(This article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
It’s impossible to view Luis Amado’s chocolate work without being inspired. His colorful, modernist designs are bold, innovative and stunning, and it’s no surprise that his classes and consulting services are in high demand, relied on by a diverse client base both in the United States and overseas in countries such as Dubai, Kuwait and Portugal (he has an impressive following on Instagram at @luisamado777). He teaches chocolate making at his own Luis Amado Chocolate Academy – where he offers small, semi-private specialized classes – as well as online and at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Over the years he has captured over 20 gold medals, including the 1996 gold medal in the Culinary Olympics and the 2017 AUI Chocolate Cup. He also has a book in development with Spanish publishers, with a publication date sometime in 2023.
Amado’s entry into the food industry was through a circuitous route. As a young teenager, the budding entrepreneur would purchase supplements at a Texas GNC and then travel to area gyms and sell them to body builders and athletes. He then used the profits from this venture for a down payment on a churro cart in Mexico. Amado initially targeted a church with affluent congregants as his primary customer base, and within a year his sales were quite good. The sixteen-year-old enjoyed turning a profit, being his own boss, and talking to customers; he was glad to work with food, “selling things and not having to work for someone else.” He decided to capitalize on his success by expanding and changing his market territory to the more densely populated Guadalajara, where he encountered competition and notably reduced sales. Instead of giving up, Amado decided to shift his business to wholesale churro dough production. On the porch of his family’s home, he would produce 10 kilograms of dough at a time and take the dough in one-kilo batches by taxi to his former competitors, now his wholesale customers. Although this iteration of his churro cart business lacked the customer interaction he enjoyed so much, he again turned a solid profit.
He also impressed a good friend and well-connected chef and educator, Carl Butenas who – moved by Amado’s dedication and passion – offered to help Amado fulfill his dreams of becoming a chef, ultimately vouching for him so that he could obtain a student visa and attend culinary school in the United States. Amado wound up graduating from Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan and was soon hired for a well-paying sous chef position. In 1992, he left the United States for Belgium, where he studied the art of chocolate making, returning to the United States in 1994 to work as an executive pastry chef in numerous high-end hotels and private country clubs.
Amado has found that it is vital to have the right perspective on his career. He was once told by an agent that he should take every project or gig offered, because his popularity and success wouldn’t last long. After discussing the agent’s remarks with his wife, he said “I want to prove this is going to last as long as G-d wants, as long as the universe wants, as long as the people are still happy.” Maintaining success has shown itself to be no easy endeavor. “It’s not as hard to get there as it is to maintain. So, what I do, I always innovate and propose new things – I need to stay focused and work 12 to 14 hours per day.” He now relies on other agents (one in Latin America and one in Europe) who have more upbeat outlooks. Amado also expects a positive attitude from everyone who attends his classes, whether they are a professional at a seminar in the Middle East or a college student in Michigan. “You might be tired and have sore muscles,” says Amado. “But so what? You can smile and focus on the moment.”
I still feel something growling in my stomach when I teach a class and I don’t ever want to lose that, because it’s what makes me want to give my best.
Chef Amado’s love of teaching is deep rooted. “I teach professional college students, professional chefs, trainers, corporate people – I teach at all levels, and for me, it’s very satisfactory. I teach people who come back for job training in their late forties or older. But most of my college students are teenagers, so I have to start from zero with them. When I do my private classes or when I teach online or go to competitions, I teach professional chefs. It’s always a different requirement, different challenges, different satisfactions. I feel really good when I teach. I still feel the anticipation, I still feel something growling in my stomach when I teach a class and I don’t ever want to lose that, because it’s what makes me want to give my best.”
You might be tired and have sore muscles, but so what? You can smile and focus on the moment.
For his chocolates, Amado prefers to focus on traditional flavor profiles and save innovation for the visual realm by challenging ideas about what they ‘should’ look like and relying on classic design principles and color to create his own powerful impact. He continues to take contemporary and fine arts classes to give himself a foundation from which to plan eye-catching designs, whether in the form of bonbon, truffle or bar. The key design principles he employs involve focal points and contrast. As he envisions a truffle before creating it, the center is his focal point. From that center he builds layers of flavor and texture to create an appealing taste experience. Using contrast, he creates strong color combinations that are never jarring, pairing rougher textures with smoother ones. For example, the same chocolate bar might include a surface that looks as if it has been sanded on one half and have a mirror-bright shine on the other. In Amado’s hands, a bonbon can be covered in a brightly colored cocoa butter that contrasts beautifully with the natural deep brown of dark chocolate. His chocolates are meant to be savored slowly, so that both the eye and the palate are satisfied.
On his path to achieving and maintaining success, constant innovation and a genuine interest in the experience of others – customers, mentors, and students, alike – have served Chef Amado well.
For more information on classes and consulting services, visit Chef Amado’s website at www.luisamadochocolateacademy.com.
Photos courtesy of Luis Amado