Sunday, June 6, 2010

He's a third-generation chocolate-maker

J. Emanuel Chocolatier owner Tad Van Leer can explain so many health benefits from eating chocolate that it almost seems secondary that it's one of the world's most delicious foods.

"Dark chocolate is one of the perfect foods," Van Leer says while standing behind a case of the richest chocolates you can find in the area. "But cocoa, which is in milk and dark chocolate, has what are called flavonoids, which emulsify your LDL, while enhancing your HDL. So in effect, it lowers your cholesterol and also adds some elasticity to your circulatory system."

While all this choco-talk might be a little dense for some people, Van Leer just keeps on smiling, and in that smile you can see that he's quite confident about his work. He should be, too, as he is a third-generation chocolate-maker.

"My family was on the industrial side of the chocolate manufacturer," Van Leer says, "which means we imported cocoa beans from all over the world, and we roasted them, and we ground them and turned them into chocolate, and then we supplied them to ice cream and dairy manufacturers."

Those dairy manufacturers included Ben & Jerry's, Klondike and Haagen-Dazs. In other words, the big guys.

"Not only the big ones, but the good ones, too," Van Leer adds with a nod and a laugh.

Coming this chocolate background, Van Leer has strayed from the traditional adding some modern treats to his repertoire: "We actually infuse wine into the chocolate to make a wine truffle."

These delights have gained his shop top recognition from such publications as New Jersey Monthly, Cigar Aficionado and The Wall Street Journal.

"We also do a whole lot more in the wholesale area; we supply different wineries around the country — Napa, New York, New Jersey," Van Leer adds. "We also supply fine wine stores like Gary's."

He's talking about New Jersey's Gary's Wine & Marketplace — he's the friend of the owner.

"I was fortunate to be able to go to a wine auction, which was solely for the trade in Napa, through Gary Fisch," Van Leer says, "A good friend and I were introduced to many of the top Napa wine makers, and in making conversation with them, they asked about what I did. I told them about my chocolate background, and every time I brought up chocolate, it seemed to dominate the conversation."

Part of that conversation involved how many flavors are in both wine and chocolate separately, with chocolate edging out red wine by quite a bit.

"Red wine and chocolate are two of the most sophisticated flavors — red wine probably has 70 or 80 unique characteristic flavors. That's the second-most number compared to dark chocolate, which has 144," Van Leer says proudly.

The idea of combining the two flavor powerhouses into one super powerhouse was the direction Van Leer would take when he purchased the shop in Chester in 2004.

"We tried making (the chocolate/wine fusion) in Gary's location, and that didn't work," Van Leer recalls. "So we went to J. Emanuel Chocolatier (whose then-owner) had been a Gary's customer. He had a new endeavor and was interested in selling, so we just bought this business and have been busy ever since."

He's also busy teaching classes about chocolate-making and is involved in many local charities and events.

"I believe in giving back to the community," Van Leer says. "We're big supporters of things like K9 Companions, Battered Women's, Domestic Abuse and Rape Center, New Jersey Conservation Trust, and when they have events, we hand out truffles to bring people to the event."

Van Leer also presents his own special events to teach others how to make chocolate.

"I donate myself for a truffle-making party for six people, and it usually raises a decent amount of money for the charity," Van Leer says, stressing that he's going to be making this a more frequent event in the future.

Part of the reason he has classes is to show people that they should not fear chocolate-making. He says he thinks many people might have the impression that it's too difficult, so he tries to demystify the process.

"What I find is that people like to have fun with chocolate and that's what it's all about."

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