It’s February. And we’re biting into the dark, salty, (yet sweet) story behind Jim Queen’s “Chocolate Serenade” confections. (Don’t tell us you’re not interested — we know how much you devour, that you prefer dark chocolate over milk, and that given a choice you say “YES” to salt).
Jim’s love affair with caramel began in childhood (Sugar Daddies on a stick) and grew from there. He first began making his own caramel in the ‘90s using a “Joy of Cooking” recipe. It had corn syrup in it, brown sugar to give it color, tasted good, and made him a hit at parties. Chocolate came second as something to dress the caramels with. Once he got into chocolate, it was a slippery slope into making truffles. Again all eagerly consumed at parties, but nothing truly sensational.
In time, a friend turned him onto culinary books and he got more and more interested in the science and art behind confections. He began reading lots and experimenting. According to Jim, “The only way to learn how to handle chocolate and caramel is to make mistakes, plenty of them. There’s no machine that can do it for you.” You also need good ingredients. Jim lets taste guide his choices. His organic chocolate comes from Belgium and the only 3 ingredients in his caramel these days are organic sugar, butter and cream.
As the quality of his confections took gigantic steps forward, another friend advised “You know, you should really pursue this as a business”. At the time, Jim was working as a systems analyst in North Bend, and he was ready for a change. In 2005, he made the break.
He began by selling his confections at farmers markets, which he really enjoyed. Everything sold well and along the way his customers fed him good ideas, one being to make his candies “snappable” into 2 pieces rather than being one long bar. Everything now is “Snap and Share” (may I digress… P E R F E C T for Valentines Day!)
A couple years ago, Jim got busy enough that he gave up farmers markets, and now sells wholesale to businesses (mainly on the peninsula, but as far afield as Alaska, Oregon, and California). Thus far, he’s still a one-man business. If and when he grows to the point he needs help, Jim will always be the one making the candy. That job, he won’t relinquish.
We sent Tia out to Sequim a couple weeks ago to watch Jim make chocolates and take pictures. There’s nothing secretive about Jim, his process, or his recipes. He’s very much a fan of Lisa Gansky who writes about the “Mesh”, our new sharing economy. Need advice in the chocolate department? Jim’s the man to ask.
Tia was instructed to show up at the Sun Crest retirement home in Sequim, which houses the commercial kitchen that Jim uses. During the day the Sun Crest kitchen cooks meals for retirees and at night it’s Jim’s. He got to know the home and its kitchen when his mother was living there and the two of them would make chocolates for fun. His mother no longer lives there, but it remains a sweet deal for all involved. Jim has a great kitchen and the retirees of course get to enjoy a few of the caramels.
It was 7pm when Tia met Jim in the lobby. Early for Jim — typically he works between 10pm and 3am or so, but he was working around Tia’s schedule. Turns out at 7:00 the kitchen was far too hot from dinner preparation and Tia and Jim had to sit and chat while the air conditioner brought the room down to a chocolate-friendly temperature. Temperature is everything with chocolate. That night Jim was cutting his sheets of caramel and almond nougat into pieces, shaping them into hearts, and dipping them into chocolate. Lucky Tia got to sample.
Have I mentioned, everything Jim makes is fantastic? He is a true artisan and we are so lucky to have him. At the store now we are selling his caramels dipped either in milk or dark chocolate, with or without sea salt, and with or without a pecan.
In addition, we are now selling his caramel sauce, which, according to Kristin, is even better than the candies — the best ever! You may have seen it and not recognized it as made by Chocolate Serenade, because it’s labeled “Jimmie 2 Shirts”. “Jimmie 2 Shirts” is Jim’s nickname. Confusing, but all makes sense when you remember that the chocolate needs to be made in a cold kitchen.
Which brings me to my personal favorite: Jim’s chocolate-covered almond nougat. On a sad note, I’m absolutely devastated tonight to find out that “we” no longer carry it (clearly I was not asked). I’m told not enough of the rest of you bought it. So fellow die-hard fans, I’m floating the idea of a petition, a special order, a boycott??? Ideas please!
Happy Valentines Day Everyone and Thank You Jimmie2shirts!