Chocolate aficionados, rejoice!
We’ve found a place offering restaurant-quality desserts without the three-hour-long tasting menu and the hefty price tag that goes along with it. Are you a sucker for beautifully packaged sweets that don’t require flying to Paris or standing in line with tourists at Ladurée? Or are you just looking to upgrade your palate from the usual Godiva and Lindt truffles you normally nibble on?
You can seek solace in a tiny, unassuming Nolita chocolate shop called Stick With Me Sweets, a haven for anyone with a sweet tooth. That’s where chef Susanna Yoon sells her signature handmade bonbons—shiny chocolates filled with various ganaches such as hazelnut, yuzu, and a crunchy praline. It didn’t take long for the world to find her. Last month, magazine listed Yoon as one of North America’s Top 10 Chocolatiers.
The New York City chocolatier opened up her whimsical, no-bigger-than-a-shoebox shop at the end of 2014. It didn’t take long for the world to find her. Last month, Dessert Professional magazine listed Yoon as one of North America’s Top 10 Chocolatiers.
Opening the shop, she says, was something she had envisioned for years.
“It was always my dream to open up my own place and take the steps necessary to get there instead of jumping the gun,” says Yoon. “I didn’t want to jump the gun. I always dreamed of opening up my own place, but chocolate is a complex and crowded market where you need to bring real experience to stand out. I’m so grateful to have taken the time to train alongside such talented peers. I feel the patience has been a huge reason I am able to deliver a special product to my customers today.”
A petite woman, Yoon wears a pressed white chef coat and glasses that frame her eyes filled with dogged determination. She supervises a small team of eight who turn out bonbons, caramels, toffee, fudge, tiny cakes, and even hot chocolate. The day I arrived for the interview, the team was already planning for the special orders that were rolling in for Valentine’s Day.
In some ways, Yoon’s desserts are exactly what you would expect from a graduate of the International Culinary Center who worked at classic eateries like Café Boulud and Per Se before striking out on her own. Each delicate bonbon looks like a work of art, especially the ones sprayed and splattered with colors reminiscent of Jackson Pollock.
But some things about her shop are unexpected. Beside the masterpieces are cellophane-wrapped caramels, candy bars, and chocolate pies— it’s like a high-end bake sale for foodies.
So what’s her crazy method to designing her chocolates?
“It’s about creating one cohesive experience, inside and out,” says Yoon. “Our mint bonbon is cool and refreshing, so it comes encased in a blue-green shell. I hand-paint my bonbons to bring a hint of what’s inside.” In other words, says Yoon, “It’s like eating with your eyes first.”
Every dessert tastes like nostalgia to me because they use ingredients I recognize as soon as they touch my tongue. When I asked Yoon about her own fondest childhood memories of desserts, she handed me a slice of house-made chocolate pie, a spin-off of the classic Korean snack cake called choco pie.
“This is actually why I created this,” says Yoon. “It’s based off of the choco pie that’s probably my first dessert memory, and I love it. We created our own version, but with better chocolate, homemade vanilla, and fresh cake.”
Yoon was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. She says that her grandmother was one of the most profound influences in her life.
“She was a really talented chef, and she was good at everything, especially Korean savory cooking,” says the doting granddaughter. “She even fermented things in our backyard, so I grew up eating really authentic food. After she passed away, that’s when I decided to go into the culinary world.”
Opening a dessert shop was always on Yoon’s mind, even when she was working in the corporate world in China and Korea.
“I thought it was going to be as easy as taking some classes and then calling myself a pastry chef,” says Yoon. “Being a chef is a labor of love that takes hard work and dedication. No day in the kitchen is an easy day.”
Once she graduated, she worked at Café Boulud until she realized that she wanted to push herself a little harder.
“I wanted to learn with the best, so I decided to work at Per Se,” she says. “It was hard to start over in a new kitchen, but completely worth the apprenticeship. It was completely worth dipping behind the scenes to learn the right tools needed for my business. “
Yoon recalls that the process of opening her own business was harder than she imagined it would be.
“There’s so much involved when you open a business, especially financially, because you need to find investors who will believe in your vision,” she says. “And there’s all these obstacles from picking out the store, developing and creating a menu, to making the products.”
Yoon singlehandedly created all the delicacies at Stick With Me, but that doesn’t mean it’s just one recipe per bonbon. She says there are 50 different recipes, just for the 25 types of bonbons they sell.
“But it’s actually like 70 to 80 recipes with everything we sell on the shelves,” she says.
Delivering the best experience to every event means a single bonbon can have a whole range of recipes attached to it. For example, we may need to alter the way an ingredient is prepared, so our chocolates can be shipped to a warmer place for a specific order.”
I asked Yoon about a favorite type of bonbon I tried when visiting the shop a couple months before. I noticed that the flavors in the display case were different.
“We don’t keep anything the same around here,” says Yoon. “In fact, it’s never stagnant. You’ll always see something different in the display case because we’re constantly working to push our boundaries.”
Photo Credit: Lauren Kallen