For my latest interview I caught up with Deniz Karaca from Cuvée Chocolate, who feature in our January subscription boxes. Based in the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne, Australia, Deniz and his wife Kylie started Cuvée Chocolate in 2014. Deniz has over twenty years experience as a pastry chef and chocolatier, working in chocolateries, restaurants and hotels around the world, and in 2019 he decided to make the transition from using couverture to making his own chocolate from the bean. It's fantastic to see somebody with such a wealth of experience and talent embracing the craft chocolate movement. When I received samples of Cuvée's bars I was blown away by the quality, and it's an absolute pleasure to share them with our subscribers this month.
What was your background before starting Cuvée Chocolate?
I have been a pastry chef and chocolatier for almost 20 years now, working for a number of chocolateries, restaurants and hotels in Melbourne and across the world. I always had a love for chocolate and much of my career in hospitality I focussed on honing in on my chocolate skills.
There seems to be a heavy wine influence behind your branding. What inspired the design process?
When I represented Australia at the World Chocolate Masters in Paris in 2013, I teamed up with South Australian wine maker Penfolds to present the judges a taste experience with a unique Australian twist, matching my creations to their famous Grange wines. The judges and crowd loved the concept and upon my return to Australia it had me inspired to start working on creating a chocolate specifically made for this purpose.
The Mornington Peninsula is renowned for its Pinot Noir. Do you find that lovers of fine wine are more receptive to the concept of single origin craft chocolate?
We find that most people who appreciate fine wines have, in general, a more developed palate and are therefore, more often than not, more receptive to flavours and textures that are not as mainstream as a lot of commercially produced chocolate. So the answer is definitely yes.
You recently transitioned from using couverture to making all your own chocolate from the bean. How did you find this transition and what are some of the benefits of making chocolate from bean to bar?
The transition came quite naturally to us. Our focus is - and always was - to provide our customers with a unique and excellent product that is somewhat unmatched to anything else available on the market.
The huge growth we have seen in the past few years across the bean-to-bar and craft chocolate sector has meant significant improvements in regards to machinery, equipment, accessibility to cocoa beans and resources in general for bean-to-bar makers, all paving the way for small businesses like ours to be able to compete in the ever growing chocolate market.
The opportunity to actually create our own chocolate from scratch was just too good to pass by, so when the time was right we jumped at it! It has been an amazing journey so far, bean-to-bar opened up the doors to creating a range of chocolate that is truly unique to us, and gives us 100% traceability of all of our ingredients.
How did you decide which beans to source?
The two things that matter to us the most are, taste/overall quality and sustainability. Whilst most of the cocoa we use is fair trade and organic certified, we do not insist on it but instead we endeavour to source our beans as direct as possible.
We have learned that the best and most reliable way to ensure common values is to focus on building genuine and solid relationships with all our suppliers, on the basis of mutual trust and respect.
All of your bars come with suggested wine pairings. What’s one of your favourite wine and chocolate matches?
Too be honest, that’s a hard one to pin down! And like my taste in wine, it’s also highly seasonal for me. I think there’s not much better than our Soleo milk chocolate and a Provence-style rosé on a summer day. But then there is nothing like our 75% dark chocolate with a Australian Shiraz on a cold night in!
There seem to be a lot of bean-to-bar chocolate makers popping up in Australia. Do you feel the public awareness of high quality craft chocolate growing over there?
Yes, I definitely would say so. There’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to public awareness, but we are lucky in Australia to have some very passionate people who are making fantastic chocolate and doing a great job at spreading the word!
You have some fantastic dessert recipes on your website. Are many chefs and restaurants in Australia starting to embrace craft chocolate?
Not as many as we would like to, but I think the main issue here is consistency in supply and quality.
Being a pastry chef myself, I know what it’s like when you source a great product to include on your menus just to find out that after all the recipe development it is suddenly not available or has drastically changed.
We ourselves have simply not been able to keep up with demand to even contemplate servicing restaurant kitchens. However, this is changing in the New Year with two more melangeurs coming on board at our Cuvée HQ in late Feb, which will see us introducing our 1kg restaurant range.
Are there any chocolate makers who particularly inspire you?
They are many really, and it would be very hard for me to pin point here. If I had to though, I’d say the standout guy would have to be Paul Kennedy from Savour Chocolate and Patisserie School in Melbourne. He’s one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet, an amazing friend and one of the most passionate people I know when it comes to anything chocolate.
What’s your favourite thing about being a chocolate maker?
Eating exorbitant amounts of chocolate without any guilt at all, all in the name of research. I’m joking of course, although not that far off!
The bit that I always enjoy the most about working in the kitchen, creating my desserts, sweets and now chocolate, is witnessing the expression on people’s faces when they get to enjoy them. I don’t think there is anything more rewarding than sharing your passion and labour with someone who truly appreciates it!
Thanks so much to Deniz and Kylie for taking the time to participate in this interview, as well providing us with such beautiful photos. If you've interested in trying Cuvée Chocolate, we have a few bars of their Amphora 65% available from our online store.