Love and chocolate seem synonymous, particularly this time of year. But at The Hot Chocolatier they may have found the true meaning of both with their made-from-scratch truffles. Never boastful or overpowering, their harmonious ingredients are kind on the palate, patient even.
Take for example the signature Hottie, which seamlessly marries light-as-air chocolate mousse with a dark chocolate shell - a sprinkle of chipotle and cayenne pepper flakes providing a just-right spicy finish. Or consider the humble ingredients of the Salted Milk Chocolate Caramel (vanilla caramel, milk chocolate, pink Himalayan sea salt) relying on each other for a perfectly balanced treat. This subtle sweetness is most likely due to the love that goes into making each new creation.
"Most chocolatiers are extremely passionate about what they do - it's not just a job it's their life," explains owner and head chocolatier Wendy Buckner, 32. "I'm the same way; it's become what I am. I think chocolate constantly," she laughs.
And her truffles are merely the beginning of this sugary love story. Perfectly layered cakes, trifles, macaroons, barks, bars, squirrels, biscotti and brownies line the cases of this Southside sweet shop. House-made marshmallows, pretzels, nuts, fruit and just about anything willing to stand still long enough are coated in dark, white or milk chocolate imported from France, Belgium and Switzerland.
Wendy launched The Hot Chocolatier with her husband, Brandon, 36, after moving to Chattanooga in 2008. Celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary this Valentine's Day, the Chattanooga natives met while pursuing art degrees - Brandon at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Wendy at Chattanooga State. Several cities and two master's degrees in painting later, Brandon landed his dream job as professor at UTC.
That's when Wendy decided to take the plunge with her own chocolate kitchen, with Brandon helping in the evenings to dip, dunk or deliver the burgeoning brand's goodies. Three years later, the couple continues to work long hours.
"It's nothing for us to work an 18-hour day," says Wendy. Starting in the Hamilton County Business Development Center, they recently opened their first storefront on the Southside. Much like their chocolate, the couple poured their hearts into its opening, with Wendy painting the walls, staining the wooden booths and even lacquering the tables.
Her love affair with chocolate began many truffles ago when they were living in Iowa City. With Brandon in school, Wendy got a job as a receptionist at a children's hospital. Needing a creative outlet she turned to making chocolates on the side. She knew she was on to something when people were fighting over them, particularly one diabetic doctor who scrambled to buy them first.
Trading scrubs for an apron, she attended the prestigious French Pastry School in Chicago and worked in several prominent patisseries and chocolate kitchens before moving to the Scenic City.
Today she oversees the kitchen and daily operations while Brandon still pulls the night shift after his day job as a graphic designer. He mostly helps with the shop's graphic design and packaging needs, but he can also make a mean coconut macaroon, says Wendy. And despite two such right-brained business partners, so far there haven't been any creative differences.
"We work really well together, which we're lucky because a lot of people wouldn't be able to do that," she admits. Perhaps that's because the two have learned one of the most important lessons in chocolate making: cocoa butter, sugar and milk are all good additions, but the greatest is love.