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Hanging Out With // Interview with Jonathan Grahm of Compartes Chocolatier

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Is it mouth-watering chocolate, art, or some aesthetically beautiful infusion of the two? If you’re familiar with Los Angeles based shop sweet Compartes Chocolatier, that may be a question that has crossed your mind — and the answer is yes, and so much more! Owner Jonathan Grahm took over his family’s business when he was only 15 years old. Since taking the reigns, he’s succeeded in creating a plethora of signature truffles, boasting flavors such as pecan pie, sangria, and cucumber honeydew. Not only are all of Comparte’s items handmade, but the shop has been a Los Angeles staple since the 1950’s. We had a chance to speak with Jonathan and go behind the scenes with a master chocolatier!

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You’ve been deemed the chocolatier to the stars and were recently named one of Forbes “30 under 30.” What’s your favorite part about working in such close proximity with people who absolutely adore both your chocolate and your legacy?

I am so honored and humbled to be at this point in my career and am definitely blessed to have received such amazing accolades and great clients who come in for their gourmet chocolate needs. I definitely think it’s almost surreal to be asked to do chocolates for A-list people like George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, and Nicole Kidman. I never thought that through this medium of chocolate I would get these kinds of opportunities and I truly appreciate them. I think that people in general, not only celebrities, are flocking to Compartes Chocolatier because we do something completely unique, something unlike any other chocolate company in the nation. Our concept of chocolate as art is something that makes us stand out. All of our chocolates are 100% handmade using all natural, organic ingredients and no machinery or conveyor belts. With the beautiful patterns and prints that I design for the outside of the chocolate coupled with the interesting and exotic flavor combinations on the inside, you are getting a chocolate experience that can only be described as one of a kind. Just being considered for that Forbes “30 Under 30” piece was a honor in itself, and actually making that list was definitely one of the highlights of my career. Again, I am just so honored to be recognized among people like Mark Zuckerberg, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber. It’s crazy and amazing all at the same time!

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Your truffles are so delicate, thoughtfully designed, and almost too pretty to eat. Can you take me through the general process of how a chocolate and its art are created?

Very great question. Sometimes I come up with a pattern or design first, then come up with a flavor profile to match it. More often, however, I come up with a flavor and think of a complimentary print that will represent the flavor best. Sometimes they correlate, and other times I want to make a certain print and just pair it with a great flavor — they might not have anything to do with each other. That’s why all of our boxes now come with an insert of “Jonathan’s Signature Truffles”, where people can view the flavors from their mobile device or computer by going to the truffle guide. I consider myself an artist and the chocolate is my canvas.  I am very much into design, style, fashion, and art, and I get to express all of these things through my Compartes chocolates. I definitely would love to do some other stuff in the realm of design and art in the near future. I have some great new stuff I am working on to take things to a whole other level.

How have your world travels influenced your knowledge of chocolate and the culinary world?

I have definitely been lucky enough to travel to many great countries where I visited cocoa growers and chocolate plantations. I saw the cocoa trees and learned about the process of creating chocolate from inside the cocoa fruit all the way to what we know as a chocolate confection, or chocolate bar. Additionally, traveling to many different countries has allowed me to find lots of interesting and obscure ingredients to infuse into my chocolate — it’s probably my favorite thing to do. I like to think of myself as a culinary “Indiana Jones”, so to speak. I find really cool, unique ingredients like exotic fruits and spices and bring them back and introduce people to them. They get to taste and experience flavors through my chocolate that they may have never experienced before. I also love to blend more exotic flavors with traditional ones that kind of play off each other in a very interesting way. One of my favorite pastimes in general is driving around Los Angeles and finding interesting and exotic ethnic enclaves, markets, and restaurants to eat at where I try to discover new flavors and ingredients. In what little downtime I have, you can probably find me at an unknown restaurant in Thai town or else off the beaten track scoping out new flavors and spices.

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Compartes has been up and running since the 1950’s, and you took over the family business at the young age of 15! What was that whole experience like?

Its definitely been a whirlwind. I have no professional culinary or business training. I’ve learned everything I know by teaching myself and just learning through trial and error — whether that be making my own recipes for chocolate or even business decisions along the way. Again, I feel blessed that I had this opportunity to take something like Compartes, which had become extremely stagnated and almost shut its doors, and infuse brand new life, energy, ideas, and creativity into it. I’ve transformed it from almost closing to one of the top 10 artisan chocolate companies in the nation.  Compartes is constantly ranked as the best chocolate in Los Angeles and Southern California and named top in the whole country, and I didn’t even go to chocolate or pastry school. I attribute Compartes’ success to my passion, drive, and motivation to just produce the best chocolate anyone can find! I really love what I do and love being able to share my passion with the world. I hope to one day bring Compartes Chocolates to places all over the country and eventually worldwide.

Chocolate means many things to a lot of people and is such a versatile medium. What does it mean to you, and why do you love creating art with it?  

Wow! Chocolate means everything to me. My chocolate is art, style, design, creativity, food, culture, fashion, expression, deliciousness, nostalgia, passion — chocolate is my life, really. I think chocolate is a universal medium. Pretty much everyone loves it and I am suspect of people that don’t. Everyone can relate to this one thing, no matter where or who they are. They can bite into a piece of chocolate and it immediately puts a smile on their face.  Chocolate is a universal smile maker, especially Compartes chocolates!

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