Sweet Endings: An Afternoon with a Chocolatier

Anthony Dominic

There's an artistic sensitivity in Michael Gillam's work rarely found in chocolate-making. His Pistachio Galaxy looks like a little night sky, dotted with white cocoa butter. His Malted Milkshake is a red-and-white curlicue that earns its name in both look and taste. Insist his creatively-flavored, handcrafted chocolates are too pretty to eat and Gillam's flattered, but this doesn't change his aim: "Sure, I want you to look at my chocolates, but more importantly I want you to eat them."

Gillam and his business partner, Josh Lusiak, started the online Bexley Chocolatier in Gillam's kitchen in 2012, expanding into Laura's Catering in Gahanna last summer. We dropped by while the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef was whipping up a few batches of his signature Ghost Chili Caramel Bar.

  1. Gillam starts by heating an 11-pound bar of Callebaut Belgian milk chocolate (a trusted brand used by most chocolatiers) to 108 degrees Fahrenheit in his tempering machine. During the next hour, he eases the temperature into his working range of 86 to 92 degrees.
  2. Gillam fastens a plastic paintbrush to a small wooden block using rubber bands. He coats the brush in warm white- and red-colored cocoa butter and begins snapping it against the block-causing the cocoa butter to splatter into the molds. He likens this step to "building a canvas in reverse." "The first thing I put down is the first thing you're going to see [on top of the chocolate]," he says.
  3. Next, he adds a second, heavier layer of black cocoa butter with a hot airbrush. This layer will appear beneath the red and white spatter, eventually coating the chocolate bars' outer shells.
  4. After the second layer dries, it's time to ladle in the first round of chocolate. Gillam quickly scrapes away any excess, allowing only a chocolate shell to form in each mold. It's important the temperature is just right, so the shells pull the cocoa butter from the molds.
  5. Now for piping the ganache, which Gillam has prepped ahead of time. To achieve his ghost chili flavor, he steeps the pepper in homemade caramel-a mix of chocolate, cream, butter, glucose syrup and sugar-gently infusing the flavor. "I'm not going for novelty," he says, "I'm going for flavor." After the shells are filled, he tops the molds with a second round of chocolate then pops them in the refrigerator for 10 or 20 minutes.