For my latest interview I caught up with Brian Campbell, co-owner and chocolate maker at Miann. Brian has spent years working as a high-end pastry chef around the world and when he opened the first Miann location in 2015, he wowed Auckland with his unique and exceptional patisserie skills. Late last year Brian decided to take on the daunting task of starting to make all of Miann's chocolate in-house, from bean to bar, and opened up a small chocolate factory in Morningside. It's been amazing to see how Miann has developed since launching their bean-to-bar range, and a pleasure to get to know Brian over the past year or so. Have a read of this interview if you're keen to know more about what's happening behind the scenes...
What was your professional experience before starting Miann, and how has that informed what you do now?
Before Opening Miann I worked in New Zealand at the French Cafe, Bracu, Kermadec, and opened the Hilton Queenstown, all as head pastry chef. Previous to that I had been learning my craft in the UK in many Michelin starred and Relais and Chateaux restaurants and hotels. I’ve always wanted to open my own dessert bar as I’ve always had a clear direction of where I wanted to be.
You recently opened Miann Morningside, which features your first bean-to-bar chocolate factory. What inspired you to start making chocolate from scratch?
We originally conceptualised our chocolate room to being a bean-to-bar hot chocolate store and produce a couple of our own chocolates that would be unique to us, but after tasting the first batch of chocolate we made we were hooked. With the endless possibilities of origins and choosing our roast profiles, we have ended up with about twenty different chocolates; all ethically sourced, all made from scratch in our 20 square meter store. It’s something we are very proud to offer. If you have anything from gelato to cakes to a simple cookie with chocolate in it, in any of our stores, you know it’s been made by hand in our Morningside chocolate factory.
How has using your own chocolate affected the things you make in the restaurants?
We had a lot of trial and error to begin with, adjusting our recipes to allow us to use the new chocolates. The bean to bar products are vastly different to using the chocolate we used previously. But now we have all the recipes locked and have figured out the adjustments needed, we are so happy to offer cakes, gelato, macarons and more, all made with our own chocolate. There are not many places in the world that not only make their own chocolate but also use it all the way through to patisserie.
You seem to be making chocolate from a huge range of cacao beans. How do you decide which origins to source, and where do you source them from?
We have a few farm direct suppliers now and outside of that we use traders like Uncommon Cacao and Meridian Cacao. It always starts with samples to check the flavour profile and quality of the beans. We ensure that the farmers are being treated ethically first and foremost. We have chosen to import large quantities of 10 different beans that we will use for everything from our bars right through to our cakes. After that we import smaller quantities of beans to offer a varied and - importantly for me - an evolving selection of bean-to-bar chocolate bars. We are not aiming for supermarket sales which allows us to move between different origins with ease, as we don’t need to mass produce our packaging (which is all hand written!)
Do you have a favourite bean or chocolate to work with? If so, why?
It’s a bit like choosing between your loved ones... there shouldn’t be a favourite but there always is. My personal favourite jumps between the Papua New Guinea Tokiala beans and the Belize Maya Mountain. They couldn’t be more different, the PNG is smokey with hints of roasted barrels and whisky, while the Belize is so fruity and reminiscent of red wine. They all offer us something new to create a new product with.
What are some of the challenges and benefits of making chocolate in micro batches?
Getting the beans in from around the world. We seem to be quite a journey for some of the highest grades of beans, which increases our costs due to the shipping alone. We are not at the level to import container lots yet so shipping can be quite high when it’s consolidated with other items in containers. So I guess cost is one thing, along with everything being hand made, from sorting the beans to cracking and winnowing, all the way through to moulding, wrapping and labelling. The level of human interaction is huge but that is also what makes it a beautiful thing. And something we won’t change.
Are you finding an increased customer awareness of high quality and craft chocolate in Auckland?
It’s getting there, people are still learning and I would probably go as far as to say discovering the differences between commercially mass produced chocolates and the bean-to-bar small-batch makers. We are lucky in the sense that we are our own biggest customer, because we sell most of our chocolate to our stores to create beautiful cakes, gelato, sorbets and a lot more .
Are there any chocolate makers who you find particularly inspiring?
I really love Dick Taylor’s chocolate. I admire that they don’t hide anything on their social channels and the quality of their chocolate is second-to-none. I also love what Dandelion has done. They have probably been one of the biggest influences on the industry.
What are your hopes for the future of Miann?
We have grown Miann quite fast, starting only three years ago with our Fort Street store and then adding our flagship store in Takutai Square in Britomart. Now with our Morningside store and the chocolate factory, I think this coming year is going to be about getting everything running at 100%. Changing to our own chocolate was probably the biggest and most satisfying challenge we have faced since we began. Going from producing zero to probably about eight tonnes of chocolate a year is still mind blowing for us to think about, in a positive way. We are now hoping to get our chocolates into New Zealand’s great restaurants, and see where that journey takes us...
Thanks so much to Brian for taking the time for this interview. You can find a couple of Miann bars in our online store, and if you're ever in Auckland be sure to pay them a visit.
Thanks to Miann for providing the photographs for this piece.