While there are many chocolate makers that pride themselves of working closely with growers of quality cacao beans, few have gotten as close to the source as California native Jeffrey Stern. Like most chocolate manufacturers, Jeffrey didn’t start his life path mixing chocolate. When you follow his history, however, it certainly makes sense how he ended up where he is today.
Jeffrey Stern first attended the University of the Pacific in 1989 where he spent one year there before moving on to New York University, where he graduated with a Bachelor degree in Latin American Studies. In truth, the love of the area led Jeff to chocolate making and not the other way around. After completing his initial degree, Stern moved to the University of Texas at Austin and obtained a Master of Science in Community and Regional Planning, graduating in 1995. During this period of study, however, Jeffrey was working simultaneously for the US Agency for International Development as well as working in Ecuador, Colombia, and Nicaragua in a variety of sectors including housing and urban development, as well as family planning logistics. After graduation, Jeffrey Stern became employed full-time for USAID and spent until late 2001 dealing with the financial and planning side of the recovery projects the agency was responsible for.
While the culture and community certainly appealed to Stern, there was a reason for staying that hit closer to home. While working with USAID, Jeff met and married his Ecuadorian wife Maria. They didn’t, however, make their home in Ecuador and jump into chocolate making right away. Instead, the couple moved back state-side in 2007 and then ended up in Washington DC, where Stern commenced his education as a chocolatier and with their small kids in mind – they’re now five and seven. Jeffrey studied at L’Academie de Cuisine for a full year. He then went on to work sometimes menial jobs that allowed him to grow in his craft. At Restaurant 7, for example, he worked for a full year a mere line cook. He spent the two subsequent years dipping his elbows deep into his love of chocolate as a production assistant at Kingsbury Chocolate. Finally, two different catering opportunities sealed his trade-specific education, lasting from 2003 to 2007.
In 2007, Jeff and Maria felt that it was time to return to her hometown and jump into chocolate making full-force. Jeffrey Stern founded the Gianduja Chocolate company and began to produce chocolate using native Ecuadorian beans. While many chocolate companies make a point to source quality beans from a single location and even work exclusively and closely with specific growers, Jeff has the advantage of being truly close to the source and understanding both the cultural impacts and growing practices of his cacao farmers. In fact, Jeff is a strong advocate for traceability and authenticity, and is a frequent online and real-world contributor to the debate over origin beans, particularly in Ecuador and the problems with mixing of Nacional and CCN-51 varieties. Because the bean is the main source of the flavour profile of any particular type of chocolate, this would be an extremely important change, benefiting both chocolate makers and growers who could then charge more for higher quality beans.
Jeffrey Stern actually runs two different companies on the same factory floor in Quito. The Gianduja brand name is mainly marketed to the local Ecuadorian population. Customers in Ecuador prefer a creamier milk chocolate, despite that fact, Jeff works mainly in dark chocolate. Jeff oversees every aspect of production, including the steps that he outsources to other factories. He can, at any time, visit the place where the chocolate is actually refined, as well as his growers. All ingredients come from Ecuador, including sugar. Only a few flavourings are imported from other areas, making this one of the only truly indigenous chocolates to Ecuador. Another brand runs side-by-side with Gianduja and is produced for sale directly to the American consumer. Aequare Fine Chocolates accounted for the majority of the dark chocolate produced by Jeff, however Jeff has become increasingly involved in his chocolate consultancy which you can read about at hisJeffrey G. Stern website.
You can connect with Aequare Fine Chocolates on Facebook, Posterous, Linkedin and Twitter as well hispersonal blog. Also check out The Cocoa Pod on Facebook. You can also engage with Jeff on The Chocolate Life
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