Morinville chocolate maker Tammy MacDonald speaks passionately about sweet candies while condemning forced child labor practices
Standing above Tammy MacDonald’s marble counter covered in refreshing tempered chocolate, she describes the horrific circumstances of child labor practices in West Africa.
The Morinville chocolatier, owner of Au Chocolat, has shown her reluctance to what she describes as the contempt of chocolatiers around the world for human well-being and unhealthy and unsustainable production practices.
âIt’s not an ethical industryâ¦. They created a generic fruit [cocoa bean] it is very big. Most come from CÃ´te d’Ivoire where they grow large cocoa trees. They created this large fruit which lacks originality. It is not very fragrant. And the original cocoa trees are destroyed. They get masses of cocoa, add a lot of sugar, put palm oil in it, remove a lot of the cocoa butter and sell it in different forms. They make more money that way, âMacDonald said.
After watching a documentary, the artisanal chocolatier was shocked and outraged to discover that child labor, kidnappings, slavery, trafficking and other abuses exist on cocoa plantations in CÃ´te d’Ivoire, the most major world producer of cocoa pods. The West African countries of CÃ´te d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon harvest between 60 and 70 percent of world cocoa production.
âSome children are kidnapped from villages or sold by parents. The children are small. They can easily climb trees and pick the fruit, âshe explained.
According to WorldAtlas Online, the chocolate industry is valued at $ 103 billion. The big drivers are the global chocolate makers. Although high quality chocolates are only a small part of the financial pool, the high quality segment has gained ground thanks to small companies such as Au Chocolat demanding traceability and transparency. Some people may be hesitant to spend $ 2 per chocolate, but there are plenty of educated consumers keen to support fair trade artisans who compete with industrial giants.
MacDonald is more than a passionate artisanal chocolatier keen to develop new recipes and share them with his customers. She is determined to leave a legacy of clean ethical standards and health.
Discovering cocoa beans
Although MacDonald now resides in Morinville, she is a descendant of the McMillan-Chevigney families of St. Albert. She graduated from St. Albert Catholic High School in 1984. Initially, she envisioned hairdressing as a career, but turned to naturopathy.
When her young daughter developed cancer, the family founded the well-established Hair Massacure and managed to raise $ 14 million. But at one point, while leading the organization, MacDonald suffered a nervous breakdown.
âI have seen so many children die. There were so many triggers. I never took a break. I was thoroughly. At my son-in-law’s suggestion, we took the kids to Hawaii and ended up staying for three months. I stayed with an older lady who broke her wrists. I offered to do some gardening so that she could sell at the market, âMacDonald said.
A self-proclaimed chocolate addict, she is the first to laugh and say chocolate is in her DNA.
âWhen I was in Hawaii and saw the cocoa trees, they were so beautiful. I fell in love with them, and enjoyed it even more because I love chocolate so much. I came back so disturbed. I was so sad. I was just interested in making chocolate. It literally consumed me. I was thirsty to know more about it.
She enrolled at the Vancouver Chocolate School and studied with master chocolate maker Rachel McKinley, later a judge on the Purdy-sponsored reality show, The great chocolate showdown. In addition, the Morinville resident was invited to attend the AcadÃ©mie du Chocolat de Montreal, a subsidiary of Callebaut. There she studied under Philippe Vancayseele, master chocolatier and chef.
For MacDonald, creating original chocolates was more than a distraction or a job. It has become a pleasure, a daily ritual, a state of mind and a way of being. After working as a chocolate maker for four years, she opened the little Au Chocolat batch on October 1, 2019. Using only her original recipes, the business has grown steadily. Between November and Christmas this year, she will have wrapped 5,500 handmade candies, working seven days a week, 12 hours a day.
âChocolate is the most complicated food on Earth. I like it because it’s complicated. There is such a possibility of error and I love challenges. Chocolate is a well-being food. It makes people happy. It increases endorphins and there are health components. That’s why I love my clients. They are happy, and chocolate makers are basically happy people.
MacDonald converted several rooms in his house into kitchens and storage areas containing equipment and jute bags filled with cocoa beans and direct-trade cocoa butter. In collaboration with Mexican Arabica Bean Company, it uses only organic and ethical products imported from Peru, Honduras, Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic.
âDirect trade is better than fair trade. You deal directly with the producer and he gets a living wage. They can preserve their terroir, that is, work hard to preserve the flavor of the country and the type of tree the beans grow on.
She notes that cocoa beans in every region of the world give off a different flavor. As an example, she offers a bite of Mexican bean. It tastes crunchy and very earthy. The beans from Honduras have a rather nutty taste, while the Vietnamese product is fruity.
Making giant batches of mediocre chocolate is one thing. Making small batches of high-end confectionery is another. The first step in making chocolate is to put the beans in a grinder that separates the shell from the fruit. At this point, the cocoa beans look like dried, deflated soccer balls.
After the bean pods are crushed into pieces, they are placed in a winnower to separate the pod granules from the fruit granules. The next step is to make a chocolate dough. To make the dough, the winnowed fruits are mixed with sugar and placed in a blender, a machine that mixes and grinds the grains for up to three days.
âIt’s blended for three days until it hits the profile and texture that I like. It should be velvety and smooth.
The next step is to temper the chocolate to 97 F. Cocoa butter is unstable but can be stabilized by tempering. Badly tempered chocolate appears mottled, chalky and brittle.
âBy tempering, you heat the dough, stirring a lot, and you cool it quickly. Heating changes the structure of fat crystals so that you can work with them. The crystals and fat line up with the light. This is why you see shiny chocolate.
After MacDonald places the tempered chocolate in molds, the bars or individual candies should harden before filling them with a ganache and putting a base on each. Up to five or six time-consuming steps are required to complete each chocolate.
Some of Au Chocolat’s distinctive flavors include Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter Ruby, Mexican Chili, Crunchy Coffee, Candy Cane, Ripe Rum, Raspberry Aloha, Maple Rum, Root beer, jalapeÃ±o and peanut fig.
When it comes to high quality chocolate, MacDonald has a suggestion.
âEat it slowly at room temperature. Don’t swallow it. Enjoy the flavors and the taste.