For the Love of Chocolate
Ivan’s Truffles offers up hand-made, bite-sized pieces of chocolate heaven
A soft dusting of cocoa. A slight resistance as my teeth break through the shell, before the richness of chocolate with a hint of espresso floods my mouth, along with the smooth melting of ganache. This is the experience of biting into one of Ivan’s Truffles, the handmade artisan chocolates created by Ivan Loubier-Cote. It is a little bite of chocolate heaven.
Each of Ivan’s Truffles is unique, and not only for the person enjoying it, but for Loubier-Cote as he creates it. “It changes all the time,” he says. “If there is a certain flavor that makes me think of a person, I think of them and what they are doing [as the truffles are made]. I’m pretending I’m making it for them.”
It’s a heart-warming idea—an entire batch of truffles created with love for an individual.
For example, the espresso truffles I just tasted were created for his great uncle. “He’s such a classy dude,” says Loubier-Cote, “really ridiculous, over the top, and so lovable. The biggest personality I’ve ever met. Just picturing him sipping his espresso—that’s what I want people to taste. That classy, lovable dude who is just loving his espresso so much.
“When I saw you try it for the first time,” he adds, “it’s the look on your face. The love and energy I put into [each truffle] has been conveyed.”
Loubier-Cote’s love and passion for food began nearly 20 years ago in Ottawa. Born in the Ottawa Valley, he moved to Toronto in early 2000 to attend a two year culinary management course. There he met Master Chef Didier Leroy, who was a guest chef at the college and one of only two Master French chefs in English-speaking Canada.
“I really resonated with his philosophy of cooking,” says Loubier-Cote, “and his food was… I’ve never seen food like that before—it was unparalleled.
“I like to call him a part-time Buddhist,” adds Loubier-Cote, who says the chef’s approach was often Buddhist in nature. “He taught me a lot about discipline, which I needed, and it taught me to zone out from the pressure and stress of a job—any job—but to give the attention to the thought of what was in my head. The philosophy taught me not to succumb, not to think, and in its place I’d be focusing on every detail.” Specifically, every detail of the person he was thinking about as he created his dishes.
“Every time you cook something pretend you are cooking it for your mom, or someone you love unconditionally,” he says. “On an esoteric level the energy is transmitted. I used to get that with food, but now it is chocolate.”
Loubier-Cote studied under Chef Didier for nearly five years. During this time he also met Chef Didier’s brother, at the time a coach and now a judge for Valrhona Coup Du Monde de Patisserie, one of the world’s most prestigious pastry-making competitions. Loubier-Cote had an opportunity to work with the pastry chef and recalls how elaborate his work was, including creating entire sculptures out of chocolate. “One day he just did truffles,” says Loubier-Cote. Technically, truffles are simple, he adds, “but sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do—something that is simply technical. It was divine.”
Loubier-Cote built a successful career, with his first head chef position being at Taboo Muskoka Resort. He received many accolades, plenty of press coverage, and was well respected in the industry. But after 12 years of a very successful career, he “divorced the kitchen and moved west—mostly to escape the city,” and the hot kitchen.
At first he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so he took an entrepreneurial course at the community college in Vancouver, the main purpose of the course being to open a business for under $5,000. His transition into chocolate really occurred here. Loubier-Cote already had a lot of experience with fine food, flavor pairings, and finesse of details.
“I knew I wanted it to be food related,” he says. “Didier’s brother’s truffles just came to me. So I pitched the business idea to the class. The teacher said it would never work.” Loubier-Cote laughs. “I really wanted to do it after that! It was the perfect anti-authoritarian motivator.”
After a long stretch of business planning and product development, Ivan’s Truffles was launched. “To the teacher’s credit,” he admits, “it was very difficult in Vancouver. So I moved to Victoria. It was very difficult in Victoria.”
After visiting friends in the Comox Valley and loving the area, he relocated and serendipitously was offered a job at the Atlas Café (front of house this time). He decided to try the truffles out here.
“It was perfect timing, right before Christmas,” says Loubier-Cote, who also began selling his truffles at the Comox Valley Farmer’s Market. “Now I’m in seven stores and growing.”
He has also started to ship across Canada on occasion. However, he can still be found at the Farmer’s Market because he wants to stay true to the local buyers. “The people that showed me the most support in the beginning are the customers who are the most important to me, and always will be,” he says. “Atlas Café is my biggest supporter,” he adds. “They serve the truffles as a dessert—sold by the piece.”
Ivan’s Truffles are handmade using organic cream, pure Valrhona chocolate, and organic teas, flowers and fruits. They are always GMO-free, gluten-free, and nut-free, and he uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
“My business model has been a more collaborative model, so if I can promote Royston Roasting Company, for example, by using their exceptional coffee in my chocolate, then it’s a win-win,” he says, smiling. “It also helps to keep the local economy strong.”
