Not every chocolatier can claim to have a doctor of science degree, although creating chocolates has always embodied a wonderful mix of science and art. After spending 23 years in the pharmaceutical industry, Belgian-born Jean-Paul Hepp decided to replace pharma for food — food of the gods, that is.
One of the things he missed the most from home was Belgian chocolate. After returning to Belgium, Hepp turned his love for chocolate into a career, which led to him becoming a master chocolatier and Chocodiem. Teaming up with his daughter, Eveline, the two tested recipes in Belgium. Hepp subsequently launched Chocodiem in 2012 with a location in Clinton, N.J.
In 2013 he was joined by Katherine MacDonnell, whose background in the fashion industry proved critical in creating a premium look for the brand. With more than 20 years of design and styling experience with luxury brands, she ensured that the Chocodiem brand would connote high quality, from product to packaging design.
Last month, Hepp and MacDonnell celebrated the reopening of Chocodiem’s Clinton, N.J., location, where its collection of high-end products, as well as its new, one-of-a-kind 3D chocolate printer, wowed the crowds.
The company’s high-end, “Old World” Belgian chocolates are hand-made from locally-sourced, fresh ingredients from farms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey whenever possible. As Hepp and MacDonnell affirm, Chocodiem chocolates must not only look and taste good, but they also have to make Chocodiem’s customers feel good.
If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one kind of candy, what would it be?
I would want a perpetual chocolate fountain that would enrobe locally available fruits, nuts, herbs, even flowers.
What’s the last cool thing you saw online?
I love animals. I saw this YouTube short clip of a kitten going haywire when a remotely operated toy took her by surprise. I’ve never seen such funny, acrobatic jumps.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A firefighter — I was five years old and saw cartoons and pictures of such heroes, which impressed me so much that for years I was still convinced of my calling.
What issues concern you most about the confectionery industry and why?
“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” The candy industry is doing the total opposite by adding tons of sugar, GMOs and artificial flavors. This is to me similar to breaking the Hippocratic Oath, which has every new physician swear to uphold specific ethical standards, such as “First do no harm.”
What’s the last book you’ve read?
“The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars,” by Joel Glenn Brenner.
What is your pet peeve?
Not being able to have a pet. A high-end gourmet store owner can’t have furry friends around.
If given the chance to choose anyone, with whom would you like to collaborate?
With people who respect and treat the living fairly and humanely.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Money is useful but doesn’t guarantee happiness. Chocolate is more valuable when it comes to feeling great. The Meso-Americans already knew this 3,000 years ago. Gold was far less important then cacao beans.
What excites you most about your job?
The fact that no one leaves our stores without a big smile.