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Duo develops unique tastes

Elite pastry chefs enjoy exploring the world of unusual flavour pairings

The dead giveaway that you’ve entered a business that takes sweet things very seriously is the fact that elite pastry chefs Dominique and Cindy Duby wear lab coats rather than chef’s aprons.

Their Hammersmith Way location in south east Richmond is more science lab than something fantastical that Willy Wonka could dream up.

Yet, despite the lack of chocolate waterfalls, and edible scenery, the setting at Wild Sweets is focused on elevating chocolate and other desserts to a higher level, often by producing some rather unlikely, flavour pairings.

Imagine biting into a chocolate shell filled with smooth sweet caramel dusted with salty bonito (tuna flakes).

The unusual marriage worked so well when the couple presented it at Epcot Centre in Disney World, Florida a number of years ago that they got raves from all who sampled it.

“Many of the people who tried it didn’t know what bonito was,” said Dominique. “They didn’t care it was tuna. It just tasted good.”

It’s that type of ground-breaking adventure in taste the duo embarks on each time they create a product for customers who come from across the Lower  Mainland and even Washington state to sample and buy their wares.

That’s why they decided to forgo the traditional retail environment of a high-traffic, high-rent location in favour of a small, lab-based operation where clients could try the combinations before they bought.

“We didn’t want to go into a conventional retail setting because you have to also make coffee and sandwiches in order to make enough money to pay the rent,” Dominique said. “You can’t make it viable just on high-end chocolate.”

Getting customers to come to them and sample the out-of-the-ordinary flavours they produce is the key, they said.

“We work a lot more from a scientific perspective and try to think of flavour combinations based on aromatic compounds that are naturally present in foods,” Dominique said. “We did that years ago and it has now become very popular.”

The Dubys were so renowned for that aspect they, along with Vikram Vij, owner of two well-respected Indian food restaurants in the Lower Mainland, were the only non-American contributors to The Flavour Bible, a book which is used by English-speaking chefs worldwide to inspire flavour pairings.

That information helps inspire them to explore possible combinations in their products.

“For example, we combined parsnip and vanilla, or a red cabbage and apple jelly with chestnut and encouraged customers to just try it,” said Cindy, a Richmond native who met her husband while working at an airline catering firm based at YVR.

When they first started exploring unique pairings, they would enlist the palates of their then young niece and nephew.

“Children do not have a preconceived idea of flavours because their tasting memories are very limited,” said Dominique, who was born in Belgium and started following in his father’s footsteps as a chemical engineer when he decided to travel, and the most transportable job he targeted was in food service. “Their (children’s) taste buds are more susceptive to very strong flavours. So, when we gave them (niece and nephew) something and they liked it, we knew it was good. We never told them what it was.”

“They are too old now,” Cindy said laughing.

“Now, we just use our customers,” Dominique added. “But if you try to make combinations like that and put them in a chocolate bar for retail sale, you’re never going to be successful. People are just not used to it. And especially if it’s more expensive, they will not want to take the risk.

“That’s why when customers come here, we get them to sample everything.”

The shift to a small, out of the way location also allowed them to set up their own “bean to bar” operation that produces chocolate from scratch, something they’d been doing for three years as a research project working at UBC.

It’s that total control over all ingredients, their intrinsic knowledge of flavour pairings and scientific approach in the creative process which the Dubys feel sets them apart from other artisan chocolate makers.

“Everything is new as we move forward, taking the basis of something we did before and see how we could make it better,” Dominique said. “You can’t have anything that’s truly perfect. It can always be made better. And if you’re not thinking that way, then it’s never going to be.”

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