Paul John Kearins is both a chocolatier and pastry chef, and if you follow his Instagram stories (you know who you are!) he is a bit of a comedian as well. Paul works at the Purple Feather Cafe in Provincetown and runs his own chocolate business, Chocolatasm. (Let’s just say you “need” his buttermilk bonbons in your life! One of my personal favorite bonbons of all time!).
I’ve actually been wanting to interview Paul for almost a year and a half, but the timing never seemed right until now. Good people are worth the wait and what a pleasure it’s been to interview Paul officially after our long-time online/direct message interactions!
Did I mention Paul uses craft chocolate in his bonbons and bars? Find out how he started using craft chocolate in his creations, tips on pairing chocolate with wine, how a growing social media following impacts his life and more in my interview with a true flavor master, Paul John Kearins.
Paul John Kearins of Chocolatasm
Victoria Cooksey: What is your first memory of chocolate?
Paul John Kearins: My first memory of chocolate was an Easter egg I received as a small child. It was a milk chocolate egg filled with chocolate buttons and I remember there being the smell of the carton and the chocolate combined. I can conjure that nostalgia just by thinking about it. The carton revealed part of the Easter egg wrapped in deep purple foil and I remember opening the foil ever so gently and eating the buttons and then reassembling the two halves of the egg and re-wrapping it in the foil. I guess I didn’t want the magic to end and that is something I still have to some degree.
VC: What lead you to getting into making chocolates and confections?
PJK: It began at the same time: as a small child I would make chocolates and fondant candies, probably at the age of nine or ten. I could cook at a young age, my grandmother was a baker/pastry cook, and I was just so enthusiastic about being in the kitchen and helping and learning. I wanted nothing else other than to make food for a living and went to pastry school and of course excelled at every aspect except showing up to class. It was only my ability that saved me from being thrown out for excessive absenteeism! Yeah I was a teenager! After that scare I knuckled down for the following two years and won awards and really turned it around.
VC: How has your relationship with chocolate changed over time?
PJK: I went from curiosity to experimentation to my first job as a chocolatier at a prestigious chocolate house in Amsterdam and at that point became focused on large-scale production and then I vowed after many years doing that never to touch chocolate again and sold everything with my husband at that time and we went in search of adventure. To cut a long story short my new relationship and now marriage rekindled my love of chocolate and encouraged me to bite the bullet and start my own business; that necessitated a completely different approach both strategically and creatively.
Chocolatasm Chocolate Bar Wrappers
VC: What is the difference between a bonbon and a truffle? (Lol…I know how you feel about this one!).
PJK: Ha ha ha! Yes the current trend to name everything a truffle drives me crazy. The truffle is a type of bonbon as is a carree or a bouchee. It’s called a truffle because it looks like a truffle fungi. You know, the ones the piggies dig up out of the ground; it will typically be a ganache roughly scooped, coated or not coated, and then tossed in cocoa powder or chocolate shavings. People need to knock it off with this truffle truffle truffle malarkey!
VC: Are you still using Map Chocolate in your bonbons? If so, how did you end up connecting with Map and why is it important to use bean-to-bar chocolate in your items?
PJK: Yes, I still use Map Chocolate and also chocolate from a couple of other makers. My first step into using craft chocolate was after a connection I had with Mackenzie at Map online. We decided to do a collaboration of some sort and came up with a pop-up chocolate box featuring nine bonbons representing nine states between Georgia where I was based at that time and Oregon where Map Chocolate is situated. It was east meets west/chocolate maker meets chocolatier. Never the twain shall meet is the phrase that we decided to tear down. It was a big success and then it was of course perfectly natural to just continue using this amazing chocolate. Over time I have been fortunate enough to encounter a variety of other chocolates and chocolate makers and use them in my creations. I am currently tasting Taza after a chance meeting at a food shop. I am a micro producer so I do have a lot of freedom to change things up from time to time which keeps it fresh.
VC: What is your favorite pairing with chocolate, wine, beer, etc?
PJK: I love dark chocolate with salt and beer. The Pump Street bar with sourdough and salt is one such bar to have with an amber ale. Also the Chequessett bar with cranberries goes really well with like a Pinot Noir. And then of course you have my Cafe Romano bar which is 65% cacao with Ethiopian Sidamo coffee and essential oil of lemon and which goes really well with a petite Syrah, or my pate d’amande enrobed in 85% Honduras with Lava salt that goes great with a particular Cabernet named Sawbuck from Matchbook Wines in Zamora, CA.
VC: What are your top three tips for picking the right chocolate to pair with a wine?
PJK: One: do you like the wine? Taste the wine first if you don’t like it don’t even being to try and pair.
