Friday, September 28, 2012

Interview: Malena Lopez-Maggi of The Xocolate Bar

Malena Lopez-Maggi, the founder of The Xocolate Bar

Last week, I introduced you to two amazing ladies doing simply amazing things. First, you learned about Ms. Yvonne Leung, the creator of a rather spiffy line of wooden cards known as Cardtorial. Then you met the Queen of Music & Mags herself, Ms. Kiyomi Tanouye, who is equal parts month-long music festival producer and magazine store assistant manager. Now, I’d like you to get to know a lady who’s making waves in the areas of chocolate and jewelry, Malena Lopez-Maggi. I was first introduced to Malena during the Solano Street Festival where she was showing local Berkeleyans what good chocolate really tastes like. I hadn’t even planned on asking to interview her about her shop, The Xocolate Bar, until two things happened: a) I tried her chocolates and b) I tried her chocolates. (Yes, they’re that good.) They have everything a Bay Area foodie wants in a sweet: dynamic taste, intriguing ingredients of the highest quality, and a hint of personality. Luckily, I was able to snag an interview with the lady who seems to always be doing ten things at once and learn more about her ideal chocolate bar, her obsession with making jewelry, and more.

Brittany: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Malena: I am a full-time student at Mills College, studying Studio Art (painting and sculpture). I also own a chocolate shop and I'm obsessed with making jewelry. I love moving and making things with my hands.

Brittany: Have you always been interested in working with food?

Malena: Yes, I've loved cooking ever since I was a little girl. My grandma is the best cook ever and I learned a lot from her.

Brittany: What inspired you to open The Xocolate Bar?

Malena: Chocolate just seemed like something fun to get into -- the craft of it, the different shapes and flavors you can make -- and my partner and I were ready for a change.

Brittany: What are your favorite types of chocolate to make?

Malena: The salty ones are the best to eat: OMG Bar (honey roasted almonds, salted caramel, and dark chocolate) and Salted Toffee Bark. They are a pain to make, but worth the effort. My favorite chocolates to make are the big showpiece figurines because it's like sculpture.

The OMG Bar, quite worthy of its name

Honey Roasted Almond Bark

Karma sutra inspired dark chocolate

A huge Aztec inspired chocolate disc

Brittany: Can you describe the process of creating a new type of chocolate?

Malena: 1) Eat something unusual and delicious. 2) See how it tastes with chocolate. 3) Whip up a small batch and tweak the recipe as needed.

Brittany: Can you describe your typical day?

Malena: Hmm… well yesterday was a great day and consisted of a quick ballet workout via YouTube, then drilling and  bending rainbow colored acrylic sheets for a sculpture project, followed by a shamanic journey meditation, then a tour and lecture at SFMOMA, and finally a History of Performance Art seminar. They're not all whirlwind days, but most of them are. I like to keep busy -- better busy than bored.

Brittany: If you could use any ingredients in the world, what would you put in your ideal chocolate bar?

Malena: Butter, brown sugar, sea salt and the freshest of fresh roasted nuts. That is all. Dark chocolate of course, preferably Pralus.

Malena’s handmade earrings

Brittany: In addition to running The Xocolate Bar, you sell your own line of jewelry on Etsy. Can you tell us more about this?

Malena: I have been obsessed with making jewelry since I worked at Baubles and Beads seven years ago. It's something I take breaks from because I have other things on my plate, but it's the one thing that calls me back the strongest. I studied jewelry and metalsmithing at College of Marin and toyed with the idea of ditching chocolates to apprentice for a goldsmith. In the end, I got tired of metal and more excited about non-traditional materials. Right now I'm loving resin, Shrinky Dinks, and Lucite.

Brittany: Do you use the same thought process as a chocolate maker as you do as a jewelry designer?

Malena: No, it's completely different. Or rather, there are completely different sets of parameters. With chocolate, the restrictions are much tighter. It has to be delicious above all, but it also has to have a two week shelf life without preservatives. It has to be the right texture. It has to please the customers. It can't have toxic junk in it. It can't be too expensive. And, it has to be able to be reproduced consistently and efficiently, batch after batch. It's more like factory work than art. The jewelry, on the other hand, is more like play. I can just mess around with things, arranging and rearranging, and making one-of-a-kind pieces out of a variety of materials. Cost, wearability, and durability are always considerations, but the parameters aren't as strict as with chocolate. Jewelry is tactile and colorful and visual. Chocolate is about taste and smell and texture.

The Xocolate Bar’s signature line of bars. I recommend the lavender (not pictured).

Pomegranate Truffle

Dark chocolate molded into Buddha heads

Dark chocolate with brandied cherry

Fleur de lys and full-body Buddha pieces

Brittany: How has living in the East Bay influenced your work?

Malena: Well with the chocolate, everything has to be as green, sustainable, local, organic, and fair trade as humanly possible or our Berkeley customers would revolt. With my art and jewelry, I find a lot of inspiration walking around Point Isabel and living very close to TAP Plastics. Mills College in Oakland has had a huge influence on my life and work as well.

Brittany: When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?

Malena: It's hard to say, because what most people call work I call play. When I'm not working making chocolates, I'm making other things but getting a great deal of enjoyment out of it. I mostly hang out at home with my partner, Clive, listening to music and singing along while working on an art project.

Brittany: What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Malena: More art and jewelry, less chocolate... but don't worry, I'll give plenty of notice.

Learn more about The Xocolate Bar for yourself:

The Xocolate Bar
1709 Solano Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707
Open: Thursday - Sunday 12 - 6

Check out more posts from Berkeley.

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