He also makes a dairy-free truffle for those who are dairy free but still desire the experience.
Loubier-Cote is currently making five batches of truffles a week, each batch making 100 pieces. He varies the flavor depending on season, and his own creative impulses. “The newest chocolate—which I’ve never seen anything like—is Kaffir Lime and Mosaic Hops. It’s interesting—tropical fruit and grassy and floral. And it finishes just like an IPA. It’s a funny one. I love seeing people reacting. I’ll ask them at the market, ‘Do you like beer? Because it’s really for beer lovers.
“I’ve had the most impassioned responses,” he adds. “I think it’s because it takes people away from their preconception of what chocolate should be.”
Loubier-Cote goes on to explain the reason why you never quite know what truffles will be available from him. “I don’t want to design a line of chocolates and stick to that.” He reasons that people want what they want because they can have it, and that businesses just offer everything they can hoping to make customers happy. He acknowledges that “of course people want their favorite chocolate,” but if it is unavailable then they will branch out and try something new. It is his way of keeping the chocolates fresh, both as a food item and as an experience.
“I don’t want to be confined,” he explains. “I want to continue to be creative.”
He is passionate about the process of creating his truffles too. “There’s so much I like about it,” he says, smiling. “I start with the ganache. I use organic cream and whatever flavor I’m using—I steep that.” After creating the ganache he adds honey, cures it, and then tempers the chocolate.
But while he is explaining the technical steps, one can imagine a whole other level of what he is doing—add a splash of brilliance, fold in cherished thoughts, cure with intention, and temper with a whole lot of cultivated love. He speaks of melting the chocolate for 12 hours at a specific (secret) temperature, working individual portions on marble to bring down the temperature, then combining the warm and the cooler ganaches. “The temperature is very important,” he says. “It must be exact at all these stages.
“I can see the viscosity change, the shine of the ganache changes—how it reflects light, the resistance it gives. It’s like you’re squeezing something that pushes back differently every time,” he explains, obviously passionate about his art. “It strikes a sexy nerve.”
He then hand-coats each piece with a chocolate shell, a process known as enrobing that is typical of European truffles. “I kind of like that romance, too,” he says. “Each one has been touched and each one is slightly different because of that. And splashing it into the bowl of cocoa is nice too. The smell, even how messy it is—is satisfying in a weird way.
“My biggest enjoyment [is knowing that people] are experiencing something that I created,” Loubier-Cote says. A little hand-made gift meant to make you respond to the simple and beautiful aspects of life, love and people.
And people are responding. “The demand right now is a little bit beyond my capacity,” Loubier-Cote admits. “Which is great. It’s a very first world problem.”
“It’s kind of hard for me to believe how far it’s come,” he adds, noting that he is hoping to have Ivan’s Truffles in restaurants in Vancouver by the spring. “I think I owe it all to the Valley.”
Loubier-Cote would like to let the business grow as big as it can without the product losing its integrity, and eventually envisions finding a retail space. Here he could teach courses, offer demonstrations, host private functions, and have wine pairings.
“I feel like I’m learning lots. I’d like to learn more if the opportunity presents itself.”
Loubier-Cote considers taking on the entire process of refining chocolate from start to finish, including avenues such as bee keeping, sculptures, and other art with the chocolate. “I’d jump on it,” he says. “Any direction it takes—I don’t want to stand still with it.”
One variation on the truffles that Loubier-Cote creates is his truffle bar, which is only available at the Farmer’s Market. For the Christmas season he also has drinking chocolate. This is “the espresso of hot chocolate,” he says. “It’s more potent, you only want two ounces. It’s designed to be paired with Baileys or [other liqueurs].”
Ivan’s Truffles can be found at the Atlas Café, Prontissima Pasta, Island Bliss, Rally Co., Butcher’s Block, and The Broken Spoke, as well as online and every Saturday at the Farmer’s Market. They are $9 for a jar of four. Even the jars were chosen with intention—glass being the only packaging that Loubier-Cote could find that returns completely to its natural state. It also protects the truffles from humidity, which is a problem on the West Coast, and is unusual—adding to the experience of the truffles. He is also in the process of changing the labels. “Tim [from First Glass Designs] will be sandblasting the jars so I will eliminate all plastic.”
Currently, Loubier-Cote is holding a contest to reuse his truffle jars in a creative way as the blue bin will not take glass. The winner will be gifted one jar of truffles every two weeks for all of next year. The contest runs until December 31, 2016.
For more information on Ivan’s Truffles, the contest, or to order, go to www.ivanstruffles.com