Alumna cooks with elixir of the gods
Given the choice between a sweet dessert and a cheese plate, Lauren Gockley (SF04) will choose the cheese plate every time. And yet, she studied as a pastry chef and chocolatier in France, at l’Ecole du Grand Chocolat in Tain l’Hermitage, and now owns her own mail-order chocolate company, Coda Chocolate. She specializes in organic, gourmet truffles with unconventional flavor profiles. Her product line has included a taleggio truffle, a pecorino and black olive truffle, and a triple cream and rosewater truffle.
“I like to challenge people’s palates, put chocolate together with spice or other savory ingredients,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing how well cheese and chocolate work together, and how off the wall people first think it is—but then they taste it and you see on their faces how excited they are.”
Lauren, who is originally from Houston, Texas, lives in New York City. After her time at l’Ecole du Grand Chocolat, she worked in Parisian pastry shops; in New York, she worked at Thomas Keller’s Per Se and learned as much as she could from the talented chefs she encountered before starting her own small business two years ago. She was named one of Dessert Professional’s top 10 Chocolatiers in North America in 2011.
“It’s been a learn-as-I-go situation—learning about building a website, photography, and business in general. Coming from the more creative side, getting down to the nitty-gritty of numbers has been a challenge, but very exciting. I believe it was my experience at St John’s that inspired my entrepreneurial spirit. My education set the bar quite high as I studied great innovators and creators. I gained a new understanding of success. Success is not crossing a set finish line but rather a life of continued growth and challenges, never standing still for too long.”
Although she grew up vacationing in New Mexico and was intrigued by the idea of an education through reading and discussing original texts when she encountered St. John’s at a college fair, Lauren initially didn’t apply and went to the University of Houston as a music major. As often happens with people who go against their gut instinct and pursue a more traditional collegiate path, Lauren ended up at St. John’s as a January Freshman.
“Santa Fe is one of my favorite places. It has a very spiritual quality and I feel deeply connected to it and the St. John’s education, which is like no other. Music is still a great inspiration in my life. I grew up in a musical household and I’ve always loved singing and opera. I didn’t wind up on stage, but I wanted to incorporate music into what I do on a daily basis. Therefore I created Coda Chocolate, inspired by the musical term signifying the end of a musical composition. The coda represents the culmination of everything that has come before it while remaining truly distinct in its composition.”
Her first line of truffles was inspired by operatic characters. Lauren asked herself “If Carmen were a flavor, what would she be?” The answer was salted caramel with a little bit of cayenne. “You have this saltiness, this bitterness, and then it finishes with this subtle spiciness. For Christmas last year I did a pumpkin spice to represent La Cenerentola, and I also made a molasses and ginger truffle for Gretel, from Hansel and Gretel. I did Lakmé with coffee and cardamom, and for one of my favorite operas, The Juniper Tree, I made a juniper and lemon truffle.”
Lauren works only with small batches and changes her flavors according to the seasons. She uses the highest-quality ingredients available and makes each truffle as beautiful as possible. “The visual component is what whets your appetite,” she said. “Then the flavors are so potent and powerful, to the point where you don’t need to eat a lot of it to enjoy it and be satisfied.”
The chocolate tree itself isn’t beautiful, in that it’s short and stout and grows among much taller banana trees, but the pods that come out of the trunk are yellow and red and orange, and inside is beautiful white flesh. Some people attribute healing properties to chocolate; others say it releases hormones and endorphins that mimic the feeling of falling in love. Bottom-line: chocolate makes people happy. “Chocolate has such a rich history. It’s been revered for centuries. It was the food of the gods and was used as currency. Originally, chocolate was a savory elixir, mixed with peppers, and used for ceremonial purposes. It’s one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, full of antioxidants,” Lauren said. “It could sustain you if it was your only food source. I feel blessed to work with chocolate every day. I love its organic nature, it chemical components, and most importantly, the joy I get to bring to people with each bite.”