Interview with Laurence Koutny – Founder of ‘Art of Chocolate’ & Winner of 2013 Belgian Business Manager Trends Woman Award

Laurence Koutny – Founder of ‘Art of Chocolate’ & Winner of 2013 Belgian Business Manager Trends Woman award

Hello Laurence, it is such a pleasure and honour to have you speak with me today! You have over 17 years in the chocolate industry…Truly amazing! Could you tell us some more about you, the woman behind all this knowledge and experience?

Hello, nice to meet you. Indeed, I am passionate about chocolate. As a kid, I was a fan of my Cote d’Or, as a student I started to discover the world of the candy-bar, when I finished my university, what a dream……Mars employed me on the campus. I worked there for 3 years understanding the world of multinationals and chocolate.

I then moved to Levi’s and travelled a lot. After years, my passion for chocolate came back and I got the dream job @ Godiva Chocolates. I was in charge of Marketing, the Retail design and then the entire innovation internationally.

I realised how much the Belgian savoir-faire was highly respected and recognised around the world. I then thought about how important it was to continue to claim our savoir-faire.

Your experience is overwhelming considering the various fields you have worked in, to mention a few: Accessory, Fashion, Sport, Education….Which one of these fields spoke to you the most and why?

I love fashion as it’s a continuous innovation process. You need to reinvent all the time and make people feel good in what they wear.

I love sport as it’s a must to live and to feel good and more importantly experience nature.

I love chocolate as it’s the best indulgence in life and then finally what’s best to pass legacy and educate people on what you love.

Which project has been the most difficult for you in your entire career?

On the 30 years of my career, there have been several.

Probably, the most recent one was the celebration of the 90th anniversary of Godiva in February 2016, where I organised an event with 150 journalists from all around the world. This event happened between the terrorist attack in Paris in November 2015 and the one in March 2016 in Brussels.

The level of stress was very high at our event, with everybody thinking that an attack might occur while we organised a week of events for these very important journalists.

You also were the winner of the 2013 Belgian Business Manager Trends Woman Award! That is a prestigious title to have! What were your feelings when they announced you as the winner?

I felt so thrilled as I had no idea I would win. It was a tough process to get there but when they call you on stage, I felt so proud……..amazing experience!

You are the founder of “Art of Chocolate”. Tell us about your journey in getting this huge project started?

It was a natural journey…after 17 years in chocolate, passionate about it, convinced that we have major talents in Belgium on the matter, I thought it was a must to share this savoir-faire worldwide.

I talked about my academy with highly respected people in the industry, to teach everything about chocolate from the bean to the consumer experience, to buying chocolate. They followed me on my thinking and supported me in the adventure.

Has “Chocolate” changed your life, because I know that the masterclasses you offer, do train and change other people’s lives?

Yes it did. I saw so many things in life but the most amazing thing is to see every smile on each face when people taste chocolate, not only chocolate but good chocolate. The nice thing is to keep contact with the participants after they pass by our masterclasses and see how they applied their learning.

One opened a chocolate shop in Ghana, another one launched a food truck ‘bean to bar’, and another one re-merchandised his entire store….so many nice stories!

I am so curious together with all my readers, to know more about your masterclasses. Could you tell us some more on that?

In the heart of Brussels, ‘Art of Chocolate’ delivers dynamic masterclasses aimed at chocolatiers, chocolate entrepreneurs, chocolate professionals in any field or anyone with a passion for chocolate from anywhere in the world, and interested in learning from the best to take their chocolate skills to a new level.

The philosophy is to cover all the steps from the bean to the consumer experience and cover the entire chain.

Our interactive masterclasses are centred around the following themes:

  • The chocolate making process for starting chocolatiers
  • Advanced chocolate making – Bean to bar
  • Sensory – Creating innovative, premium products
  • Building a successful chocolate business through developing rich customer experience

Please share with us some of your expertise in building a strong, coherent team and its impact on one’s business!

People are the base of everything if you want to succeed in business! It is crucial to have people with the same passion, respect and vision. With “Art of Chocolate”, I only met fully passioned, talented people who are ready to share their knowledge with others.

Everybody respects each other for their competency and the way they complement each other towards one same goal to train about the Belgian chocolate savoir-faire.

