Sweet Memories is a new blog series on Good Food where Chloe Chappe talks to local chefs and bakers about the flavors and memories that inspired their food.
Jonathan Graham was born and raised in Los Angeles and started making chocolate at the age of 19; he has transformed the selection at Compartés, an L.A.-based gourmet chocolatier. The chocolate shop was founded in 1950, and with Graham in the kitchen now, anything and everything can be expected from your first bite of Compartés chocolate. Chloe recommends trying the Egypt bar from Compartés’ World Series Bars – the dark chocolate bar is rose scented with pistachio beaded throughout. Compartés is located at 912 S Barrington Ave., Los Angeles.
Jonathan Graham: There are definitely a lot of references to some of my favorite classic desserts and nostalgic flavors and ingredients in my recipes. I have a line of chocolate bars we call “The Infinite Dream Series” which is based on my takes on some nostalgic classics, for example one of the bars has caramelized waffle cone bits studded throughout vanilla laced milk chocolate so it is kind of like eating an ice cream cone sundae or one of those drumstick ice creams that I used to be obsessed with as a kid. Another flavor we’ve got is Cereal Bowl which is milk infused white chocolate studded with crispy cornflakes which again just evokes my favorite part of eating cereal, the sweet milk at the end coupled with the crunch of cereal (and these stay crunchy because they are embedded into the chocolate as opposed to floating in milk). Also I make an apple pie chocolate truffle during the winter that we literally crush Apple Pan’s apple pie into a ganache and cover it in chocolate, that is one of my all-time favorite LA desserts and I love that I can literally just put it directly into my chocolate.
CC: Are there any specific smells or ingredients from your past that have influenced your current creations?
JG: Absolutely. I grew up eating gourmet food all over Los Angeles as well as tons of more ethnic food. Going to places that served Thai, Indian, Jamaican, Peruvian, etc., all of these great ethnic spices and ingredients I was able to experience definitely play out in some of my other chocolate truffles. The great thing about my line of truffles is that I can wake up and just create a new flavor or flavors every day. I pick up all kinds of fresh fruits to infuse into them from the local farmers markets but I also get to use herbs and spices and pretty much anything I want. There are a lot of interesting kinds of 3-dimensional flavors I do that are inspired by ethnic foods and ingredients I tried early on such as mango saffron, pineapple habanero, Mexican hot chocolate, pistachio rosewater, grains of paradise truffles, etc.
CC: If you could eat one meal from your past over again, what would that meal be? Why?
JG: Gosh, that is so hard, I can’t say that I have ever had a life changing meal or something that was just so phenomenal I will remember it for the rest of my life, except for when I spent 2 weeks in Italy in Venice, Cinque Terre and Florence. I have to say that I might’ve had the most memorable and delicious foods I have ever had in Florence, so I would choose that. It also makes it easier since if I had to have this meal again, I would have to be in Florence, so I am totally cool with that 🙂 I have also had delicious food really all over, I think a lot about a meal depends on the whole experience that makes it memorable it’s not really always only the food, sure that plays the biggest factor but it’s also the environment, the story leading up to it and with it, etc. that play into those memorable experiences. Most of them involve traveling for sure for me, which is my other passion in life.
CC: Did you always know that chocolate making was what you wanted to do? What were the other jobs that led you to becoming part of Compartés?
JG: I always knew I had a passion for food and art. I think I always knew I was going to do something creative and artistic, whether that was through food, music, photography, design, etc. I just was into all of those things. I still am very much a creative person and Compartés really reflects that, it’s about me making the very best chocolate in the world and coupling it with design and art and style, its very representative of LA and me being a local Angeleno. In particular I did not know chocolate making was my calling but once I started to be around chocolate, the intoxicatingly delicious smells drew me in daily to begin experimenting and playing with it. You know chocolate is pretty much everyone’s favorite thing and favorite ingredient so being able to use that as a base for my creations is really amazing! I fell in love with chocolate at 15 and now, just having turned 30, I have not looked back. I’ve spent half my life now making chocolate and I think I have the best job in the world, chocolate makes people happy and I get to make people happy all day. Plus an unlimited chocolate supply for myself, no greater thing in the world I think.
Photos from @Compartes Instagram.