Is there a connection between fine jewelry and artisanal chocolate? Angela Roest, award-winning chocolatier and owner of Warkworth’s Centre & Main Chocolate Co., thinks so: “It’s the creation of something that will be cherished by somebody else. Giving pleasure, aesthetic or gastronomic.”
The connection is more than a metaphor for Roest, who left a career in academia to devote herself to more artistic pursuits. Initially finding success as a jeweller, her one-of-a-kind pieces sold in the boutiques of the National Gallery and The Art Gallery of Ontario. When the wire and semi-precious stones she was working with caused her hands to ache, however, she began searching for a more pliable medium. She credits an apprenticeship at Peterborough’s Naked Chocolate for inspiring her to become a full-time chocolatier. “My creative energies just kind of went from gemstones to ganaches and I fell in love with the material, the possibilities and the flavours.”
Roest established Centre & Main Chocolate Co. at 50 Centre Street in downtown Warkworth, a former Mason Lodge built in 1927 that had once housed the Sprucewood Handmade Cookie Co. The business would go on to become a staple of the Northumberland County food scene, but Roest stresses the relationship is cyclical. “I hadn’t yet figured out what was going to be distinctive about what I wanted to do,” she says of her early days. “I realized, just kind of in an unconscious way, that when I went to get ingredients for chocolate it was things from far away. You know, passion fruit, yuzu—all of these lovely things that taste fantastic with chocolate, and that contrasted so abruptly with things that I would get when I was doing my own shopping. I’d be going to farmers’ markets and getting rhubarb and blueberries and beets and things like that.”
Pondering the divide between her chocolate kitchen and her home kitchen led her to experiment with locally sourced ingredients, a technique that now provides the foundation of most of her recipes. A collaboration with Warkworth-based True Saffron was particularly instrumental. “Saffron was kind of the key that unlocked the idea behind what it is we focus on,” she says. The Strawberry Rhubarb Saffron Bar would go on to win multiple awards at the International Chocolate Awards, though it now takes its place alongside numerous others in the Chocolate Bar Bar, Roest’s playfully named chocolate display.
“When I started, I think I had about twelve flavours of bars,” she says. “Now there are over forty-five and counting. It’s very easy for me to create a new flavour of bar. I love food, I love combining and pairing things that aren’t usually put together. So to make new flavours is a lot of fun, and you know, with chocolate it’s hard to go wrong.” The menu has grown so large partly because each flavour tends to develop at least a few die-hand fans, and Roest is reluctant to disappoint. “Even those that sell less frequently,” she says, “there are at least five people for whom that is their absolute favourite. I can’t not make it!”
Keeping up with the demand is something of a feat considering the care that goes into each bar. Centre & Main’s chocolate is ethically sourced from a sustainable producer on the Ivory Coast, and the rest of the ingredients often require extensive preparation to create the flavours Roest is seeking. Water-soluble saffron, for example, must first be rendered into a concentrate before it can season fat-soluble chocolate. Other processes are similarly labour-intensive. “I glaze cacao nibs in maple syrup and candy them and stud them onto the back of that bar. Lavender and Newfoundland sea salt toffee—I use local butter to make the toffee and lavender from a local organic grower. Let’s see what else… we’ve got sesame za’atar. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend with sumac, sesame, and thyme, and the sumac and thyme are locally grown.”
Her latest creations include a collaboration featuring spent grains from Bobcaygeon Brewing Co. (selected for “that lovely toasted, bready smell”) and The Nutty Goat, a collab bar with Crosswind Farm in Keene featuring goat cheese, butter toffee, and pistachio. It’s an unusual pairing that, like Roest’s transition from jeweller to chocolatier, works out beautifully. “We live upstairs, so my commute is awesome. It’s a great community, it’s a wonderful building and we instantly felt at home in both,” she says. “And it’s always exciting to think of new ways of using local ingredients, in ways that may be surprising but always playful and luscious.”
Are you enjoying our Meet the Makers series? Please consider supporting the small businesses in your community this winter, as they rely on our support now more than ever. Reinvesting in our communities allows our hard-working artisans continue doing what they love – and allows us to continue enjoying the beauty they create.
Read Kawarthas Northumberland’s coverage of True Saffron, mentioned in this article, here.