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Interview with Crystal Thomas

of Kohler Chocolates

Not many people know that Kohler, Co., the company best known for their iconic bathroom and kitchen fixtures, also has a hospitality and real estate division called Destination Kohler. That division in turn is home to Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates, a chocolate company dedicated to making Terrapins, their version of the renowned ‘turtle’ as well as other mouthwatering confections. We sat down to chat with the head chocolatier to learn more about the woman behind the Kohler chocolates.

On Getting Started

After getting a double degree in the science of baking and pastry and culinary arts, I was hired as a pastry chef at Portmeirion in Wales. The other pastry chefs and I didn’t specialize, instead we all did a little of everything. The menu changed every day and we made absolutely everything from scratch, so there was never any chance of getting bored.

While I was in Wales working for Portmerion, I got a teaching degree, something that I believe every chef should have. We spend all of our days teaching others in the kitchen so a teaching degree is a valuable asset.

I spent 11 years working for Portmerion, and even though I was constantly challenged and got to work with chefs from all over the world, after a while, I started to miss home and I started to feel like maybe it was time to pick a specialty. But I wasn’t interested in working just anywhere, I wanted to work somewhere that would feel like a village, the kind of place that would remind me of Portmerion. Destination Kohler was just that place.

On Working with Chocolate

Of all the things I made as a pastry chef, working with chocolate was always what I loved the most. When you’re working with pastry, you have to put yourself in the work. You tell the pastry what you want it to do. Chocolate is the opposite, it tells you what it’s going to do, and you adapt. It’s so much more interesting.

I’m really enjoying taking everything I’ve learned over my entire career and using it when I work with chocolate. I had no concept of how much I had accumulated over the years. I’m constantly amazed by everything that comes out. It’s sometimes shocking what I’m able to create, but I know I’m still growing and learning. Each chocolate line or piece teaches me something new that will in turn have an impact on what I create next.

On Creating New Products

At Kohler we work as a team. Everyone gets to have a part in the creation process. Occasionally I’ll assign something to a specific team member, but reaching consensus on is a team effort.

Usually I kick off the process by introducing a new flavor concept. My goal is always to give people a memory or an experience that will take them back to a simpler time. Many of our chocolates feature childhood flavors presented with our own spin.

Once the chocolates have the team’s approval, Mr. Kohler himself weighs in. He has final say on whether something is good enough to be sold. Occasionally he’ll ask us to tweak the recipe or the final design. Kohler’s is truly Kohler because of his involvement.

The whole team weighs in on texture and taste and when everyone agrees that the chocolate is perfect, we work on finalizing the look of the finished product. We let what we’ve put inside determine the outside. We look at all of the ingredients, ask what color they inspire, pull colors, mix them up and see what emerges.

When I arrived at Kohler I took over innovation. My goal was to take what already existed and make it even better. We work hard to make each season special and memorable.

On Favorite Chocolates

I don’t really have a favorite chocolate flavor, it changes all the time. Right now, I’m in love with our spring line, ‘pink lemonade’ and ‘watermelon punch.’ Getting the flavor right for the watermelon was harder than we ever expected.

For me, it’s more about texture than flavor. I really enjoy chocolates that have a little crunch and a little smoothness. The different textures make the experience more fun.

The Terrapins are our biggest sellers. They’re just so unique and different. We launch a new Terrapin every season as well as a new four-piece collection. The new spring line is the most unusual we’ve ever done. When we decided to work with pink lemonade and watermelon people wondered if it was even possible.

My favorite box of Kohler Chocolates to gift is the Garden Ganache collection. People always love those.

On Working with Herb Kohler

The most unexpected thing about coming to work at Kohler was Mr. Kohler himself. Herb Kohler, Kohler Co. Executive Chairman, believed the world deserved something better than a run-of-the-mill turtle and worked with the famous Chefs of the Kohler American Club® Resort to develop a premium quality Terrapin. He’s still just as involved today. He’s wonderful to work for. His passion really comes through in how he appreciates everything he tries. He’s unlike any corporate person I’ve ever met. He really guides people because he believes in helping everyone become the person they’re meant to be. He’s just awesome.

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