Known for his wildly imaginative chocolate, the award-winning chef discusses his decadent creations that he created for EBONY’s “Summer Soirée on the Vineyard” event.
On Monday, EBONY and Cadillac co-hosted an evening soirée to toast the longstanding Black community of Martha's Vineyard. Invitees, among whom were renowned DJ D-Nice, former NBA player Baron Davis, legendary publicist Marvet Britto, Cosmopolitan’s Beauty Editor-at-Large and Executive Director of Beauty United Julee Wilson and Lip Bar founder Melissa Butler, enjoyed music, art, and culinary treats from notable Black creatives.
Among the festivities, party guests indulged in a luxurious chocolate and wine tasting curated by award-winning chocolatier Phillip Ashley Rix. Nicknamed a real-life “Willy Wonka”, Chef Rix is one of the world’s pre-eminent chefs and founder of Phillip Ashley Chocolates, renowned for his wild imaginative chocolate confections. His artisan brand boasts an international fan base, including Oprah, for its superior fair-trade chocolate and whimsical sweet-and-savory flavor pairings, including French bleu cheese, Caribbean hot sauce, tequila, and bacon caramel shortbread, to name a few.
For the tasting, Chef Rix selected a range of decadent, gourmet treats from his signature Designer Chocolate collection to match the excitement in the room. He explains, “it's the set of chocolates that we really like to celebrate!” Among the hand-painted delights, which appear like edible art, some of the favorites included a “Candy Apple Red”, a caramel Apple flavor with notes of roasted apple butter and blond chocolate and “Porto”, a mix of ruby Port goat cheese fig jam, fine port wine, capricho de cabra Spanish goat cheese, and mission fig jam blended with dark chocolate.
In conversation with EBONY, Chef Rix discusses the origin of his unique culinary perspective, success as a self-taught chocolatier, and more details on the delicious desserts he prepared for EBONY's ‘Summer Soirée on the Vineyard’ party.
EBONY: What sparked your initial fascination with chocolate and made you decide to become a professional chocolatier?
Phillip Ashley Rix: My passion for chocolate really did start back as a kid, thanks to my mom. For as long as I can remember, she made the most delicious chocolate chip cookies as a special treat if my brother and I did well in school. She also used chocolate as bribery when we were young, because we're too rambunctious little boys [laughs] and that’s where my addiction started. Decades later, I had this crazy dream and woke up three o'clock in the morning and said to myself, “How cool would it be for me to be a chocolatier? That's what I'm going to do!”
When I woke up from the dream, becoming a chocolatier became an obsession. Since most culinary schools didn’t offer a formal training for chocolate, I decided to seek out the information myself. I spent the next two and a half years studying ingredients and how people taste using the zones of the palette. I started playing around with chocolate and kind of fleshing out my own ideas. I also studied the market as well and came up with concepts of using chocolate to tell a story, using inspiration from people places, things, and experiences.
Prior to becoming a chocolatier, you had an established career in sales; how did that help the process of building your own brand and reimagining the luxury chocolate market?
I like to think of myself as an entrepreneur first, chocolatier second. I embrace the art and am all about the high level of execution and refinement of what we do from a craft standpoint. But I think the discipline and the ability to take risks, be nimble, and agile came from my sales background.
Making chocolate is just my way of storytelling we use that is our way to communicate. The medium just happens to be chocolate. My idea to create barbecue chocolates, stemmed from me wanting to tell the story of Memphis, where I’m from, through chocolate.
You have a knack for making the most unexpected flavor pairings taste like they belong together. Can you describe the process when you are creating new flavors?
My process is a bit unorthodox. I'm constantly daydreaming and thinking about what the next chocolate will be like. That idea can spark from any number of places. I study different types of cuisine and regions, learning and what food and commodities they're known for. I pay attention to what I eat and drink while traveling, the people I encounter, the new products that I see. Even music inspires me a lot and culture. I’m into things like anthropology and ethnography. Somehow all these observations and ideas find their way into chocolate.
Can you tell us more about the chocolates you provided for EBONY's event?
For the tasting, we showcased several flavors from my signature collection [mentioned above]. I’m also a big movie fan, so I also created just a small collection inspired by everyone's favorite movie theater snacks. We have a caramel popcorn flavor, Coca Cola chocolate, one that tastes like Milk Duds, and even a Pink Starburst.
Also, we made some hand-painted dessert bars, which appear like edible art. One is a sweet potato bread mixed with bourbon caramel. And then the other is a champagne bar with popping sugar to imitate that classic ‘bubbly’ feeling as you eat it.