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The Best Little Chocolates in Texas

The Best Little Chocolates in Texas

CALVERT, TX - When a movie-star dashing patisseur, experienced in Europe's finest kitchens, tells you with an inviting British accent that his company, COCOAMODA, makes the best chocolates in the world, you tend to take him at his word. When he goes on to say that he creates these delicacies in a state-of-the-art café and chocolate factory that he designed himself - a former 19th century dry goods store - in Calvert, Texas, you know that something truly extraordinary is happening.

Calvert, a sleepy hamlet in western Robertson County that boasts a perfectly preserved historic downtown, once home to an opera house and the largest cotton gin in the world, is back on the map with world-class ganaches, confections and truffles, crafted by Ken Wilkinson - the creative genius behind COCOAMODA.

Wilkinson embodies a philosophy of pursuing excellence at all costs and refusing mediocrity in any shape or form. He oversees every aspect of the creation of COCOAMODA. A classically trained chef hailing from a family of carpenters, Wilkinson designed this ultra-modern operation - from the intricate woodwork to the retrofitted machinery salvaged from an old Pittsburgh chocolate factory. The historic building and kitchen reflect the COCOAMODA chocolates that are crafted thanks to the best of time-tested, traditional techniques in the service of modern, creative innovation.

COCOAMODA's chocolate creations will be made with the world's best couverture, or chocolate base, made by the French company Valrhona, where he recently met with 10 of the world's most renowned chocolatiers. Cost is no concern when it comes to sourcing the finest ingredients available: almonds from Spain, saffron and pistachios from Iran, hazelnuts from Oregon, Swiss frais de bois, and milk and cream from grass-fed Guernsey cows.

A trip to Calvert isn't just about tasting chocolate. Visitors to COCOAMODA can experience the chocolate-making process when they step into the chocolatier's factory. Just pass through a 19th century brick edifice into a reception room where windows offer a peak into melting vats of chocolate, cooling trays and conveyor belts where the delectable morsels are concocted and tastefully packaged - an area where the heat and humidity must be rigidly controlled to ensure the best quality. The finished product awaits you just across the street at COCOAMODA's restaurant and boutique - a Parisian style café housed in a restored 1870's bank building.

While he spent the last five years meticulously planning every detail of COCOAMODA, Wilkinson has been preparing his entire career. His early success would make the plot of a great movie. Still a teenager, back in his native England after training in Switzerland, he apprenticed at a hotel restaurant one busy Friday night when the mercurial chef threw desserts against the wall and walked out, followed shortly after by the sous chef and the saucier. Showing his gift for alchemy that would later mark his chocolate creations, our boy Wilkinson saw the wonderful opportunity in a terrible situation. He stepped into the breech, holding the kitchen down through the weekend and for the next three weeks while the replacements were sought, and actually improved the food and service.

The legend spread through the local restaurant scene, and chefs began dropping by to check out this preternaturally talented teen, one of whom secured Wilkinson an apprenticeship in the Michelin-starred kitchen at the legendary Bahnhof Buffet in Lucerne, Switzerland. Working on ancient appliances under chefs trained in the style and discipline of the inventor of French cuisine, Escoffier, Wilkinson "took every kick and beating with a smile."

That Wilkinson, already a success in London, would submit himself to such harsh training techniques speaks to his relentless pursuit of excellence right to the very source. His talent led him to the most refined culinary art, chocolate making, and back in England he studied with the famous chocolatier Eric Berger, whose intricate techniques, kept under lock and key, would be lost to the world save for Wilkinson and Berger's own sons.

Meanwhile members of the royal family kept him busy catering lavish events, which he decorated with his filigreed chocolate sculptures. In the 1980's Wilkinson moved to Houston where he hosted Cable Cookery, a television show dedicated to making classical French cuisine accessible to everyday cooks. He married and started a family, and so it is in Texas that he fulfills his dream of creating the best chocolate experience in the world.

In recognition of how one man's vision is transforming the face of the historic downtown, the local Chamber of Commerce suggested calling Calvert the "Chocolate Capital of Texas and Birthplace of COCOAMODA." If the experience in Calvert is any indication, other major American cities will be clamoring for their own COCOAMODA boutiques. Not bad for a man with a dream who stumbled upon a little old ghost town with beautiful buildings.

Wilkinson offers his own motto, as colorful as his exciting chocolate concoctions: "Paris in Calvert...why not?"

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