For our latest interview we caught up with Taylor Kennedy, owner and chocolate maker at Sirene Chocolate. Taylor is one of our absolute favourite chocolate makers in the world and an exceedingly nice chap to boot, so it was great to learn a little more about where he is and what he's up to.
What inspired you to become a chocolate maker?
I have always enjoyed learning how things are made, whether that was taking apart the blender as a kid--who then couldn't get all the parts back together, which was not a popular discovery all over the kitchen floor by my parents--to cooking and food. During my voracious teenage years the sheer volume of food that went into my mouth made me curious about it all, and despite dubious flavours often going in anyway, it usually made me curious about how that particular dish could have been made better. As my metabolism slowed (thankfully) I was able to take more time preparing better food and the combination of that interest in food and the interest in tinkering inevitably led to chocolate. I was, and still am, fascinated with the depth of knowledge to be discovered in the chocolate world. No matter which segment you look at, there is almost a lifetime of learning in it. The impact origin has, the different tree genetics (with vast differences between them), then growing the trees, post harvest, then finally to making it and all the machinery involved (thankfully I am better about getting machines back together now). I feel like I have a wonderfully huge amount of learning to go in all aspects, and that is exciting. It is definitely one of those topics that support the cliche that the more you learn the more you realise you don't know. I like that ongoing challenge and ability to constantly learn.
How has your work for National Geographic influenced your work with Sirene?
Being exposed to the world the way I was at NGS made me realise there was a whole lot of world out there, and that the best parts were the parts that made each area different from each other. Those differences, the comparisons, in life are what add nuance and interest to me. The world is homogenising quickly, and the differences are what make things interesting to me, not the similarities. Just like in cacao.
Who is behind Sirene? How many people are on your team?
Taylor, the founder, does the making, but I have a small team that help with various aspects of things like wrapping bars, etc. Starting in 2018 I have big plans for growth though, so staffing will be increasing soon. Anyone who can work in Canada and knows chocolate making, get in touch with me!
How do you source your cacao?
Various ways including collaboration with other makers, but right now I am really liking the origins that Dan O'Doherty is working with. He is a really knowledgeable consultant who helps farms with all aspect of farming from growing, harvesting and post harvest. Some of his beans are my all time favourite discoveries. I really like that he then steps back and I work directly with the farms too. It is gratifying to send 100% of the bean purchase price directly to the farmer. I think that is critical for the future of fine flavour cacao. It is a tough business growing cacao.
Does living in Victoria (Canada) have an influence on your work?
Yes, being on an island, Vancouver Island, can be isolating. The rest of Canada is at minimum a boat ride away which makes shipping costs (for everything) add up quickly. That being said, the isolation allows me to keep my head down in my workshop and just focus on what I am doing rather than being distracted too much by noise around me. The proximity to the ocean, which is only a few blocks away and where I go for my runs and walk the dog multiple times a week (sometimes daily) also has a big influence. Even the name, Sirene, and its maritime origins play into the company theme. I am about to launch new packaging in the next six months that reflect this connection visually.
What have been some of your favourite chocolate bars that you’ve recently tasted?
I am always a fan of Soma and Rogue. They set the bar for all the rest of us to look to. Soma, being one of the very first makers in this worldwide craft chocolate movement way back in 2003 has been really influential. Their Porcelana and CSB Chama bars were delicate and delightful. Rogue's quality, attention to detail and sourcing of new origins that frankly most of us then discover through him is wonderful. I really liked his Sylvestre (wild Bolivian) bar. Then there are a lots of other ones from all over that are really fun to discover like Solstice, French Broad, Hogarth, Mission and East Van Roasters. The list of good quality makers is growing too, luckily.
What’s on the horizon for Sirene Chocolate? Any new projects or products you can tell us about?
I have a very big project, a big enlargement plan, I am just beginning, but that won't be really ready to talk about for a few more months--if it all goes smoothly. In the near term I have a new origin that I am working with that I will be releasing quite soon. The not so subtle hint is that it comes from an area closer to you in New Zealand, than it is to me here in Victoria. I am quite excited about this region and hope to explore it more as time goes on!
Thanks so much to Taylor Kennedy for taking the time to provide such thoughtful and interesting responses. If you'd like to try his chocolate, we would really recommend starting with the Fleur de Sel. Out of everything we stock, this is probably the bar we eat the most at home.