, I'm now down 3.8 pounds. 11.2 more to go.

Artisan Bread Company in Cape Coral finds recipe for success

Todd Johnson, owner of Artisan Bread Company in Cape Coral, has added Ella's Flats, a healthy cracker that is made all of seeds. "These crackers saved my business," Johnson said as he talked about how local store are starting to carry them. (Photo: Andrea Melendez/The News-Press/USA Today,Florida Network)

Small businesses have been severely challenged during the pandemic and some unfortunately have not survived. If not for the ongoing, largely behind-the-scenes work on an ambitious collaboration launched four years ago, the Artisan Bread Company, with a retail store in downtown Cape Coral since 2012, would probably have been one of the casualties, according to owner and veteran area chef Todd Johnson.

While his usually thriving wholesale bread business serving many area restaurants fell off drastically, he has been steadily increasing distribution of Ella’s Flats — packaged, non-GMO, gluten-, grain- and sugar-free crackers consisting of pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, caraway, flaxseed and other seeds. It’s available via Amazon and at 1,000-plus grocery stores nationwide, including all area Whole Foods Market, Mother Earth Natural Market and Ada’s Natural Market locations. It’s expected that local Publix stores will begin offering it in April.

Ella’s Flats are packaged, non-GMO, gluten-, grain- and sugar-free crackers consisting of pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, caraway, flaxseed and other seeds. (Photo: Andrea Melendez/The News-Press/USA Today,Florida Network)

“It’s great with any meal or dip and as an anytime healthy snack,” the longtime Cape resident said. “A lot of thought went into the best balance of seeds in each one for the best nutrition.”

The vegan, paleo and keto product line expanded last August with the Everything flavor, inspired by the bagel of the same name and teeming with onion, garlic and black sesame seeds among many others. “It’ll be the bestseller,” said Johnson.

The product, produced in a bakery in downtown Fort Myers, was co-launched with Ellen Macks, of Naples, who he calls a “marketing wiz” and who has followed a keto, low-carb diet since she was 18.

Ella's Flats products are available via Amazon and at 1,000-plus grocery stores nationwide, including all area Whole Foods Market, Mother Earth Natural Market and Ada’s Natural Market locations. It’s expected that local Publix stores will begin offering the brand in April. (Photo: Andrea Melendez/The News-Press/USA Today,Florida Network)

She shares Johnson’s enthusiasm for the Everything cracker.

“It’s trending with all of its different seasonings. It’s so delicious plus has all the attributes like being high-fiber and plant-based,” she said.

On Johnson: “He is so hard working and is a baking genius. He made the product commercially viable. His business relationships led to our initial success in distribution.”

Johnson has also been helping the community during the crisis, giving bread weekly to the Cape’s Faith Presbyterian church.

Todd Johnson has owned the Artisan Bread Company, with a retail store in downtown Cape Coral, since 2012. (Photo: Andrea Melendez/The News-Press/USA Today,Florida Network)

He also added more gluten-free items last year, some of which have been inspired by his wife, whose Tadpole Apparel shop is adjacent to his store and who was determined to be gluten-sensitive eight years ago.

Gluten-free “is our niche,” added Johnson. “Many people may have digestive issues and not know they are allergic or intolerant to it.”

From among many desserts and other pastries he offers, he believes his gluten-free chocolate lava cake might also be distributed more broadly someday.

Todd Johnson, owner of Artisan Bread Company in Cape Coral, has traditional breads and pastry as well as many gluten free options. (Photo: Andrea Melendez/The News-Press/USA Today,Florida Network)

Johnson and Norman Love were executive pastry chef and corporate pastry chef, respectively, at the Ritz-Carlton Naples for most of the 1990s and remain friends. He’s also a longtime friend with “the other” Todd Johnson in the area food business, master chef at Rumrunners in the Cape.

“It’s a small world in this business,” said Johnson, who also participates in the Cape’s downtown and Cape Harbour farmers’ markets. “Norman would come back from overseas trips and share what he learned.”

“It’s great with any meal or dip and as an anytime healthy snack,” Artisan Bread Company owner Todd Johnson said of his Ella's Flats. “A lot of thought went into the best balance of seeds in each one for the best nutrition.” (Photo: Andrea Melendez/The News-Press/USA Today,Florida Network)

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

When I started working at the sugar monkey in October, friends used to ask me to share Jennifer Reed’s recipes with them because they know that Jennifer is in a very select league of pastry chefs.

I chuckled at my friends and told them two things. First, I work in the office, not the kitchen so I do not even see how the magical recipes are created. Secondly, even if I knew every detail of each recipe, any and all information would never be shared.

I prefaced this post with the above information because Jennifer makes Coconut Macaroons that are to die for. They are round and perfectly browned, so there is a crunch consistency when first bitten, followed by the most deliciously moist coconut center. I am over the moon happy when I get one.

A few weeks ago I was in Naples, Florida and went into Norman Love Confections. Lo and behold, Norman’s had a chocolate dipped Coconut Macaroon that had that same gorgeous exterior and moist interior. I bought one and was only sad that I did not buy a dozen.

I remember standing in the shop wondering if this was a cookie that only classically trained pastry chefs have the ability to master. Norman, like Jennifer, served as executive pastry chef of highly regarded restaurants. During his career with The Ritz Carlton, Norman Love was appointed the corporate executive pastry chef where he oversaw global pastry and baking operations opening over 30 hotel and pastry kitchens over a span of 13 years.

I had to figure out if a home baker could make Coconut Macaroons like these two pros. I looked online at many, many, many, many different recipes. I found that they all had egg whites, salt, sugar and unsweetened coconut in common. Some added vanilla (which I chose to do) and the proportions and techniques varied.

My first round was laughable. I did not have enough coconut in the recipe so there was a bit of oozing. Additionally, they were so sweet that every member of my family cringed. Not the reaction I was hoping for.

The next round was, thank goodness, night and day from its predecessor. The exterior had a lovely brown crust and the inside was moist. I dipped the macaroons in chocolate because that is my favorite way of eating them.

I wish that I could say that they look just like the perfectly shaped cookies that Jennifer and Norman create, but this would not be even close to accurate. That said, though, Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons are delicious and pretty in their own way. Perhaps one of these days I will perfect the technique to get the round shape, but until that day comes, I am happy.

In case you are wondering if I will still buy cookies at the sugar monkey and Norman Love Confections, the answer is, “Every chance I can!”

Watch the video: Norman Love Confections - One of my Favorite Chocolate Companies