The road to becoming a master chocolatier is more than just tempering fine-quality chocolate. It requires many hours of training, an understanding of the science behind the delicious treat, an immense amount of creativity and, most importantly, plenty of patience.
Unlike some of her colleagues, Lindt USA master chocolatier Ann Czaja didn't always know she wanted to work in chocolate. In fact, she started out in a very different field.
"I couldn't get into medical school," Czaja says. "I had the opportunity to go to Switzerland, and while there, I was fortunate enough to work with a chef who saw that I had a real talent. As soon as I started doing desserts, I realized I loved it and after several years of working as an untrained pastry chef, I applied for an apprenticeship. Because of my years of practical experience and university degree, I was able to skip the general education curriculum and concentrate on core course work."
Photo: Courtesy of Lindt Chocolate
While in Europe, Czaja attended the Berufsbildungsschule Winterthur, the vocational school in Zurich where she balanced a full time job in a pastry production kitchen with professional course work and apprentice at Confiserie Honold, a prestigious chocolate shop with a hundred-year history in the confectionary business. Here the burgeoning chocolate maker began to train under master chocolatier Ivo Jud. "He is a very talented man and shared his passion with me," Czaja says about her mentor. "I feel very lucky and privileged to have worked there."
Czaja says skills like tempering, molding and decorating, as well as learning how to develop recipes and build stunning chocolate showpieces, are all essential to becoming a master chocolatier. Chocolatiers must be thorough, accurate and have an eye for detail. "[You must] treat the chocolate with respect," she explains. "It can be extremely temperamental."
Before graduating, Czaja had to pass a series of exams to receive her license, including a 10 hour practical exam while being moderated by two experts. She remembers the experience as intense but well worth it. "When I was finished, I was so proud to put everything out for display for all my friends and family to see."
After working as a master chocolatier for one of Lindt & Sprüngli's chocolate boutiques in Zurich, Czaja made her way back to the States where she accepted her current position at Lindt USA. Her daily responsibilities generally include product development and education, which, as she describes, is a real "transition from creating chocolate showpieces." Since chocolate plays such a major role in holidays like Halloween, Christmas and Easter, the months leading up to these events tend to keep this cocoa pro very busy. She says the most exciting part of her job is creating new products with interesting or seasonally relevant flavors."
When asked about industry trends, Czaja mentions that matcha will certainly be sticking around and that people are also interested in incorporating new and different ingredients into their candy bars. For those looking to cook or bake with chocolate at home, she recommends always using the highest-quality chocolate possible and tending to the ingredients with great care. "Treat chocolate like a diva," she instructs. "You have to pay attention to it. Otherwise, it's not going to cooperate."
These days, Czaja's been experimenting with gingerbread and other similar elements fit for holiday celebrations. Her final note? “Life’s too short for ordinary chocolate.” Now that's a statement we can get behind.
Please check your inbox to verify your email address.