I replicated a recipe that I used during the last 30 years with the large numbers of teams I have had to manage.

Have there been other role-models that you have looked up to, or that have influenced you in some way?

There have been many people who had a real impact on my life. From a famous side, it goes from Mandela to Madonna to MèreThérésa (Mother Teresa) to Arétha Franklin to Simone Veil to Jorge Donn to Stromae to finally some amazing chocolatiers such as Laurent Gerbaud, Pierre Marcolini, Jean-Christophe Hubert from Milenisme, Patrick Roger, Stephane Leroux  and many others for their beliefs and passion!

Then on my career side, with 23 different bosses, you have some who really show you the paths and those who you really don’t want to be like, and you learn a lot from that too.

What is your advice to young entrepreneurs?

I wouldn’t say enough, have the passion for what you do, believe in what you do with concrete facts to validate your idea and be honest to admit the skills you miss and surround yourself with others who have those skills, to allow you to shine in your best qualities.

You must have a very busy schedule. What does a normal workday look like to you?

After a good breakfast….. it goes from managing the social network to recruiting participants; having to contact them to understand their real motivation. To develop new courses with teachers and to meet people for consultancy jobs, to organise sessions and prepare all the material.

Days go fast…..I constantly meet new fascinating people with the same passion for food and more especially for Chocolate.

The other day, I met an incredibly passionate ‘perfume’ guy, who was developing the best perfumes you would have never smelled before, in his garage in Brussels .

What do you do in your free time, and how do you manage to make time for it?

After having been in corporation for 30 years moving to Independent is a challenge! I want to be outside all the time but so much to do ……..I spend time with my 2 kids (or they do with me as they become older😊) and party with my friends.

I walk a lot, bike a lot , play golf and travel when I can to discover new things.

What is next for you…your next big project?

I have seven sessions to organise from now till end October. 3 very exciting confidential consulting missions in the chocolate business and I am preparing the whole schedule for 2020 with new, exciting modules.

How can my readers contact you, find your work?

The best way is to visit our website: www.artofchocolate.be or contact me at laurence@artofchocolate.be

BY CHRISELDA BARRETTO

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“The History Of Chocolate -The Gift From Quetzalcoatl”

Quetzalcoatl – Pixabay

Building up towards “International Chocolate Day” on September 13, I decided to pen a few articles around this unique ‘flavouring ingredient’! Originally considered a gift from the God of Wisdom – Quetzalcoatl, once used as currency, also thought of to be more precious than gold and a delight only to be partaken by higher-ups or royalty…makes one think that there must be more to it that just a dessert! So I started researching on it and it is with pleasure that I share my findings with you on this dark-hued pod!

HISTORY [1]

Chocolate dates back to 450 BC in Mesoamerica. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of the god of wisdom – Quetzalcoatl and were of so much value that they were used as a form of currency. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter liquid, mixed with spices or corn puree. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac and to give the drinker strength! The word “chocolate” is derived from the Classical Nahuatl /Aztec word “chocolātl“.

“Rumor has it that the 16th-century Aztec emperor Montezuma drank three gallons of chocolate a day to increase his libido! “

The Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations found chocolate to be an invigorating drink, mood enhancer and aphrodisiac, which led them to believe that it possessed mystical and spiritual qualities.The Mayans worshipped a god of cacao and reserved chocolate for rulers, warriors, priests and nobles at sacred ceremonies.

Chocolate remained an aristocratic nectar until Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented the cocoa press in 1828, which revolutionized chocolate-making. The cocoa press could squeeze the fatty cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving behind a dry cake that could be pulverized into a fine powder, that could be mixed with liquids and other ingredients, poured into molds and solidified into edible, easily digestible chocolate. The innovation by Van Houten ushered in the modern era of chocolate by enabling it to be used as a confectionary ingredient, and the resulting drop in production costs made chocolate affordable to the masses.

