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Making chocolates every day does´t mean just making chocolates. Making chocolate in Quito, Ecuador is even more challenging than making chocolates in North America or Europe. Unlike in the United States, there are not a lot of third parties to whom you can outsource tasks and many chocolate making ingredients usually purchased pre-made are not available here. So my responsibilities are even greater than they might be in the US. Running a chocolate business includes a plethora of skills-especially if it’s a small operation like we are. My job description includes management, purchasing, packaging, production, marketing, advertising, social media marketing, mathematics, prioritizing, delegating, and critical thinking among other things.
Overall management includes a great number of tasks. On a daily basis I have to make sure we have adequate materials in stock, including perishables such as milk, cream and butter. So managing our ingredients means not only identifying suppliers, but buying the right amount from each one at the right time so as not to disturb our cash flow and make sure that funds going out are less than and not equal to or greater than what we have coming in over any given period. With perishables, it’s more complicated because we have to be sure we have enough in stock to cover any upcoming planned demand and enough to cover extra demand that’s unexpected, but not so much that it might go to waste. Managing production means I have to make sure there’s enough chocolate on the shelf at any given time to fulfill an order within two or three days and be able to fulfill random walk-in customers, but not so much that it’s aging on the shelf and spoiling. Management also means delegating lower-level, easy tasks to my employee, freeing up my time for more important and complicated ones like social marketing.
We’ve also done export, and still do occasionally. Exporting chocolate from Ecuador of course had an initial learning curve which wasn’t too bad but a little overwhelming initially, but once we had done it once or twice it was easy. However, initially we had to have packaging designd, quoted, then printed. This included getting nutrition info and nutrition labels printed meeting FDA specs. We had to calculate to make sure that our packaging would fit neatly into the cardboard carton boxes we also had to have ordered, and that those boxes would again fit neatly into the shipping boxes. We had to learn about commercial invoices, bills of lading, volumetric measurements for shipping, and customs.
I use math on a daily basis. Scaling recipes is the most common use, but I also try to keep some basic metrics on output per hour when using the enrober-and these can vary depending on the number of people helping me. Since we frequently develop new recipes or make new items, I regularly cost out recipes/formulas, looking at the cost of ingredient, how much goes into each piece, and the final cost per piece, whether it’s chocolate, cookies, cakes, pastry or what have you. It’s all a numbers game.
I have to prioritize perpetually. And I have to prioritize for my employee. Make sure that she starts what takes longest first, so that she can busy herself with other smaller, less important, less time-consuming tasks while the longer tasks are in progress. I do the same for myself. Get the caramel cooking, while that’s going, make the brownies and get them in the oven. Once they are in the oven, keep stirring the caramels, while I measure out the ingredients for a batch of ganache. All the while checking the equipment to see when the chocolate will be in temper. So that as soon as the ganache is done I can dip the centers while the caramel cools. So that once I’m done dipping the centers, the caramel is ready to cut. By that time the brownies are done and cooling. Now we can dip the caramel centers. You get the idea. There are a lot of balls to juggle in any kitchen and the only way to make the best use of your time is to know how to prioritize.
Being at least mildly mechanically handy helps when working with machines. Not all chocolate shops are going to have a chocolate enrober or other mechanical equipment-but if you do, it helps to have some mechanical ability. You have to put things together, take them apart, some more, some less, depending on your equipment. You might have to fiddle with some nuts, bolts and wires on an enrober or a guitar cutter, to replace a broken string.
I also have to produce a number of ingredients not available here, mainly fondant, gianduja, and nut praline. And before I forget, I also make the chocolates and write this blog!