Brandon Olsen, former chef de cuisine of culinary cornerstones Bar Isabel and The Black Hoof, opened CXBO (Chocolates by Brandon Olsen) this month in Toronto. It’s been many mouth-watering months of anticipation for cocao locals in the know. The CXBO factory and shop is a feast of bonbons and eye-candy, including a Sol LeWitt- and Frank Stella-inspired mural, synchronised in sugarcoated harmony.
Mixing a single-origin Cacao Barry couverture with the creative direction and recent Expo ’67 obsession of his artist/filmmaker fiancée, Sarah Keenlyside, Olsen created two chocolate collections to be tasted (read: devoured) as a whole. We’re taking that as permission to do it in one sitting. 'Just as I’d build and destroy with Lego,' Olsen says, 'it’s the same with chocolate. There are no wrong answers.'
'We wanted to create something with meaning, not only about taste, but also the references,' Keenlyside recounts. 'Not just flavour, but something you want to look at for a while as part of the experience of eating it.' So what do yuzu, sherry, pistachio-bergamot, Willy Wonka, Jackson Pollock and Buckminster Fuller have in common? These are a few of Olsen’s (and our) favourite things. 'I had the idea to do this seven years ago, but it took time to refine my skills, learn new techniques.'
A fateful meeting brought Olsen and Keenlyside together, and on one of their first dates they drove to Hudson Chocolates in Poughkeepsie to meet Francisco Migoya, now head chef of Modernist Cuisine (Hudson Chocolates has closed). The trip ignited the couple’s passion for concocting confectionery combinations. In the factory, Olsen doesn’t stop; he’s melting chips, air-brushing or drip- and finger-painting chocolates, filling boxes. But the mood in the factory is light and fun. Their design-forward thinking carries through to the custom-painted packaging. Olsen splatters and drip paints boxes à la Pollock late at night, and he or Keenlyside will document it. 'Social media is a ravenous beast of good photography,' she sighs.
The summer collection (popcorn-peach, burnt marshmallow and orange creamsicle) is available exclusively at the Toronto Drake Hotel’s General Store.