The Chemistry Of Chocolate [2]

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

Think chocolate can give you a high? Well…

  • For starters, the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world is found in chocolate [source: Fackelmann]. The compound 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine — better known as caffeine produces a stimulating physiological effect by exciting the central nervous system, which, in turn, increases heart rate and contracts muscles. Caffeine acts on dopamine and adenosine receptors in the brain, which then release their respective pleasure-producing chemicals.
  • Another compound that’s closely related to the active ingredient in marijuana (tetrahydrocannabinol-9) is also found in chocolate. When cannabinoids hit the CB1 and CB2 receptors (found most predominantly in the frontal cortex and the parts of the brain responsible for motor function and memory), a person starts to feel intoxicated and relaxed as a result [source: Medscape].
  • Chocolate also packs in another surprise…Phenylethylamine which is often called the “love drug,” since it releases the same chemicals that are introduced into the human body when love comes calling [source: Millward]. The compound produces a similar effect to the one produced by amphetamines, and is classified as a hallucinogen!

The Benefits Of Chocolate

Dark chocolate has a wealth of health benefits. Listed below are only some of them:

Antioxidants

Chocolate helps combat excess free radicals given its high antioxidant content. Rich in flavonoids, it helps prevent premature aging of cells. It can also be used as a facial and body mask.

Energy

Chocolate is a stimulant that gives us an energy boost when we need it. This is essential to feel full of vitality throughout the day!

Eye health

Dark chocolate can improve eyesight due to its flavonoid content, which improves blood flow to the brain and the retina.

Mood

Chocolate contains a chemical called anandamide which improves our mood and overall state of mind, reducing the chances of depression. In addition, eating this food stimulates serotonin production in the brain, which helps us to feel happier, and prevents us from feeling anxious, moody or stressed.

Types Of Chocolate [3]

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

Chocolate should be consumed in its purest possible state, without mixing it with milk and large amounts of added sugar, for it to be considered healthy and non-fattening. This is because milk and sugar add fat. The cocoa itself is not fattening. Dark chocolate is the best choice, as it is the purest form and provides the most health benefits. It goes without saying that chocolate and other similar products should always be consumed in moderation.

Dark chocolate

This must contain a minimum of 50% of cocoa paste to be considered dark, giving it quite a bitter taste. This chocolate is richer in the properties listed in the first section of the article, like antioxidants.

Milk chocolate

It is usually eaten more, especially by children, since it is sweeter. The proportion of cocoa is below 40%, though it can contain up to 50% in gourmet confections. Milk does provide calcium, but the chocolate itself is less pure so it provides less benefits overall, and it is more fattening than dark chocolate.

White chocolate

This type contains at least 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk solids, 3.5% milk fat and up to 55% sugar or other sweeteners. This mixture is made with cocoa butter instead of solids, so it acquires a yellow hue together with the milk powder and sugar. Bad quality white chocolates are completely white instead of yellow, as they do not have any cocoa butter at all.

FACT

International Chocolate Day coincides with the birth date of Milton S. Hershey (September 13, 1857), founder of The Hershey Chocolate Company.”


Chocolates in a row (Canva)

MODERN DAY [4]

Coming back to our present times, roughly two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is produced in Western Africa, with Ivory Coast being the largest source, producing a total crop of 1,448,992 tonnes. Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon are other West African countries among the top 5 cocoa producing countries in the world.

Chocolate is a delicacy that is now easily affordable and the number of professional chocolatiers around the world has risen beyond expectation.

‘ART OF CHOCOLATE’ MASTERCLASS

If you feel compelled to learn more about chocolate, there is an “Art of Chocolate” Professional Masterclass given by Industry experts in the heart of Brussels. You will experience the Belgian Chocolate Savoir-faire and learn from the best experts to acquire professional skills to create and sell premium chocolates.

They speak of a 4 key program with highly talented people from the industry, focusing mainly on: The art of perfecting, creating, making and selling of chocolate! They also offer tailored masterclasses dedicated to businesses and teams. Learn more: HERE

Laurence Koutny – Founder of “Art of Chocolate” and Winner of the 2013 Belgian Business Manager Trends Woman Award

Look out for my next article on chocolate where I will chat with Laurence Koutny, founder of “Art of Chocolate” and Winner of the 2013 Belgian Business Manager Trends Woman Award!

