A Visit to The Chocolate Factory

Seth Ellis ChocolatierI had lunch with Willy Wonka the other day. No, actually it was just coffee. And chocolate. It wasn’t the real Willy either, but it might as well have been.

I was on location at Seth Ellis Chocolatier, the latest creation of Rick Levine and David Lurie. Seth Ellis is a startup, but not in the traditional sense of what I generally babble about around here. It’s not software, a new-fangled website, or the latest interest-stripped D-rated bond offering. It’s a manufacturing facility loaded with equipment. That equipment spits out chocolate, as in chocolate truffles. And boy are they tasty.

The partners in this venture are no strangers to engineering and/or fancy chocolate. Rick “Willy Wonka” Levine spent 25 years hacking code (and managing others hacking code) at Sun Microsystems as well as several fledgling companies. He also known for his contribution to the book The Cluetrain Manifesto. When his last venture was bought Rick took to the kitchen with a hobby he had back-burnered for many years, cooking up batch after batch of ganache and chocolate combinations. Rick soon thought his substitute for golf was ready for independent taste testing, and good thing – Mrs. Levine had already had enough and kicked him out of her cooking facilities. And that’s when Mr. Lurie showed up.

Dave “Oompa-Loompa” Lurie knows desserts. He has formal training in hospitality management, and is a former Chef de Partie at the Hotel Jura Simplon in Lausanne, Switzerland (of course, there’s no chocolate in Switzerland!) In addition, Dave has held general manager positions at a number of resort hotels, including the five-diamond St. Julien Hotel in Boulder, CO. He’s schmoozed chocolate makers across the globe to bring their finest treats to the establishments he’s run. But when he tasted Rick’s fares all he could say was “this stuff ain’t half bad.” Unfortunately, what Rick didn’t know was that Dave thought the goods were the best he’d ever had, and he was positioning to steal the recipes. That’s not really true, but he did want in. The rest is (recent) history.

As Rick puts it, Seth Ellis is technically in the business of “flavoring cream.” Cream is the base ingredient in ganache, that tasty stuffing you find inside fancy chocolates. Rick and Dave work wonders with cream, dousing it with fruits and spices including raspberries, ginger, lemon, mint, nutmeg, and even coffee (my favorite.) The ingredients that go into Seth Ellis chocolates are the finest available. The crew traveled all over Europe looking for just the right organic chocolate to go into their products. As for the rest of the ingredients, they use organic creams, pesticide-free fruits, and coffee beans hand-picked by independent growers in South America. They create their own raspberry syrup (including bits and pieces of the fruit for just the right texture), slice and candy their own lemons, and brew their own coffee (directly into the cream, so it’s fresh fresh fresh!)

Rick Levine was, as usual, the consummate host. I ate a half-dozen pieces of this art in a few hour’s time – in between each sampling Rick explained in detail the ingredients and effort that went into creating them. It was good fun, and the chocolates were so potent that I didn’t get to sleep until after midnight. An all natural and legal buzz (although the level of decadence could be considered a crime).

While Seth Ellis is a manufacturer and wholesaler, I spied a few retail boxes lying around. They’re in the supplier databases of some retail outlets catering to the organic foods set, including Boulder Whole Foods. You should be able to grab some there in a few weeks time. Meanwhile, the snow hasn’t started falling heavily, and by the time it does you’ll probably be headed to Vail instead of Boulder. So if you’re dreaming super fine Colorado chocolate from NYC, DC, or Miami, shoot an email to “hey [at] sethellischocolatier.com and I’m sure Rick and Dave can help you out.

Disclaimer: I hold no interest in Seth Ellis Chocolatier, but I have done business with Rick Levine in the past. I was paid for this post, in sweet stuff, and in learning how chocolates are made. Having walked plants that make building insulation and buses, from Columbus, GA to Dandong, China, I consider it another feather in the cap.


Gurpreet says:

lol. did you know that chocolate was banned in switzerland for many years. read this

Michael Gracie says:

Interesting. Maybe swiss army knives were taken from the Italians too 😉 !

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