(This article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
By Shawn Wenner
Sponsored by Le Cordon Bleu
Working out of Asheville, North Carolina, in a 1500 square foot state of the art facility, Timothy Maguire is a pastry chef living out his dream. Starting as a private chef to billionaires, and then packing up to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris for the pastry program, Maguire has now created a technique and transfer system with his company Refined Chocolate Designs that brings consistency at scale without the cost of heavy machinery.
What prompted you to change courses from being a private chef – for billionaires nonetheless – to now owning a chocolate company?
Being a private chef for people like Paul Allen and Carl Icahn, I lived very glorious years, but I always wanted to be a pastry chef. People eat food because they’re hungry, but people eat desserts to make them happy, and that always fascinated me. Looking up to pastry chefs in New York City who influenced me, I always wanted to be one. While working as a private chef, my wife and I would participate in pastry competitions. I also was [commissioned] to create showpieces for various events. Working for some of the richest people on the planet, they would send me around the world to stage, but it was chocolate, one of the coolest ingredients in the world, that I wanted to focus on. For that reason, I ended up attending Le Cordon Bleu in Paris for their pastry program.
What inspired you to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris specifically?
In working with chocolate and sugar, I was frustrated that my work wasn’t at a [certain level]. In my opinion, cookbooks are great, but it’s almost impossible to learn chocolate and sugar art out of a cookbook. Being frustrated, and believing that you should go to the country of origin to learn something, I dropped everything at 27 years old and moved to Paris to attend Le Cordon Bleu. I knew if I didn’t do it then, I would never do it, and I decided to attend the best school in the world.
Can you tell us what the experience like while attending the pastry program?
It was one of the best times of my entire life. I connected with a mentor, Chef Fabrice Daniel, who is now in charge of the pastry program. I became his assistant for demonstrations both in class and for off-campus events – for both pastry and savory demonstrations. Being his assistant, it was like going through some of the classes multiple times. I took so much away from the entire experience – it was incredible.
How did the education help you transition back into the industry, being you worked as a private chef already?
It completely upped my game. I learned things like ratios, timing, temperature, humidity, environments, etc., all things I would have never learned if I didn’t attend a hands-on program. As I said before, it’s almost impossible to learn some of these things in a cookbook. Coming out of the pastry program, I was well equipped with skills to focus more on pastry and chocolate.
For a period of time, I sold chocolate wholesale on the side in New York City, and I started getting the idea for better transfer sheets. A lot of the transfers I was using for enrobed or dipped bonbons were about 0.65 cents a piece. In selling the bonbons for about a buck fifty, there wasn’t much room to make money. I started thinking about how I could create something that would stick on the inside of the mold, and then stickers placed on fruit, which are nontoxic, came to mind. I got a roll of them and started working on the technique, and that’s how everything got started.
Essentially, for those who can’t afford enrobing machines, you’re molds, transfers and technique provide a solution for consistency at scale, right?
Yes, enrobing machines are expensive, and if you can’t afford them, you’re working with molds. With our technique and transfer sheets, you can get that consistent product like an enrobing machine. And with polycarbonate molds, the chocolates can achieve that same shine as an enrobed bonbon. They come out looking like jewels. We have a system where someone can make thousands of chocolates using our technique that look the same, all without using a machine.
What is the goal now with Refined Chocolate Designs?
We’re selling a great number of molds and chocolate transfers through the website, and we will keep growing that part of the business. At the same time, we are working on getting pastry chefs and chocolatiers acclimated to the technique. I truly believe someone will learn the technique and then take it to the next level.
We are also working with hotels and companies in the Ashville, North Carolina area to wholesale our chocolate, and in the colder months, we will incorporate selling and shipping our specialty chocolate as well – Timothy Maguire Chocolates. We are taking the bull by the horns and jumping in head first.