Renowned chocolatier brings Norman Love Confections to UTC area.
Renowned Fort Myers-based chocolatier Norman Love was in his wheelhouse after being asked how he knows a good piece of chocolate when he pops one in his mouth.
He started to discus particle sizes and microns during the chocolate-making process, along with which countries, such as Ecuador, Venezuela or the Ivory Coast, grow the most desired cocoa beans.
"It's like Mother Nature and wine," he said. "Where your grapes are coming from has the most influence. It's the same with chocolate.
"You might like these beans from Venezuela, or you might like Ecuador, the Rolls Royce of cocoa beans."
But, no, Norman. What does good chocolate taste like when you pop it into your mouth?
"It's like the freshest piece of fish that has just been caught," he said. "You know right away because of the difference in texture and flavor. With chocolate, it's the smoothness, the creaminess, how refined it is. It's not about sugar. It's a quality balance of salty and sweet. It's creating the ultimate flavor and lightness. It's the experience of a very thin shell, and a creamy explosion."
Love just was getting warmed up, but it was obvious he loves making chocolate.
"Pastries are my profession," he said. "Chocolate is my passion."
It's fare to say both are now his profession, as East County residents will find out when Norman Love Confections opens its sixth Chocolate Salon at University Town Center, opposite California Pizza Kitchen on Cattleman Road in the West District. The business is expected to open in the first quarter of 2020.
The Chocolate Salon will feature ultra-premium, handcrafted chocolates, as well as specialty desserts, artisanal baked goods, coffees, novelty products, sweet crepes, artisan gelato, and fine wines.
Love, who founded his business in 2001, said he had been hoping to open a business in the Sarasota area for years. He said the area's growth, all the retail at UTC and the potential of Mote Marine's $130 million aquarium made him finally pull the trigger.
The business will be different than his others, though. "My personal dream has been to open a dessert restaurant," he said. "This will be a 2,000-square-foot space with 700 square feet outside. After the theater, after dinner, after a movie, you can pair a glass of wine with an incredible dessert. This will be super unique, the first of its kind in Norman Love's world."
He said a very accomplished professional chef will be on stage to create an interactive element with the patrons. He said know how Mother Nature affects the chocolate-making process along with understanding wines will be key in creating an incredible experience.
"In the evenings, we are introducing an entirely new concept as we transform the Chocolate Salon into a chocolate theatre of sorts, offering our new experiential dessert experience," he said. "A great cab or big bordeaux, with a piece of dark chocolate, you can't go wrong."
Although his education, including time in France learning the art of pastry making and 13 years as the corporate executive pastry chef of the The Ritz-Carlton, developed his skill, his passion was honed at an early age as he grew up near Philadelphia.
His grandmother, Claire Rothstein (apple and cream pies were her specialty), and mother, Lynn Love (chocolate mousse was hers), were "active" in the kitchen and they involved him as well, especially during the holidays.
"Dessert was their specialty," he said. "People were excited when dessert came. It was like an underlying competition and it was a way to express art."
Attending high school in the 1970s, Love found himself drawn to the culinary arts at a time when he said cuisine was struggling to establish itself in the country. However, he said desserts were an area of the kitchen that allowed artistic flair.
However, one thing was holding him back from diving headlong into making desserts. Ice hockey.
His dream was to place college hockey and he had been working at his favorite sport since he was 6. And then fate intervened.
At 15, his family moved to Hollywood, Fla. where he said hockey didn't exist.
With hockey no longer in the picture, he was a "sad, lonely kid."
And then he got a job as a high school senior making ice cream. Other desserts followed.
Although he still plays ice hockey, ultra-premium desserts are his world.
"I come from an ultra-premium background with incredible ingredients, methods, cultures and philosophical foundations," he said. "I love making something by hand that is meant to be consumed in a short period of time. No preservatives, just fresh cream and butter.
"We source the finest chocolate from many different areas of the world. We make things with integrity. I am a guy who never compromises."