Two: Take sweetness and acidity into consideration, on both sides of the pairing. An acidic dry wine doesn’t want to walk hand in hand with a sweet chocolate, which is why I hate Champagne and chocolate pairings (unless I get my hands on it, lol) and a “dry”, acidic, high cacao solids chocolate doesn’t need to be bathed in a medium bodied red…it’s not going to “go”; it needs a pucker-inducing, tannic, robust-assault of a wine.
Three: Don’t limit your pairings to dark chocolate/red wine, white chocolate/white wine. Or only wine and chocolate flavors that resemble each other…Often contrasting flavors will create an amazing pairing experience.
Chocolatasm Buttermilk Bonbons
VC: Where do you get your inspiration? Do you like to start a trend, be a part of a trend, or ignore trends completely and why? If an inclusion goes main stream is that good, bad, indifferent and why?
PJK: From the world around me. My love of aroma, form, nostalgia. I see new trends and cautiously observe…I’m not a bandwagon fan, maybe I’ll look at that emerging trend awhile and take aspects from it, or maybe I’ll ignore it completely. You see, if it’s a trend it’s no longer original. I was using Hawaiian Lava salt six years ago…now it’s everywhere. I feel instrumental in that beginning of the trend and instead of feeling copied I feel like “part of it all” in the chocolate world.
VC: Have you ever had a creation/flavor idea not work and if so, what did you learn from that?
PJK: Not really “not work”, I’ve had ideas not SELL…in my first line up I had Fennel Anise and I didn’t sell any bar; one or two bonbons at the start. also my current assortment has a couple ready for the chop as they just are never chosen, almond hibiscus cayenne and sassafras vanilla (root beer). Sometimes you have to cut out the dead wood.
VC: When you lead a chocolate pairing event how has if affected the people who attend? In particular the people that haven’t had your style of chocolate before?
PJK: The majority are in no way familiar with the world of fine chocolate so anything they pick up during the presentation is astounding and exciting to them and that is one of the main reasons I love doing tasting presentations so much. There are some people who have no curiosity for flavor and that is hard work sometimes. I can be presenting them with nondairy ganache made with heirloom apple cumin and clove and they are all “this candy tastes weird” “do you have like normal flavors?”. And in some rare instances they won’t even taste because of preconceptions. But I have to say once people have tasted and listened to me they are beaming and leave with a new appreciation for something that they have never really considered and they become regular customers.
VC: Do you approach your pastry/desserts the same way you approach creating chocolates for Chocolatasm? How are they similar? How are they different?
PJK: I am also “creative director” (ooh la la!) and Baker Chocolatier at Purple Feather Cafe in Provincetown and I have the opportunity to oversee and produce all the cakes, desserts and pastries there. The public is very different so I find a way to present familiar items with a more sophisticated or unusual twist so I guess in that aspect my approach is very similar to that of Chocolatasm.
VC: As your popularity/social media following continues to grow how has that changed you on a daily basis? How does it affect what you say/post? Have you become more public or more private?
PJK: I am still at that stage of “small beans” so I pretty much say whatever pops into my head and I have noticed that being an open and vocal member of the LGBT community doesn’t always resonate with some people and I will receive aggressive private messages or at best they just unfollow. My business is my life so I share it. The facade of my Instagram is the chocolate and the backstory is me. Instagram stories has opened up a whole new aspect of my life to the general public and it’s really amazing to have people walk up to me and introduce themselves as “a fan”. My eyes roll at the phenomenon of an influencer yet I see that I (to my very small degree) evidently have some kind of an influence so my priority is to always be authentic and kind.
VC: What makes a good chocolatier?
PJK: An understanding of ingredients: what they do, why they do it, and how they do it. And that doesn’t only apply to the world of chocolate, that applies to any avenue of the culinary trade. I was fortunate enough to study bakery science so that opens up every possible way to create recipes and troubleshoot them when they crash an burn (Ha ha ha). I have always said if you don’t love your job, quit. You are worth more and your customers do not deserve to be served plates full of your apathy/annoyance because we infuse everything we do with our energy. A good chocolatier also recognizes where their ingredients come from and how they are sourced.
VC: With your business Chocolatasm, ultimately what are your long term goals?
PJK: I would like to be profitable enough to be able to buy a house and live a normal life like normal people with time off and vacations whilst still having income. As it now is, if I’m not at work I’m not earning any money and that takes it’s toll. I would love to have a brick and mortar outlet for my product because my current situation of producing orders as they arrive has reached a point where I’m not sure how much longer it is sustainable alone. So yeah, a store and a life outside the store.
Paul is currently working on a collaboration bar with Oliver of Primo Botanica. It is a Rhubarb Soda bar with 75% Guatemala Lachua with carbonated sugar and rhubarb. Look for this bar starting May 1st, 2019.
Chocolatasm and Primo Botanica Collaboration Bar Coming May 1st
Thank you so much for this interview Paul John Kearins!
Paul John Kearins/Chocolatasm: