CSCA Featured Alumni
Elaine Hsieh PCP '99
Elaine Hsieh is the co-owner of EHChocolatier in Somerville, Massachusetts. Her confections are sold online (www.ehchocolatier.com) and in many local shops, including the three Formaggio Kitchen stores, City Feed, Dave’s Fresh Pasta, among others, with new placement scheduled for Sofra and Winston Flowers. Her product line includes more than 50 artisan chocolate confections and bonbons. The business and its products have been featured in Edible Boston, Daily Grommet, How2Heroes, and on Fox25.
Q: How did you and your partner begin your collaboration?
EH: My partner Catharine Sweeney and I have such a fun story. We were introduced by a mutual friend who was getting married. Our friend thought it would be a great idea for Catharine and I to bake and decorate her wedding cake. I had just graduated from culinary school and Catharine loved to cook. We met each other while making this cake. I had remembered my chocolate classes from school and together Catherine and I baked this tiered wedding cake and created a cascade of white chocolate-molded sea shells.
Q: When did you begin baking and working with chocolate?
EH: When I graduated from The CSCA, I knew I wanted to create and sell a food product. Catharine and I began baking desserts and making rolled truffles and toffee for the holidays. We’ve evolved from cakes and catering for friends to the handmade artisan products we make now. I took an online class with Ecole Chocolat and we both took a few of The CSCA’s chocolate classes taught by Chef Delphin.
Q: How did you move from operating out of your home to renting the space in the same building as Taza Chocolates?
EH: We learned from making the wedding cake that we worked well together. Catharine and I both had careers and families, so making desserts and chocolates at the holidays was what we could balance. We thought that cakes were too stressful and catering involved nights and weekends. I was a health care consultant and Catharine was working in the Development and Financial Aid office at Harvard University. In 2010 we decided to rent commercial space to start our chocolate business. We found the space we are in now in October 2010, which is the space that Taza Chocolate originally operated in, and began our production for our online business in November 2010.
How did you launch the business online?
EH: For the first few months, we ran a Friends and Family subscription where every month we would send an assortment of chocolates to our subscribers, who were mostly friends and family members. At the same time we were working out packaging, quality control, production, shipping, and product development. Eventually, we started selling our boxed products in stores and at farmer’s markets. We have grown from online only to sales in stores and markets. We hope to achieve a 50-50 balance.
How do you and Catherine balance the work load?
EH: Catharine handles the quality control, sanitation, production schedule and I handle the business end. We collaborate on testing flavors, package design, package assembly, and shipping. We make approximately 1000 pieces a day, with our busy season running October through Valentine’s Day and then again for Easter and Mother’s Day. We do have interns on a regular basis who help with the confection and bonbon making and packaging. We train all of the interns to hand-make and hand-dip the chocolates and bonbons.
What chocolate do you use and what is it that you like about working with chocolate?
EH: When I was studying at Ecole Chocolat (based in British Columbia), we learned how to sample and test different chocolates by using a survey system. Catharine and I tested dozens of chocolate from various producers with our panel. We chose Michel Cluizel and Valrhona chocolate for our bonbons and a single plantation chocolate from E. Guittard for the confections. I love the chemistry of chocolate, of the chocolate working, coming together, creating new flavors and the aesthetics of outstanding chocolate - the ingredients and the finished product.
What advice would you give to a current CSCA student?
EH: Culinary school really helped confirm my interest in food. Chef Jan (Schiff) influenced and encouraged me to bake, to take it ‘louder and higher.’ My advice to students would be to take advantage of internship opportunities. Students can see the industry as it is in real life, out of a classroom. It is the best way to learn hands on.
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