Chocolatier sells wares at Farmer’s Market – Clearwater Times
Ever since he was little, Johan Raes has been in love with chocolate.
Growing up in Bruges, Belgium, otherwise known as Chocolate Town, Raes remembers barging into chocolate shops while biking to school to quiz chocolate makers about their craft.
The passion stayed with him as he grew up and became a steelworker. When he had the chance to do maintenance in a chocolate factory, he jumped at the chance to learn.
“I walked into the factories and I wasn’t really flying with my eyes but asking questions about how to make chocolate,” Raes said. “After this visit, (I said) no more grinding, no more grinding, I want to make chocolate.”
By day, Raes worked as a maintenance worker. At night, he was enrolled in a two-year chocolatier course at the Sintra West Institute. Following this, he took a 12-day course at the Barry Callebaut factory, learning the ins and outs of making chocolate treats from Belgium’s leading chocolatier. He learned how to use molds correctly, what type of filling recipes go best with which chocolates and dozens of other tricks.
Rather than ply his trade in Belgium, Raes chose to bring his skills to Canada by buying property on the North Thompson River near Clearwater in 2007 and moving there with his wife Maryse two years later. After obtaining his license and installing his equipment, they opened Helmcken Finest Homemade Belgian Chocolates.
Raes sells his chocolates and Belgian waffles at farmers’ markets, including the South Cariboo Farmers Market at 100 Mile House where he had a stand last week. Whenever people praise him for the look and taste of his chocolate, he tells them that they just have to “follow the right rules”.
He wakes up every day at 5 a.m. and turns on a machine to melt the chocolate into a malleable state. Once the chocolate could be worked, Raes began to shape it using various moulds. It takes time, but Raes loves every minute.
“I love it. The temperature in the workshop must be perfect. That’s why I work mostly in the morning or in the evening because the temperature must be 18°C in the workshop. When it’s warmer, everything else gets sticky and that’s not really the right way to make chocolate.
While the chocolate shells rest and dry overnight, Maryse prepares the fillings which are added the next day. It’s important to let the chocolates sit another night, as Raes said some alcohol toppings can cause the chocolate to “explode” if done too quickly.
“There’s no one out there within 400 miles making chocolate the way we do,” he said when visiting 100 Mile last week. “He was very well received in Kamloops, 100 Mile House, Clearwater and even Hinton.”