We asked our chocolatier Rachel McKinley a few questions about what it takes to work with the world’s best ingredient—chocolate—and how she came to decide on this career.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a chocolatier?
Rachel: November, 2003. I was a student headed towards a career in medicine, working nights full-time and in school during the day. I loved baking, though, especially with chocolate, so I made time to experiment with infusions and flavours and make beautiful, tasty desserts for my friends.
Rent and tuition were really eating into my budget, so I got the idea to sell truffles as a side gig to friends and friends-of-friends to make a bit of cash. I figured I’d sell maybe 300 truffles for $1 each.
I ended up making and selling 3,000 truffles.
I remember thinking I’d never had more fun or felt more fulfilled because I was using both the creative and technical sides of my brain and I was making people happy.
That was really what did it for me. It’s what still guides me today.
Q: How did you become a chocolatier?
Rachel: I started with the online Professional Chocolatier Program at Ecole Chocolat. Then, I did several internships all around North America, then one at the Barry Callebaut Academy in Ste-Hyacinthe, Quebec, where Master Chocolatier Julian Rose took me under his wing.
Later, I joined the faculty of my alma mater (Ecole Chocolat) and travelled to study with other chocolatiers in France and Italy.
Q: What brought you to Purdys?
Rachel: I moved from Winnipeg to Vancouver in 2006 and a year later opened my own chocolate shop, CocoaNymph Chocolates & Confections. It was a really special part of my life. I was making chocolates, had two successful shop locations and lots of customers, many of them wholesale.
But the downside was that I spending so much of my time on the business side of things. I didn’t have a lot of time to create new chocolates, I was too busy filling orders.
So when Purdys approached me, it made a lot of sense for me to sell my company and get back to doing what I really loved: creating unique chocolates.
Purdys already had the From The Chocolate Kitchen collection when I started (they’re really gorgeous chocolates crafted with out-of-the-ordinary ingredients—just my kind of thing!) and I’ve had the joy of adding many to that collection: Bourbon Caramels, all the chocolates in the Canadian Escapes gift box, Matcha and that’s just the ones off the top of my head.
Q: What’s your favourite chocolate that you’ve created?
Rachel: Oh, that’s really hard to decide!
There’s Peanut Butter and Jelly because it became an instant classic.
But I have to mention White Spruce too because it’s super innovative and honours my prairie home (I’m from Manitoba) so it’s extra special to me.
My favourite’s always the one I’m working on at the moment, really.
Q: Can you share an ingredient you’re experimenting with right now?
Rachel: I’m pretty much obsessed with birch syrup. It’s my current fascination! It’s like maple syrup but with more molasses and fruity notes. Its complexity goes amazing with chocolate, like you can’t believe.
Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?
Rachel: Is it cheesy to say all of it? Because I love that I get to play with flavours and textures. I love being in a place where I can chat with others about chocolates and caramels and whipping cream vs buttermilk (we used buttermilk in a new chocolate that’s coming out soon!) and I love inventing new flavour combinations.
And sculpting chocolate. That’s really fun too. I did a whole Bunny Village for Easter recently.
Q: Any advice for new grads?
Rachel: Make a commitment to yourself to do what you love. Maybe it’s not a full-time thing as a career but if it’s what feeds your soul, I think you should do it.