Cary chocolatier selected for international awards
Posted September 12
Updated September 13
Cary, N.C. — A Cary chocolatier gained international attention this year in London for the delectable flavors she creates out of her home kitchen.
Grace Stocker, a mother of two, worked as a civil engineer for years before she decided to channel a different kind of creativity. "I wanted to do something fun, something with my hands," she said. "I have always been creative, but, as an engineer, I didn't get to always see the result. (Making chocolate) is very rewarding, and it brings me such satisfaction when people enjoy it."
Between Stocker's life-long love of chocolate and her Swiss German in-laws, some might say the heart of a chocolatier was always inside her, but it took time and hard work to get there.
Five years ago, Stocker began intensive training in France, in Switzerland and even in Las Vegas to become a certified chocolatier, traveling in intervals so she wouldn't have to be away from her family for months at a time. In 2016, she launched ChocolatGRACE.
In less than a year, Stocker became the award-winning designer of a menu of gourmet bonbons made with the finest dark chocolate and sweet, quality fillings she concocts herself.
Her passion fruit and orange caramel chocolate received a gold award from the Academy of Chocolate at a ceremony in London last month along with two of her other bonbons -- one containing a cherry and kirsch caramel filling and another with whiskey cream and coffee flavors.
According to Stocker, the recognition is extremely rare. The organization accepted a total 900 entries this year, and, in the filled chocolate category, 290 chocolates were judged. Of Stocker's six submitted filled chocolates, three won gold, two won silver and one won bronze.
"They only give out nine gold medals," said Stocker. "It was amazing, because I was competing with award-winning chocolatiers who have been pioneers in the industry. I had been intimidated, but my mom told me I had nothing to lose and everything to gain."
According to Stocker, competitions of this kind -- the kind that separate chocolate from candy and sweets -- are relatively new. "Members of the Academy of Chocolate have been pioneering to get people to recognize, enjoy and master the qualities of fine artisan chocolate," she said.
Stocker said it's the chocolate that distinguishes these artisan creations from others.
In all her creations, she uses the finest dark chocolate from Switzerland -- the same one she used during her chocolatier training. The chocolate base is shipped all the way to Cary in solid, "coin" shaped pieces, which Stocker melts down and turns into her truffle-like creations.
"My job is to find out how to best complement the chocolate, which is the real star," Stocker said, describing her favorite Grenada dark chocolate as flavorful and full-bodied with forest berry notes, a fresh orange profile and spicy nutmeg.
To accompany the chocolate, Stocker creates one-of-a-kind fillings that are inspired by people and experiences. The gold-winning cherry and kirsch caramel, for example, is inspired by her father-in-law, who is from Switzerland and loves black forest cake. "This one is made with real cherry juice and kirsch liquor, and it's a very German-inspired chocolate," she said.
Stocker uses all-natural ingredients in her fillings, like passion fruit puree and orange peelings. Many of the ingredients are locally-sourced, like the cream she uses from Maple View Farm and the espresso beans she purchases from Counter Culture coffee.
Even her bronze-winning tea and wildflower honey caramel bonbon incorporates local honey sold by a state forest in North Carolina. "It's personal, because I start with things I enjoy then work with them," she said, referencing her favorite cup of tea that inspired that chocolate. "Every one of them is my favorite," Stocker said. "I love them all; I can tell you stories about each one."
Once the bonbons are filled, Stocker "polishes" them with cocoa butter to make them shine and air brushes them with various designs. "In order to learn air brushing, I even went to some classes taught by tattoo artists," she laughed. "The entire process takes 2 to 3 days."