Thank you for joining me and hope to see you soon on ‘chriselda.blog

BY CHRISELDA BARRETTO

Contact Chriselda Barretto

[1] Source “The Sweet History Of Chocolate” by Christopher Klein

[2] Source “Can chocolate give me a happy-high?” by Josh Clark

[3] Source “Is Chocolate Fattening?” by Max D Gray

[4] Main article

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My Top 5 Easy-Peasy Chocolate Delights

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

You know what I find really difficult? It’s keeping up with a recipe and especially those ones that go into 3-4 pages, or with difficult-to-source ingredients, or are just overly-complicated! I don’t think I could compete on “MasterChef”…forget it :)!

I love keeping things simple so naturally I go for easy recipes as well, that create just as stunning a dish within a couple of minutes. That said, something else that we don’t have the luxury of is “time“… we don’t really have all the time in the world now do we?

So here are my top 5 Easy-Peasy Chocolate Delights. Some I sourced online, while others were handed down to me or shared. If you are as lazy as me when it comes to baking, yet to the one eating your chocolaty dish…you are going to look like an absolute pro! Promise they taste divine!

Here goes and “Happy Baking”

  1. Home-made Chocolate Ice-cream

Ingredients

1 1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup granulated sugar

 2 cups heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Method

  • Whisk together milk, cocoa powder, and sugar to combine. The sugar and cocoa should completely dissolve. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla extract
  • Refrigerate the chocolate ice cream base for at least 30 minutes before putting it in your freezer, so it is completely cold. (This will help it freeze faster, improve the texture, and allow the cocoa powder to be fully hydrated by the milk and cream)
  • Give the ice cream base one more gentle stir and freeze

Store your ice cream in an air-tight container, to help preserve its flavour and texture!

2. Simple Dark Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

200g dark chocolate

200g butter

225g sugar

5 eggs

2 tsp. of flour

Method

  • Melt the butter and chocolate. Mix in the sugar. Crack in the eggs one at a time and mix. Add the flour, mix
  • Cook at 180C for 25-30mins

*Thank you ‘Margot’ for this delight!

3. Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

125g butter

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup caster sugar

½ tsp. vanilla essence

1 egg

1¾ cups self-raising flour

½ tsp. salt

½ cup chocolate chunks or chips

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180°C or 160ºC (fan) and grease or line two baking trays with baking paper
  • Beat butter, brown sugar, caster sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy, add egg and beat until mixed
  • Sift in flour and salt, mix until combined before stirring in the chocolate chunks or chips
  • Roll heaped teaspoon sized balls of mixture and place on tray, press down lightly with a floured fork. Bake for approx. 12 minutes

4. Chocolate Molleux Cake

Ingredients

½ cup white sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup flour

A pinch of salt

½ cup butter, softened

4 ounces semisweet chocolate

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Method

  • Preheat oven to 160°C
  • Line a muffin pan with paper baking cups or use any individual moulds that you have. If you are using ramekins, brush the insides with melted butter
  • In a large bowl, mix together the sugars, flour, salt and eggs and stir briskly until mixed. Put the butter and chocolate in a double boiler and melt, stirring frequently until melted. Let cool slightly and pour into the first mixture and beat until blended. Stir in the vanilla
  • Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling half full. Bake for about 15 minutes, but don’t over-bake. Remove from oven and turn out onto a cooling rack

5. Easiest Choco Mousse

Ingredients

200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

3 large eggs, separated

50g caster sugar

softly whipped cream, to serve (optional)

Method

  • Place the chocolate and 120ml of water in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of just simmering water – the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Heat gently, stirring, until the chocolate is melted
  • Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly, then stir in the egg yolks with a wooden spoon until well combined
  • In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites with the sugar until stiff peaks form, then gently fold into the chocolate mixture
  • Spoon the mousse into individual dishes and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. Top with softly whipped cream (optional)

Recommendations:

Most of these recipes are simple enough to do the whisking by hand, but what I use, and what makes it so much more easier is investing in a good hand mixer like the one shown below. It is so handy to have around and an extremely good buy!

KitchenAid – Ultra Power Hand Mixer

KitchenAid KHM512ER 5-Speed Ultra Power Hand Mixer, Empire Red

Thanks for joining me. Stay tuned for more of my upcoming lists and articles, especially for my follow-up articles around “Chocolate”. See you soon!

BY CHRISELDA BARRETTO

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