Do you remember that chocolate that combined blue cheese and pear? You would if you tasted it.
This is just one example of the many “exotic” chocolates that chocolatier Paul Dincer is making and selling at his brand new retail shop in Kitsilano.
Koko Monk opened in February 2013 with no press releases, no ads and no marketing whatsoever. As you can imagine the first week or so was a bit slow as the shop is situated in a quieter area of Kitsilano with nearby SUKI’s and Ron Zalko’s luring in a different clientele. That’s not to say that they can’t go hand-in-hand, just that these people have a specific motive and it may not be to indulge in artisan chocolates. These chocolates won’t help you get that beach body for sun bathing at Kits Beach, or help you grow healthy hair, but in reasonable portions they won’t necessarily hinder you from achieving either of these. Especially the hair thing – I’ve never head anything about chocolate inhibiting hair growth.
At $2.50 a pop, you may not be downing twelve a day anyway. The cost may seem high when thinking of small chocolates, but just as a macaron is an art, and how coffee or dinner prices increase by quality (if not based on brand) so too should chocolates. It also helps with portion control – I can get a bag of mini eggs and gobble them all up in ten minutes, or I can buy some artisan chocolates and savour every one, appreciating that fact that they aren’t factory made but rather hand-made.
And savour these chocolates I did. At a recent media “blind tasting” we couldn’t wolf them down even if we wanted to because Paul was watching us closely. He strictly enforced that we sucked on the chocolates rather than chewing them so as to fully experience all of the flavours and be taken on a journey with our taste buds. I got a few finger wags, but that’s because I’m the girl who chews suckers and tried to munch on Gobstoppers when I was younger.
Before we actually tasted any of the chocolates we were shown Paul’s very first chocolate, “La Mer” inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Old Man and The Sea. Knowing that, you really can envision the rolling waves and the frothy whitecaps just by looking at the oddly shaped chocolate. It even apparently has a slightly briny taste from the sea salt (how appropriate) that adds to the watermelon flavour inside.
The five chocolates that we sampled over the course of the night, while trying to guess the ingredients, were:
La Petite Amour (4 for $9.50)
Zentropy (4 for $9.50)
Brunette Bangle (4 for $9.50)
Bacchanalia (4 for $9.50)
For this chocolate we were told to stick it all in our mouth, crush it once, and then let it melt. It was a crowd favorite and I was told by a friend (on Facebook) that it would change my life. While I think that’s a bit dramatic, it was divine. And very sweet.
Smoking Hearts (4 for $14)
This is The World’s Only Double Smoked Chocolate. “Yesterday while you were sleeping I burned old love letters and captured the bittersweet smoke to tell stories of long lost lovers.” Like every good story this chocolate has a beginning, middle and end.
Blue Moon (4 for $9.50)
We paired the first five chocolates with a coffee or tea of our choice (I opted for the traditional Turkish coffee – straight up) and the Blue Smoke with a glass of M.Chapoutier – a red dessert wine from Banyuls, France. We finished the evening with some mingling over Legado Munoz, a red wine from Granacha, Spain. Both of these wines can be found at nearby Kitsilano Wine Cellar.
While Koko Monk was off to a slow start, there was a seismic shift in customer count right before Valentine’s Day, when Paul was inundated with consumers seeking gifts for their loved ones, or treats for themselves. He was taken aback at the constant flow of customers that seemed to grow as word of mouth worked its magic.
It’s no surprise that word of mouth and customer retention is so high, as these hand-painted chocolates are unlike any chocolate that I’ve ever experienced. Traditional flavours, that many are familiar with, are combined to create an untraditional chocolate. While salted caramel is all the rage at other chocolate shops, Paul opts for unusual flavour combinations that offer a multidimensional mouthful – even if they may not suit every person’s palate. Paul even had some “common chocolates” on the menu, like a higher quality version of something you would find at Purdy’s, but quickly became bored of them and removed them from the list.
“The majority of my chocolates have their own steady customers.” (Meaning people come in for a specific chocolate.)
A word of warning: if you stand by milk chocolate, go elsewhere, as you won’t find the light brown, milk and sugar induced chocolate in Koko Monk. In fact, Paul is strongly opposed to milk chocolate, and even stronger opposed to white chocolate calling the process “poisonous” and the “only crime you can make” – something that probably stems from his knowledge of molecular gastronomy. The chocolates he produces have a base of Belgian dark chocolate and are flavoured by 80% raw ingredients to increase the flavour intensity and add texture. They are made in small batches; so small that he has to put a cap of four per customer per visit on his ever so popular (and most expensive) Smoking Hearts chocolate. He used to sell this chocolate internationally to Italians and Belgians for $5.50 a piece. They are now a “promotional price” of $3.50 a piece, since they are only brought in for a short time frame each month.
“I am making them in the identical way that they were making them 100 years ago – no machinery, hand tempered, hand made.”
ABOUT PAUL DINCER
You may remember Paul Dincer from the Vancouver Farmers Markets. I know I can’t’ forget the day that I was offered a blue cheese chocolate, as I’m sure he will never forget the curious, but put off, face that I gave him in response. Paul used to sell his delectable chocolates as a vender at five of the markets (including his first in Kitsilano), under the company name of Levni Chocolates. He has now taken his passion for creating chocolate to the next level by opening Koko Monk, a European style café with a Turkish warmth and hospitality. Although it’s brand new, he feels that it offers a homey vibe, as if they have been open for eons.
Paul’s extreme confidence in his skills and unorthodox approach to making chocolate, give you the impression that he’s been doing this for most of his life. Oddly enough, this isn’t the case.
First and foremost, he is a published author, having published his first book at the age of 24 and the second at the age of 26, in addition to many scientific articles over the years. Had this been a more feasible career, he would’ve been set; however, some quick math made him realize that he would have to publish two books a year just to make enough money to survive.
“I decided to leave the country where I could find a piece of land where I could sit down and write. I spent around 17 years in search of such a country and the verdict is there is no such country on this planet. So as a failed writer, I end up with chocolate.”
During that time “searching” he bounced from one career to the next and has been constantly learning, growing and moving on. After obtaining his first degree in the theory and history of drama (explaining his Shakespearean-inspired chocolate called Juliet’s Whip) he worked as a film evaluator assessing proposed movie projects. He then proceeded to earn a master’s degree in business information systems, while at the same learning how to make pastry. Still unsatisfied – with another “disappointment degree” – he moved to Canada to do a PhD in film. When his study arrangements didn’t pan out, he ventured in to the grocery business for a few years, after which point he found himself in the chocolate making industry. It was destiny, in a roundabout way.
“I never experiment; I always knew what I was doing. But I have no idea how I knew it….I didn’t grow up in this business. Finally I realized that I was developing an analogy between writing and flavours; I was applying advanced writing techniques into the chocolates. Based on that realization, I made my first literary chocolate, La Mer.”
For more information check them out online at http://kokomonk.com/
Sponsors for this event were Costen Catbalue Goldsmiths & Design, SUKI’s Spa and Salon, Barry Calhoun Photography and Hilary Miles Flowers.