For Friendsgiving, we invite you to gather the squad you’re thankful for and enjoy a four course meal from the Gladstone Hotel’s chef-de-cuisine Katie Venables-Lloyd, two glasses of wine from Chateau des Charmes, a cocktail using Collingwood Whiskey AND dessert from a very special guest…Chocolates x Brandon Olsen (CXBO)! Tickets available here.
For the Harvest Table, CXBO will be creating custom Harvest Wednesdays chocolates incorporating herbs from Chick-a-Biddy Acres gorgeous fall harvest. Brandon launched CXBO, together with his partner Sarah Keenlyside in 2016. We sat down with the duo to find out more about the chocolates they’ll be serving up, their creative collaboration and favourite seasonal produce right now (hint: 🌽)!
(Photo credit Alexa J. Fernando)
CXBO doesn’t use artificial ingredients (which is amazing and can be a rarity in this industry!) How do you source the quality ingredients and how are the chocolates made?
Sarah: Indeed, everything we use is as natural as possible, which can be difficult. Chocolate is a very flavourful thing so the filling flavours need to be really pronounced to shine through. Also, when it comes to sweets, I think people’s palates are calibrated to thinking of the artificial versions of flavours as being the flavours of certain things. Strawberries, mint, bananas – those three flavours in particular challenged us to make a chocolate that tastes like we’d expect it to. We did a banana rum chocolate early on and the natural banana got lost. But Brandon developed a way of really concentrating the flavour and since then we’ve made a few really tasty banana chocolates – they tend to taste a bit like banana bread. We did a spruce/mint chocolate once too using real mint and wow, what a different experience from eating a chocolate that’s been flavoured with mint extract. It was delicious but more herbaceous than what you’d expect a mint chocolate to taste like. We also did a strawberry chocolate once but I think the strawberry got lost – but that’s the fun part, trying to find new ways to make the real ingredients work.
Brandon: At first when we were presented with the challenge, we were like, OMG, how are we going to make chocolates with vegetables!? I just can’t imagine a zucchini chocolate – the flavour is too subtle. But then it occurred to us that Chick-a-Biddy grows herbs and herbs and chocolate can go beautifully together. So we thought about the herbal flavours associated with a traditional thanksgiving dinner and then boom, the idea came to life.
Being a seasoned chef (formerly of the Black Hoof, Bar Isabelle and soon–your own restaurant La Banane) can you tell us about your relationship to local produce?
Brandon: I use local ingredients when I can and when it’s in season and when it’s good. I’m not a 100% purist where that’s concerned but I always look locally first and then reach outwards when need be. La Banane will be no exception – I hear there’s a guy in Ontario that’s growing bananas locally… I plan on reaching out to him!
What seasonal ingredient can you not get enough of right now?
Brandon: Corn! Although corn season is almost over… But we actually made two corn-flavoured chocolates recently. One of them was Corn / Dulce de Leche… So good!
You are the dream team and both hyper creative. Sarah how does your arts/design/creative background compliment Brandon’s culinary background and vice versa?
Sarah: I guess I’ve always seen myself as a producer of things, not necessarily just video, so whether its a film, Ferris Bueller’s bedroom recreation or a chocolate shop, it’s all kind of the same to me. We didn’t start our relationship working together though, Brandon and I met while he was working at Bar Isabel so we both had separate careers and were just a normal couple. But when he left to do his own thing, I became aware of just how amazing he is and how my skills could compliment his to make something more special than either of us could do on our own. We always say that Brandon handles everything that goes inside the box and I handle everything outside the box, but there’s a certain amount of crossover too. We come up with the flavours, colours and themes of the boxes together – which is so much fun–and then he goes off to make them and I figure out how to tell the world about them.
(Sarah Keenlyside and collaborator Joseph Clement’s recreation of Ferris Bueller’s Bedroom in Come Up To My Room 2016. Photo by Ben Roffelsen)
Sarah, speaking of creativity, you wowed the Gladstone’s art seekers when you debuted your recreation of Ferris Bueller’s bedroom at Come Up To My Room in 2016. It’s gone on to tour the world! What has the whole experience been like? Where is Bueller’s room now?
Sarah: Hah! I don’t know about the world, but it did go to Chicago and Niagara Falls. It was a crazy experience! I think that in the total 10 days it was on display, at least 9000 people came to see it – including several of the actors from the film who had actually been in the real room – and millions more saw it on TV (in Chicago it appeared on Good Morning America, the Today Show and Fox News among dozens of other media outlets…). People keep asking what I’ll do next but for now, it’s all about the chocolate shop and helping Brandon launch the restaurant. We’re working around the clock on it but it’s really satisfying, and I’m enjoying this time with him while it lasts. Once he’s back in the kitchen, it will be back to the old days when I barely saw him!
We can’t wait to have CXBO at our Friendsgiving dinner! If you’d like to taste their amazing chocolates for yourself incorporating herbs from Chick-a-biddy Acres C.S.A. click here for tickets.