Bryan Graham dips a spoon into the spinning vat of lightening brown goo he’s been grinding and mixing for five days now, talking the whole time about how the human tongue can detect grittiness up to a certain point, of which he likes to get far on the other side. He holds it out for a taste test.
Ever felt like you could swoon from chocolate? That’s what Graham’s after with his bean-to-bar Fruition Chocolate Works and Confectionery, located in a former ice cream store along Route 28 in Olive and set to celebrate its first year of operation with a delectable Open House from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, November 10. And that’s what just a dab of his almost-ready milk chocolate on the tongue results in on a recent Monday afternoon as we interrupt the 30-year old confectioner and former bakery chef as he prepares trays of amazing chocolate concoctions for his coming event.
“This is why really good chocolate is more expensive,” he says of his five-day grinding and mixing process. “It’s also why retailers come to us. We are a luxury business…”
Graham, who grew up in Olivebridge and attended Bennett Elementary and Onteora High schools, got a job at The Bear Café as part of Onteora’s mentorship program when he was 16. That led to a job and his role as the restaurant’s baker and pastry chef, after which he went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America, where he first started to find that “chocolate was increasingly on my mind.”
“I got interested in the origins of chocolate,” he says of his progression from an externship with “Mr. Chocolate” Jacques Torrez, and deeper studies with CIA Baking and Pastry Arts Professor Peter Greweling. “I decided to try and make some chocolate from scratch and made a crude batch.”
Once bitten, Graham hatched the idea for Fruition, “wanting to start the chocolatier work a few steps back.”
With his wife Dahlia Rissman Graham, he journeyed to Peru — a country where she had spent a year teaching, and has since started up an educational foundation — to find a supplier for what many consider to be the world’s best cocoa beans. He started looking for a place to start his business and found the former In The Scoop spot he’d gone to years earlier…and suddenly it made sense to stay home where both he and his wife were raised, close enough to New York City to handle one of his major markets, but also comfortable enough to sustain him for the 14 hour days that have ensued as he’s built up Fruition single-handedly.
Graham talks about he’s gained help from similar start-up businesses around the area, now established. Bread Alone was one of his first customers. He and Scandinavian Grace send clients each other’s way. He pulls liqueur products from Tuthilltown Spirits and raspberries from Westwood Orchards. Fruition supplies hot chocolate mix to Lazy Crazy Acres, based in Arkville but working with farm markets throughout the area, for their homemade gelato products.
“We’re working to develop relationships with all of our suppliers,” he adds, noting how he’s working to shift from a Peruvian cocoa cooperative to individual farmers. “And the response to what we’re doing has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve got great followings, local and elsewhere, and the business is doing surprisingly well at this point…more than I had anticipated.”
Partly, Bryan Graham says, that’s because of his emphasis on being a beans to bar chocolate producer, one of three in New York State and a handful nationwide. And focusing, within that niche, on making milk as well as dark chocolates, as well as doing everything with added quality.
Does he worry about the sorts of leaps in business growth that sometimes rattle companies such as his…experienced by such as Bread Alone and Woodstock Chimes, for instance, over its lifetime?
Not really, Graham says thoughtfully. He’s a good planner, he adds, and is already looking at when and how to hire help and manage increases in business without cutting the added time for mixing that he feels makes a difference in his five brands of chocolate bars, available at $8 a pop retail, or his limited but poised-for-growth lines of candy products…of which he lets us try three new concoctions.
One, a raspberry and almond praline confection in a chocolate shell, is his version of the pb&j experience, upgraded for sophisticated palates. The next, a banana cream caramel — all homemade — seems to hit some nerve deep in the limbic system that I haven’t had tickled outside college years, or the privacy of my bedroom. The third, a sourdough and Spanish olive oil mixture in a dark chocolate covering, explodes the senses like some dream meal.
How many of these ideas does he have to explore, yet, as he now starts to take Fruition from straight bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturing to confectionary dreamscapes?
“Never too far outside the box,” Graham replies, matter-of-factly. “I’m interested in taking known tastes and bringing them into new territories…Everything we do here is an evolution, and about the utmost quality — perfecting what we already know.”
I realize I have to leave Fruition soon as I start eying everything he’s got on display with a slight drool.
I promise to return for the Open House this Saturday, November 10 from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. at Fruition’s HQ at 3091 Route 28 in Shokan, open weekly from noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.++
For further information call 657-6717 or visit http://www.tastefruition.com. Or just let your senses carry the rest of you towards its sweet (and simultaneously savory) offerings.