Clare Britton: Ryerson Grad turned Chocolatier

[E]ver since Clare Britton received her first Wilton chocolate making kit as a young girl, there was no turning back. Her fun hobby of chocolate making transformed into a full-fledged passion: reading book after book about chocolate and working through plenty of trial and errors in the kitchen. Britton studied business management at Ryerson from 1989 to 1991 but dropped out from disinterest. After a break, she continued studying psychology at Ryerson, earning her degree in the mid-90s. The beginning of her business, ChocolateClare, started part-time five years ago when she still worked as a hospital administrator.

“I said to myself: ‘If I could sell a box of my chocolate to my neighbor, why couldn’t I sell ten boxes of my chocolates to other people?’” said Britton.

A divorce brought Britton to move to her new Leslieville apartment, which also serves as the full-time office and kitchen of ChocolateClare. Still in the early stage of her business, Britton attends food shows to help promote her chocolates. She recently participated in the annual Canada’s Baking and Sweets Show, which featured Ace of Cakes’ Duff Goldman and TLC’s DC Cupcake Girls.

“I know my chocolates are good,” said Britton.

That, I can attest to. Not only are her chocolates decadent, each bite is like breaking into a piece of art. The flavours are intricate and the designs are delightful. There is something for everyone. Her framboise truffle, an incredibly sinful mix of dark chocolate with fresh raspberries and white chocolate Chambord ganache would please any fruit and chocolate lover, while her Cognac truffle would bring a smile to those who enjoy a healthy kick of alcohol in their chocolate. And if there truly is not something there, Britton is more than happy to customize a flavour to please any palate.

“I started working brides for their wedding and I am loving it more than I initially thought,” said Britton. “It’s fun creating something just for them to go with their theme or a look. So far, the best part was having a bride hug me after spending four hours trying to create the perfect flavour for her wedding. It’s moments like those that keep me motivated.”

Britton is a very warm person full of energy and love. She almost guiltily explained that she would rather make a friend than a sale, and she readily admits that business is not her forte.

“Even if ChocolateClare isn’t making a huge amount of money, I still donate a percentage of its sales to a charity I support. I’m not a cutthroat business person,” said Britton.

Yet business savvy or not, her chocolates still manage to dabble into renowned chef Mark McEwan’s gourmet grocery store at Don Mills. Thirty medium sized slabs of chocolate bars were ordered for the grocery store. They are still in its initial trial run, but Britton is thrilled that her chocolates passed McEwan’s test of taste and detail. ChocolateClare can also be found in a number of other Toronto locations: Courage Foods, Daniel et Daniel, MerryBerry Café & Bistro, Celena’s Bakery and Dough Bakeshop.

Britton cites her mother as her biggest supporter and helper, receiving many phone calls from her during the week.

“Do you need anything, darling? Cranberries? Do you need me to tie ribbons?” said Britton, impersonating her mother’s British accent.

Britton doesn’t drive so her mother helps her when things to be driven out in her car. She also admits to running things by her mom, who has a good eye for aesthetics. Sometimes the pair disagrees on packaging or colour combinations. Britton remarks slyly that during those times, “It’s not chocolate mom, it’s ChocolateClare.”

Britton also prides herself in only using top-quality chocolate. Her chocolates are either made from Callebaut chocolate, high-quality Belgian chocolate, or Guittard chocolate. Almost all of the chocolates are 72% cocoa, while the chocolate lollipops are bumped down to 64% to make it more “kid-friendly.”

Britton doesn’t use preservatives, but despite this, ChocolateClare guarantees for any orders where the chocolate goes bad, a fresh batch will be sent free of charge.

“I know exactly what’s in my chocolates, everything is fresh. In my truffles the ingredients are whip cream, sugar and chocolate for the ganache. In my chocolate bars it’s just pure tempered chocolate with variations of toppings from pistachios to pumpkin seeds to crystallized ginger,” said Britton.

She explains that “anything goes” with her chocolates, and isn’t tied down to a certain flavour. Drinks out with the girls get Britton’s brain rolling for the newest chocolate flavour, and LCBO’s Food and Drink magazine inspires her to use other alcohol flavour combinations.

Britton also went on a trip to New York City where she not only experienced a chockfull of sweet chocolate genius, but also a vision for a store for ChocolateClare. She hopes for a space with old wooden floors, clean white walls, and a large green and brown ChocolateClare logo, designed by her friend, Chris Kiraly, owner of the graphic design company BlinkBlink.

For now, Britton works in her kitchen that faces a floor to ceiling front window. It allows her to look into her Leslieville neighbourhood where she continues to build and transform her chocolate empire.

Hungry for more? The 2012 Toronto Chocolate Festival began October 13 and will run until November 4. You can visit their website to get coupons for free chocolate around the city!