Willy Wonka undergoes dire challenges on his unlikely path to become a chocolatier whose sweets make people fly in Wonka, the new prequel film about Roald Dahl’s famous character.
“I’ve spent the past seven years traveling the world, perfecting my craft,” says Timothée Chalamet as the titular character. “You see, I’m something of a magician, inventor and chocolate maker.”
Brandon Busch of Lift Chocolate and Corey Crespi of Corey’s Chocolate hit the road for wildly different careers. Both ended up in Boulder County crafting chocolates designed to make customers smile and sigh.
Becoming the ‘Candy Man’
Busch was literally flying while his passion for chocolate blossomed.
“I was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 2004 as a CH-53 Heavy Lift helicopter pilot deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan,” he says. “In my downtime, I read culinary and pastry textbooks because I always enjoyed working in a kitchen.”
After leaving active duty, Busch headed to pastry school, but decided that a baker’s typical 3 a.m. wakeup call was “not a lot of fun,” he says. Busch’s big cacao epiphany occurred as he flew home from Mexico.
“I watched a woman take a bite of chocolate, and she had such a visible reaction to it,” he recalls. “She was obviously experiencing immense pleasure, and you could tell she wasn’t afraid to show it. It struck me then that chocolate is not like other foods.”
Lift Chocolate launched in 2015 with a couple of molds and basic equipment. It expanded with Busch’s purchase of an existing Boulder chocolate company in 2017.
The Gunbarrel-based operation now ships more than 25 flavors of gem-like truffles across the country, including raspberry, Death by Ganache with 85% dark chocolate, lime caramel and hazelnut cappuccino. The chocolates are available at Whole Foods Markets, The Peppercorn and the Niwot Market.
“One of the things I love about chocolate is terroir,” Busch says. “Just like with wine, every different chocolate tastes like where it comes from.” Since Lift doesn’t manufacture chocolate from bean to bar, Busch emphasizes the importance of finding ethical, certified suppliers around the world.
Now a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Reserves, Busch’s military call-sign is “Candy Man.”
As such, he may be the highest-ranking chocolate maker in the U.S. military, the unofficial chocolatier general.
“I’d accept a promotion like that,” he says.
From sea kayaks to sweet success
Chocolate making was far removed from Corey Crespi’s initial career.
“I spent years working as an outdoor educator and guide all over the world,” he says. “I did sea kayak guiding in Maine and went to South America to work for Outward Bound.”
Living in a little cabin in Estes Park in 2017, Crespi started dreaming about creating a less seasonal job making chocolates. There was, he notes, just one catch.
“I really didn’t know much at all about making chocolates,” he admits. “I would make them at home and share them with friends and family. One friend tasted my chocolates and said: ‘You made these? But these are really good.’ No offense was taken.”
Crespi started selling at the Estes Park Farmers Market and grew to sell at other summer markets, including in Boulder and Longmont. A chocolate tour of Belgium, France and Switzerland and serious chocolate classes have solidified his skills.
Using Fair Trade chocolate primarily from Colombia, Corey’s Chocolates offers a dozen products including pomegranate, passion fruit and raspberry caramel truffle varieties.
Chocolate — especially chocolates made, shipped and sold outdoors in the summer — face a significant melting and spoilage challenge.
“I went into the kitchen to make something that would work in the summer,” Crespi says. “Chocolate Elixir is a chocolate sauce and spread in a jar made from single-origin dark chocolate. You can melt it on fruit, spread it on toast and add it to coffee and baked goods.” He says you can also just spoon it from the jar directly into your mouth.
Corey’s Chocolate also produces a vanilla bean caramel sauce. Crespi hopes to bring back a popular spoonable spread he crafts using fresh raspberries.
According to Crespi, Chocolate Elixir was not his first sweet experiment in the kitchen.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of sweets in the house,” he says. “I would take unsweetened Baker’s chocolate, which is so bitter, and concoct different treats. I would heat it up, add maple syrup and get this gooey mess to mix with peanut butter and spread on bread.
“To me, chocolate is just a miracle,” Crespi continues. “Everyone who loves chocolate needs to experience bean to bar. You see a cacao pod and you’re like: ‘This is chocolate? It’s a bizarre mushy white fruit with big seeds.’”
The transformation those seeds undergo can be breathtaking.
“I was thinking of one particular chocolate that I really love from Madagascar that has a terracotta color. Take a taste and let it melt in your mouth for a minute, and you taste red fruits, like raspberry. It’s amazing.”
Culinary Calendar: New Year’s noodles
Colorado observed its first state-celebrated Lunar New Year on Feb. 2. Boulder’s Creature Comforts cafe hosts an Eight Treasures Chinese New Year Dinner on Feb. 10 featuring chef Devin Keopraphay’s lion’s head meatballs, Cantonese-style chicken, Longevity Noodles, steamed catfish and more. creaturecomforts.cafe
Boulder’s Vapor Distillery and Moksha Chocolate co-host a craft whiskey and artisan chocolate pairing Feb. 14 at the distillery. boulderspirits.com
Worms, stinkbugs and chocolate-covered scorpions are on the Festival de Bichos menu Feb. 5-11 at Denver’s Michelin-recognized La Diabla’s Pozole y Mezcal restaurant. ladiabladenver.com
Coming soon: High Country, a new restaurant from the team at Gemini, at 1117 Pearl St. That’s the former home of Hapa Sushi Grill, recently moved to 1048 Pearl St.
Taste of the Week: The Runza Variations
Runzas are the Nebraska-born culinary cousins to calzones, empanadas and Eastern European bierocks and pirozhki. Instead of a flaky crust or chewy dough, runzas consist of bread dough wrapped around various ingredients and baked.
I stopped by the only local Runza restaurant franchise at 1743 Main St. in Longmont. Besides the original runza with ground beef, cabbage, onions and cheese, the menu includes a Southwestern variation. I opted for the swiss mushroom runza, a true comfort experience wrapped in soft, squishy bread.
For a good time, grab some bread dough, add your favorite sandwich filling and bake a few just before the Super Bowl this weekend.
Words to Chew On: Chocolate lust
“The Spanish ladies of the New World are madly addicted to chocolate, to such a point that, not content to drink it several times each day, they even have it served to them in church.”
— Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1825)
John Lehndorff is looking for your favorite meal deals — great affordable fare — at Boulder County restaurants. Send your nominations to: email@example.com