(This article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
Known for his behind-the-scenes chocolate-crafting videos on Instagram, star pastry chef Kriss Harvey is now focusing on chocolate full time in his dual role as chocolatier and partner at andSons Chocolatiers in Beverly Hills.
Kriss Harvey believes in sticking to the Old-World technical rigor in his newest venture, andSons Chocolatiers in Beverly Hills, CA. He comes by his devotion to the French way of chocolate making having learned the craft from three MOF pastry chefs. Moving from his role helming the pastry kitchen at the SLS hotel (also in Beverly Hills), Harvey now gets to flex his chocolate-making muscles full time. With a state-of-the-art facility in downtown LA, he produces both a Classic and a Modern line of bonbons. Hand cut and molded, his products boast Valrhona as his exclusive base. Partnering with Marc and Phil Covitz, whose family was a long-time presence in the chocolate shop world of Beverly Hills, Harvey, “their brother from another mother,” combines a reverence for European chocolate making with an LA sensibility (think farmers’ market herbs and fruits as flavoring elements in his pieces).
When asked about his philosophy of chocolate making, he quips: “You don’t have to be different or innovative; you just have to be good. I’m a work in progress.” He says further: “I’m modern with a deep respect for tradition, and I’m not leaving.” Gentle and wry, but serious about his craft, Harvey is staking a claim in a city that has surprisingly few local artisanal producers. His Classic line includes all of the tried-and-true tropes: ganache, gianduja and praline, each enrobed in milk or dark chocolate from a carefully curated palette. Included among these is a pecan praline paired with coffee in a nod to an American sensibility with a twist. Fresh basil and lime figure in a white chocolate ganache layered with a milk chocolate ganache and coated with dark chocolate. On the Modern side, inside a sky blue sphere, there’s a white chocolate, coconut and Caribbean rum combo. Another hit is Strawberry Blonde, a wittily named assemblage that features a strawberry pâte de fruit and Dulcey filling and a milk chocolate enrobing, with the tart fruitiness of the strawberry mellowed by the chocolate. Drawing upon the seemingly unlimited resources of California’s specialty produce growers, Harvey fashions a yellow and chartreuse tinted white chocolate demisphere filled with dark milk chocolate brightened with yuzu and lime. This is set off further by a white chocolate ganache flavored with fresh lemon verbena, a balanced taste experience with the sweet shell contrasted by the tart fillings. He elaborates: “The white chocolate is a good delivery vehicle for the tart flavors contained within the bonbon.” Initially resistant (and resolutely with a European slant), Harvey does use color for his molded shells and reflects, “You don’t catch a fish by using a monochromatic lure.” With restraint and style, he feels that the use of color opens up the eyes of the customers and makes them receptive to try new things. “I don’t want to make it difficult for customers to like what we do by using discordant combinations or outlandish colors. They’re already sold on how good chocolate tastes. And unlike in Europe, which in a way hems them in, here in America we are unencumbered and can do what we want to do, as long as it tastes good.”
Underpinning his devotion to the chocolate maker’s art is a humble sense about where the chocolate comes from. “When producing the luxury product that we do, we first need to respect and honor the human energy and hard work that have gone into it, including the careful and backbreaking tending of the cacao trees, the timely picking and cleaning of the beans, even before they have been fermented and then roasted. I never forget that when I make what we make.”Speaking further about how the chocolate is transformed into a beautiful product line, Harvey says, “As an employer with a young staff, in order to motivate and teach, I need to be present in the lives of my employees and adapt to their way of thinking. I need to set an example for them by being here at their side, teaching and motivating. I am here to help them reach their goals and not let their egos get in the way of admitting a mistake. I always say: ‘Learn from the mistakes rather than blaming them on the equipment or the prime materials.’” He further advises: “If you’re stuck in a rut, try something you never did before. Out of that can come new solutions.” From his time heading the pastry kitchen at the SLS hotel (Beverly Hills), where his role was overseeing the entire sweet side of the kitchen, including the chocolate production, he recalls, ”I constantly instilled in my staff: ‘Be better than the best cooks that surround you. That’s called moving forward.’”When asked where inspiration comes from, he turns to the broader world of art, architecture and music. He sites Eva Zeisel, the great Hungarian-born ceramist and designer who achieved centenarian status, and worked up until her death, “beating the odds and being the rare example of one who was so singularly devoted to a craft,” as an inspiration. Using Zeisel’s life’s work as an example, he has gained perspective on what being creative truly means. Architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Richard Neutra and Oscar Niemeyer also speak to him in subtle ways. He’s alive to the pop sensibility of Andy Warhol and David Bowie, too. These influences and so many more find their way into his ephemeral art. “It takes a lifetime of work to make a life,” he muses. In this age of instant response through social media, Harvey is constantly amazed and humbled by reactions from pastry chefs and chocolate lovers alike who write words of thanks for his detailed explanations of technique and recipes that he shares via his Instagram feed. Generous and modest all the way.
Within the modern, gleaming white facility in downtown LA, Harvey has acknowledged the mastery of another chocolatier in his own special way. As an homage to Patrick Roger, there is a six-inch-wide vertical stripe of robin’s egg blue painted on a wall in his kitchen, emblematic of the French chocolatier’s signature color. That’s fandom at its most tongue-in-the-cheek.
Photo Credits: Tana Gandhi,Ed Rudolph, Hollis Rafkin-Sax