I love chocolate, but after meeting Chef Sadruddin Abdullah, I quickly learned that not all chocolates are created equal.
We met by chance while I was shopping in Williams-Sonoma in the SouthPark area. There he was, standing behind the counter in his chef’s uniform, teaching a group of bright-eyed women and men how to make fancy Mocha Pralines.
“Sugarr Mann,” as he is affectionately called, is a two-time winner of The National Bread and Pastry Championships. He also won second place in the Food Network sponsored Dare Devil Sugar competition.
Abdullah holds a master’s degree in Global Business. He taught baking and pastry for six years at Johnson & Wales’ Providence, RI., campus before transferring to Charlotte to teach chocolate and sugar for three years at the campus here.
I recently sat with Abdullah to talk about Dessert Specialists, a new business venture he started in August with his wife, Mahmudah.
Q. What is Dessert Specialists?
We make chocolates, cakes and cookies using the finest ingredients from European chocolates, Madagascar vanilla beans, unsalted butter and exotic spices and herbs. Our goal is to provide a person with an unforgettable palate experience.
Q. How much do your desserts cost?
A box of chocolate ranges from $15 to $55. Our cakes range from $45 to $60, and our cookies are $9.75 per package.
Q. So how do you market this business?
The key is not to sit and wait for people to come to me. I’m out in the market working with my customers, socializing with them and staying in touch with them. Right now, my primary marketing tools are networking groups and social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Q. So do you sell your desserts online?
No, not yet. You can visit our Web site to view our menu at www.dessertspecialists.com and call us at (704) 287-7430.
Q. How receptive is the market?
Extremely receptive. Our customers appreciate the whole experience I’m offering. They appreciate the packaging and getting to the jewels inside the box. They really enjoy pulling the bow, the craftsmanship and the visual appeal of the chocolates — and then the flavor.
Q. How did you get started making chocolates?
I met Chef Frenchy Claude Monque in Anchorage, Alaska. He taught me the art of sugar. He encouraged me to enroll in the culinary program at the University of Alaska. At that point, I started to dabble in chocolates. After I graduated I ended up being hired as a pastry instructor, but after graduating I learned I didn’t have the background or experience to teach. I left Alaska and went to Providence to take the bachelor’s in pastry program at Johnson and Wales.
Q. Did you always like to cook?
I never liked to cook. Frenchy encouraged me to get a job in a bakery shop, and from there he encourage me to go to culinary school.
Q. How long have you been making chocolates?
For 15 years.
Q. What made you decide to open a dessert company here in Charlotte? There are already a lot of places here to get chocolate and dessert.
My wife and I visited Charlotte a couple of times before we moved here. I was not only impressed with the city, but we saw that there were no bakeries here, so we viewed that as an opportunity. I knew eventually I’d be doing this.
Q. How do your desserts and chocolates differ from what you found in the Charlotte market?
I’m a classically trained pastry chef. I use the finest ingredients you can get. I use fine European chocolate. You don’t have to chew it, it literally melts in your mouth.
Q. So that’s true about chocolate? It should melt in your mouth?
The reason chocolate should melt in your mouth is there are two types. The difference is the fats. One is hydrogenated vegetable oil, which has a melting point of 100 degrees. Your body temperature is 98.6 degrees, so if the fat in the chocolate is higher than your body temperature then it’s not going to melt. European chocolate has cocoa butter in it, which has a melting point of 84 degrees. If you have a chocolate with cocoa butter in it, it’s going to melt in your mouth.
Q. Aside from ingredients, what else differentiates your chocolate?
They’re beautiful. Our chocolates have four and five levels of airbrush. We airbrush the molds to create individual pieces of art.
Q. How long does it take to make a box of chocolates?
We can produce a batch of about 100 boxes of chocolate in about a day and a half.
Q. What’s your most popular item?
People are inclined to go for what’s familiar to them, like peanut butter. A lot of people like the lemon meringue chocolate that’s built on white chocolate ganache. People say they don’t like white chocolate, but when they taste ours they love it because it’s not what they expect.
Q. Who is your target market?
People who can afford it and are used to eating high-quality food. This certainly is not for the person who is used to eating Hershey’s chocolate.
Q. Do you make custom chocolates?
Everything we do is handcrafted. We get excited about creating innovative and unique dessert concepts. We sit down and talk to our clients and find out what they like and create a dessert concept for them that they’ve never had.
Q. You also make “adult cakes.” What are those?
It’s not what people might think. We take popular adult drinks like the Mudslide. The drink has Bailey’s, Vodka and Kahlua. Our adult cake uses the ingredients from the drink to make a special cake. It’s a six-layer cake that’s exploding with flavor and texture. We also have a Sex on the Beach cake as well. These cakes are ideal for bachelor parties, bridal showers and events where adults are getting together.
Q. What is your online academy?
Teaching is in my heart. I want to teach people how to make chocolate online. We are hoping to launch that in the middle of 2010. It will be a full chocolate curriculum, and students will have assignments, practicum and final exams. We’ll use the latest in technology to create a one-on-one feel. We will make the globe our classroom.