Monday, February 22, 2016

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Chef Phillip Ashley Rix

During my visit to the 58th Annual GRAMMY Gifting Lounge last weekend, I had a chance to meet someone doing incredible, out-of-this-world things with chocolate: Chef Phillip Ashley Rix

Rix runs a gourmet chocolate shop in Memphis, Tennessee called Phillips Ashley Chocolates, where he’s been making high-end, luxury chocolates since Fall 2013. He supplied each GRAMMY gift bag with a 23k-gold, salted caramel pecan praline ($79 value) and he brought “The Versailles Collection” — a box of seven 23k-gold, 30-gram chocolates ($3,000 value, pictured below) — to the GRAMMY after-party.

With some of the most imaginative flavors — and names to match — Rix’s chocolates are indulgently decadent and ones that you probably won’t find anywhere else in the world. He ships them throughout the U.S. and to six other countries. All of his hand-crafted chocolates are fair trade, made with organic ingredients.

Self-taught with a professional sales background in Corporate America, he shared his inspiring story with me, including how it all started, his meticulous process of creating each chocolate, some of his favorite ones, and of course, where he likes to frequent out in Memphis and in Los Angeles.

Read all about it in my interview with him, below!

WilsonsGuide: Can you share about how you launched your business and started making chocolates?
Rix: I started eight years ago. I’m self-taught. I spent about three years just researching and immersing myself in chocolate. It’s not traditional to be self-taught in chocolate; typically you’d come up through an apprenticeship of some sort. But, I wanted to do it. I was in Corporate America at that time, doing corporate sales, and just really fell in love with chocolate. It just kind of hit me one day. I said, ‘hey, how cool would it be to be a chocolatier?’ It was that thing that grabbed hold of me. I continued to develop it, learn everything about the history, the chemistry and the artistry of chocolate. I really wanted to put my own voice to that, because I felt like there was a lot out there that wasn’t being done.

Fast-forward to today, we’re putting bleu cheese in chocolate. We have BBQ chocolates. We have sweet potato chocolates, and everything in between. We have over 200 designs.

One of the things I specialize in is designing flavors for brands in particular. So we’ll say, ‘what does your brand taste like?’ I’ll sit down with the CEO, the marketing team and really get an idea of what the culture is for that company and what they do. I take that data and information and turn it into a flavor, and they use that for gifting. We specialize in high touch and corporate gifting in particular. We also have retail, so we do our retail boxes, whether you’re coming in-store or shopping online with us. It’s also available on Neiman

WilsonsGuide: What has been the hardest flavor to create?
Rix: When I originally started working, we had a beer hops and bee pollen chocolate. We even now have a beer hops and coffee grind chocolate.

WilsonsGuide: And it’s called beer…?
Rix: It’s beer hops, which is the thing they actually brew to make beer in traditional brewing now. We also have some Lambic beers that they were brewing back in the day, with fruit.

I really put a lot of time into studying. All of our chocolates have a high degree of difficulty because I’m trying to constantly push the boundaries of food in chocolate. I build chocolates in layers, so we have chocolates like Thai lemongrass, mint, white balsamic vinegar and Picual extra virgin olive oil. That’s one chocolate.

I’m really thinking of how can we take the complexities of food and what I experience out in the culinary world, and then translate it into chocolate — what experiences I have with people. That’s why every chocolate has a name, with the corresponding look that I’ll associate with the ingredients. We’re telling stories with chocolate. 

WilsonsGuide: You mentioned chocolates that aren’t just sweet, but are also savory. Do people really take to that?
Rix: I think today in particular, you’re seeing more and more desserts trend towards the savory. A lot of dessert lovers and goers aren’t just looking for all out sweet. You don’t just want sugar. They’re looking for complex design in their desserts.

That’s what we paid attention to, the entire time we’ve been open. To be ahead of that trend, doing things like apricot and gorgonzola in a chocolate, or having a chardonnay and triple cream cheese chocolate; things that have a touch of sweetness, but a touch of the savory. Doing the sea salts with the caramels. Those things play on the palate and really help enhance the experience.

WilsonsGuide: We are here at the GRAMMYs. Who has stopped by?
Rix: LL Cool J came by, loved the chocolates. Bow Wow came by and loved the chocolates. Zendaya just came by and she really liked the red crushed velvet chocolates. We’ve had several others come through. Little Big Town — we had a fun time just really sharing with them what we do. We have over 200 flavors, like I said, and we brought several of our top 32.

We also unveiled our $3,000 box of chocolates, which is a Louis XIII caramel. Each piece is 30 grams. It’s a seven-piece box. All the pieces are hand-gilded with 23-karat gold. It takes me about 40 minutes to finish each piece. Then we ship it. It arrives to you via courier in a lock box. The driver hands you a card with a phone number and then you call the number to get the lock code to unlock your chocolates. It’s over the top. 

WilsonsGuide: That’s a fun experience. So you’re from Memphis.
Rix: From Memphis.

WilsonsGuide: Do you have a favorite restaurant or bar —
Rix: In L.A.?

WilsonsGuide: And Memphis.
Rix: Felicia Suzanne is one of my favorite spots in Memphis and she’s a friend of mine, an awesome chef. There’s a newer spot closer to where I am in midtown called Bounty on Broad. They do a lot of farm-to-table, which is another thing you’re seeing out there even more. They serve family-style, but you’ll get things like sweet breads and all sorts of cool things.

Out here in L.A., Barton G. It’s just such an eclectic experience. I really like when people go through the time to present in a different way and show you something beyond just “here’s food on the plate.” The cotton candy on the mannequin head.* How dope is that? Very Marie Antoinette. We try to do the same with our chocolates.

WilsonsGuide: This might not be a fair question, but do you have a favorite chocolate of yours?
Rix: Sure — and I do love them all — but at the same time, some are my favorites:

I’m just a big champagne fan, so Flute (pictured below) is one of my favorites, simply because I love to drink champagne.

Mama Jean is my first one, so that’s always a favorite. It’s a sweet potato chocolate, inspired by my grandmother. We use organic sweet potatoes and milk chocolate ganache with a dark chocolate shell.

But Flute is awesome. Very nice champagne, a dark and milk chocolate blend, and then we use a brandy that’s distilled from the skins of the grapes. It gives you that little extra little something.

For more information: 

* Barton G has a dessert called "Marie Antoinette's Head - Let Them Eat Cake: over the top cotton candy surrounded by petite cakes, raspberry & strawberry cream cheese, fresh berries & schlag"
**This interview was slightly edited and condensed for ease of readability. 

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