John DePaula grew up in a large Italian family in Southeastern Louisiana near New Orleans. A passion for good food was always the underlying theme, but it was his interest in science and technology that led him to a degree in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He worked in software applications development for about 16 years before deciding to take the plunge and make a career change to the culinary world.
The seeds for this change were planted very early on. John's mother, Connie, is a fabulous cook and each Christmas she would make literally thousands of Sicilian holiday cookies, cakes, Southern-style pralines (pronounced PRAW-LEENS) and at least eight different types of fudge, all to give away as gifts. "My mother also loved to travel and in the late 60s took me along on one of those 'If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium' style trips. I still remember quite vividly that first taste of high quality chocolate: the astonishment, the joy. I was eight."
During the next 20 years, there would be more trips to Europe but it was in the early 90s that another trip to Belgium had a serious impact. "The chocolate in Belgium was just so much better than what we were getting here in the States," says John. "I began to wonder if the experience could be replicated at home."
He started reading anything and everything about the complicated process of chocolate making. "The work of the European chocolate makers was just so stunning, not just to the palette but visually as well," says John. The goal was to be able to make chocolate as good as any you could find in Europe.
In 2003 John chose to take a leap of faith and move to France. "I enrolled at the École Supéieure de Cuisine Française in Paris to study Classical French Pastry, Bread Baking and Cuisine. It was a lot of hard work (especially getting up at 4:30am for boulangerie class) but a lot of fun, too." This is a very different world than the one to which he was accustomed.
"Living in Paris is just as incredible as you think it would be, but I began to miss Portland. We've really got a great city here; we get a lot of things right." So he returned and opened DePaula Confections in 2005. "Living in Portland, we really have access to some of the best produce in the nation: fruits, nuts, etc. It all grows right here. I think that the ability to incorporate locally produced ingredients is vital to the success of the end product. We don't use any artificial flavors or preservatives and choose organic whenever it's available. I think that makes for the best possible experience."
John's partner, Bob Wildin, helps out in lots of ways. "It's very important to have someone with whom you can toss around ideas. He really helps to keep me on track. Not to mention having someone to help make the beautiful boxes when I'm running out!"
"Having had a career in high tech certainly came in handy when I developed the web site and online shopping cart," says John. "This year we're trying to do more self-promotion which, given my shy nature, I find quite difficult. But people can't buy your chocolates if they don't know you're out there."
Philosophie de Chocolat
In the world of high-end artisan chocolate, there are mainly two styles: Belgian and French. The French style, in general, is very subtle in regard to flavors. Conversely the Belgian style is a little sweeter (though not nearly as sweet as typical American chocolates) and the flavors are more forward.
Which style is better? This is, of course, a matter of personal preference. "I think that the French really have a sophisticated palette when it comes to food. And although I appreciate the light-hand, I prefer a slightly stronger, more pronounced use of spices. "Was that Jasmine or Rose that I just tasted?" Sometimes it can be difficult to tell."
Of course, the main focus is always always always the chocolate. That’s the star; not the spices and certainly not the sugar.
"My style of chocolate occupies a space somewhere between French and Belgian, not too sweet and hopefully not having the spices mask the true nature of the chocolate. I believe it was Clay Gordon of chocophile.com who coined the term 'Nouvelle American.' That's the balance I hope to achieve."
John DePaula, DePaula Confections
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