Peter Maccaroni is Operating Partner and Chocolatier for B.T. McElrath Chocolatier in Minneapolis.
Peter Maccaroni has degrees in culinary arts, hotel-motel management and pastry. Being a chef was â€œwhat I had trained my whole life to be,â€ he said. He worked in the field for 12 years, until his son was born. â€œI wanted more time at home,â€ he said.
Six years ago, he answered an ad placed by Brian McElrath, founder of B.T. McElrath Chocolatier, a 17-year-old Minneapolis company. â€œI think it said Chocolate Production Assistant,â€ Maccaroni recalled. â€œI thought, â€˜Iâ€™ll give it a shot.â€™ Brian asked me a bunch of questions about chocolate. I may have gotten a couple of them right. Heâ€™s also a chef â€” he must have seen something in me.â€
Maccaroni called his early days at the company â€œa humbling experience. Tempering five pounds of chocolate in a restaurant is night and day from tempering 500 pounds of chocolate here. Honestly, on my first day I was just, â€˜What did I get myself into?â€™â€
The biggest difference, Maccaroni said, is â€œtime management. We have eight things to do, each takes this much time, and we have one piece of equipment to do them. It requires multi-tasking, speed and efficiency â€” but with a tremendous amount of accuracy. In the kitchen if you mess up the soup, you can throw some salt in it. Here you lost all that dayâ€™s production if you didnâ€™t do it right. You feel a sense of defeat, but you come back and rally â€” you have to do two times the work the next day.â€
Maccaroni was named Chocolatier for the company in 2013. â€œIt was a very proud moment when I got that title. Thereâ€™s only one chocolatier for a company. Itâ€™s similar to executive chef,â€ he said. â€œThereâ€™s a lot of opportunity to impart my vision.â€ For example, a new Changemaker Chocolate Bar is a partnership between B.T. McElrath, Dunn Brothers and the American Refugee Committee, with a portion of sales donated to the charity.
How do you create a new chocolate product?
Scalability is an issue. You always have to start small. I will do five or 10 variations of a like item. Then we pick and choose. Youâ€™d think you could take all the best features, but that doesnâ€™t work. We narrow it from five or 10 to one or two. I get feedback from the production staff and Brian. Then it goes to press.
What part of your job is the most fun â€” besides the chocolate?
I have this really fancy title, but I maintain equipment, do dishes, mop floors. We have a lot of German equipment. Itâ€™s very expensive to fly someone to the U.S. so I started to read the manuals. Itâ€™s not sexy and interesting, but itâ€™s one of my favorite things.
What are the challenges?
I have failed spectacularly at creating a beer truffle. None of the methods have worked. Iâ€™m getting closer.
Is Valentineâ€™s Day your busiest time?
Our busy season is the end of August to the end of March. We start producing for Valentineâ€™s Day in December, sometimes earlier. We get a couple of huge rushes, then it dies down. Retail has discovered that something like 85 percent of Valentineâ€™s Day purchases are made on Valentineâ€™s Day by men. So retailers hold off on orders. We use fresh ingredients, so there is a short shelf life. The first two weeks of February are very intense.
Photo Credit: Tom Witta