What I Do: Shimon Otsuka, co-owner and chocolatier of Nomis Chocolates
The last time we checked in with Shimon Otsuka was for our 2019 Ones to Watch list. Back then, he was managing the kitchen for renowned pastry chef Nathaniel Reid; but since, driven by a desire to continue building his culinary skill set, Otsuka has left the pastry world to pursue chocolate-making. He’s partnered with restaurateur and chef Ben Poremba in a new venture, Nomis Chocolates, a small line of hand-crafted bonbons (each of which Otsuka meticulously hand-paints), chocolate bars and gem-like pâte de fruit. Here, he discusses the joys and challenges presented by his newly chosen medium.
“I quit [Nathaniel Reid Bakery] to do something similar job-wise, but I wanted to learn more about something new and different. Chocolate was one thing that I really didn’t have a lot of experience in and something I was really curious about and wanted to explore.”
“I was actually making chocolate out in the back kitchen of a friend’s restaurant – not underground, but I was making and selling it to friends and stuff. It was mainly research and development for fillings and getting colors right.”
“I strive to have the best ingredients that are available on the market. It starts with chocolate. There are all sorts of chocolate, but the chocolate I use is sourced from Switzerland. It’s very, very high-quality chocolate.”
“I wouldn’t say one chocolate is right and another one’s wrong. But the one I chose, the reason I chose it is because even when it’s [just] for the bonbon’s shell, you still taste the chocolate. When you taste the chocolate, you want to be able to taste that you’re using good-quality chocolate – you don’t want an OK chocolate with a good filling.”
“What I find really interesting about chocolate is every single one is either hand-sprayed or -painted, so not a single one is really the same. It’s almost like drawing; I love drawing, I love colored pencils. I love painting.”
“I also love the scientific side [of chocolate]. There’s a challenge [with] chocolate: It is a shelf-stable product. So you have to make sure that it will be OK at room temperature for at least two to four weeks.”
“That’s a whole other art where you’re trying to not use any preservatives or anything artificial but are still trying to preserve it that long despite having cream and butter and lots of liquids in the ganache.”
“The most fun is definitely spraying the bonbons because each one is so unique. It’s like doing art for food. I love doing that part. I could be hand-brushing it, I could be hand-spraying it. It could be multiple colors.”
“It’s always been my dream to open up my own business. I’ve been just itching to open up my own business, which is why I came to the U.S. to work under Nathaniel [Reid] – I wanted to learn more about the business. I had no business experience in the U.S., only in Japan, and I wanted to open up my own shop in the States.”
“I actually wasn’t expecting to open up a business this soon. But it’s really worked out in the sense of striving for my dream. I think this is still part of my [process], of where I am at. And there’s still going to be a future where there’s more things to come. But, right now, I’m really happy with where I’m at and where it’s going.”
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