Grace Poirier

Designing VIU’s next signature chocolate in Paris

February 12, 2024
Author: Eric Zimmer

Baking and Pastry Arts student Grace Poirier shares her story

Grace Poirier has always thought a career in pastry arts is “the coolest job ever.”

Now, the second-year VIU Baking and Pastry Arts student has taken another step towards that goal.

Grace was selected to design VIU’s next signature chocolate at Cacao Barry headquarters in Paris, France, after winning a blindfolded taste test at VIU this past December. She was up against seven other students in the program and each student had the chance to taste and try to identify 20 different flavours that “could potentially be in chocolate, or accompany chocolate,” explains VIU Baking and Pastry Arts Instructor Ken Harper. Grace was able to correctly identify the most.

“It was an incredible feeling winning the competition,” says Grace. “This is something I’ve been passionate about since learning about [VIU’s first signature chocolate] Spindle Whorl.”

Last month, Grace – along with the seven other students – travelled to Europe on a field school trip. Grace and Ken visited Cacao Barry's Or Noir Lab while on that trip to design the chocolate flavour.

“Once you drive out to the Or Noir lab in Meulan (about an hour or so outside of Paris), the first step of creating the chocolate was tasting about 20 different chocolates from different regions all over the world, making notes about what we liked about each of them and picking our favourites,” Grace says. “The next step is trying the cocoa masses, again around 20 different ones and picking the most suitable ones for our vision of what the chocolate was going to taste like.”

These steps are followed by making adjustments to the sweetness, additional flavours and dairy, mixing everything together, tempering and taste testing it.

“We did this process six different times, making six different versions of chocolate, adjusting sweetness and mixing different cocoa masses each time,” Grace says. “It’s an entire day of work. What surprised me most about this experience was just how cool the actual lab was. The history inside was extensive and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Now, back in Nanaimo, Grace says the new chocolate should be ready for distribution and sale sometime between October and December of this year.

“Without giving it all away, the vision for this chocolate was a milk-dark chocolate combination and it’s truly something special,” she says.

Creating a distinctive VIU chocolate was made possible through the Cacao Barry Or Noir™ experience. The exclusive concept, which started in 2012, allows the chef to customize their own chocolate recipe from a selection of the best cocoa beans from all around the world.

Cacao Barry has sponsored the VIU baking program for the past 11 years and donates 500 kg of chocolate to it every year, according to Ken. The idea for VIU signature chocolate began after he heard about their custom chocolate creation program and “thought it could be a good way to promote the VIU program.”

Now that she’s crossed designing a custom chocolate flavour off her bucket list, next for Grace is passing her Level 2 two apprenticeship exam in April, while she continues to work as a baker.

“Next year, I will continue to pursue my Red Seal as a Level 3 apprentice as well as continue my education in hospitality management," she adds.

Grace hopes to open her own business one day, in line with her hospitality and pastry arts education and training. In the meantime, she’s working locally as an apprentice baker.

“I got into pastry arts just by growing up working in bakeries,” she says. “When I got my first job baking, I loved it and wanted to learn professional skills and new things. Obtaining my Red Seal was always a huge goal for me as I wanted to be certified in a trade and try something new.”

Grace says her experience in Europe and the opportunity to create a signature chocolate for VIU was a “once-in-a-lifetime and will aid me in my career substantially in the future.”

She also recommends that future students take advantage of the field school.

“It was so much fun going abroad,” she says. “What I experienced in the baking field school was truly special, amazing and a great insight into the baking and culinary arts industries.” 

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