16 June 2023

Kiama local tastes sweet success with handmade chocolate bars

| Kellie O'Brien
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Shaye Lucassen and her Christmas cake

Kiama Chocolate Company owner Shaye Lucassen dreams of having her own shop with a David Jones-style window display one day. Photos: Supplied.

A high school dream to sell handmade chocolates has turned Shaye Lucassen into Kiama’s own Willy Wonka.

Kiama Chocolate Company is a bean-to-bar chocolate business making chocolate bars from sustainably sourced cacao beans, including bars named after Kiama’s three female mayors.

“I’m born and bred in Kiama, and the town is about sustainability and local produce,” Shaye said.

“Because I’m a chocolate maker, you can’t really grow cacao here and I have to use milk powder.

“I have tried to dehydrate milk before, but it’s too time-consuming.

“So, what I thought I would do is try to link it to the town through the names in the town.

“It kind of fell into place because the only three lady mayors that Kiama has had ended up being the chocolates – White Wheatley, Milk McCarthy and Devenney Dark,” she said.

Devenney Dark was named after Kiama’s first female mayor Ruth Devenney, Wheatley White and Caramelised Wheatley White were a nod to second female mayor Joyce Wheatley, and McCarthy Milk was inspired by Kiama’s third female mayor Sandra McCarthy.

“I used to name each bar things like Minnamurra Mint, but mostly I don’t give them Kiama names anymore, because it’s become too hard.”

chocolate bars

Shaye took inspiration from Kiama’s three female mayors for the names of some of her chocolate bars to link her brand to the town where she was born and raised.

Shaye’s vision for the business started when was a teenager. “It goes back to when I was at high school,” she said.

“I wanted to be a chef, but my mother talked me out of that and I ended up at David Jones working in the confectionery department, I always loved their amazing chocolates.”

Shaye, who also runs school and soccer club canteens, found she had time on her hands when the canteens were put on hold during COVID.

“I said to my husband, ‘I just want to make chocolate’,” she said. “He said, ‘You’ve said that since I’ve met you’.”

He encouraged Shaye to find out how to make chocolate and buy the equipment, both of which she’d already done.

“So I just started my chocolate,” she said.

Christmas cake

There is no waste from the Kiama Chocolate Company, as the husks can be used in recipes like Christmas cakes.

From there, the Kiama Chocolate Company was born.

“A couple of years ago, after I had my second child, I decided to do a patisserie course because that’s what I always wanted to do. I had a rough idea of chocolate and how to work with it, but not bean-to-bar,” Shaye said.

‘Bean-to-bar’ means Shaye ethically sources premium sundried cacao beans from farms that are part of a privately funded social enterprise called Makira Gold in the Solomon Islands.

She then roasts them; bean-to-bar makers roast their beans at different temperatures and lengths of time, which changes the profile of the chocolate.

The bean is then cracked with a large machine. Shaye is able to do this with a smaller variation of the machinery.

“Then we have to winnow them, which is separating the husk from the cacao nib,” she said. “That’s a homemade contraption I have with pipes, a bucket and a vacuum. It pretty much sucks the lighter husk away from the nib.

“It’s very time-consuming, because you’ve got to feed them in very slowly.”

She then refines it down. Dark chocolate requires the nib, cocoa butter and sugar, depending on the percentage of dark chocolate. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, uses hibs, full cream milk powder, cocoa butter and sugar.

The refinery, a granite roller on a granite base, refines down the nib over a 24 to 48-hour period into a micron that your tongue cannot detect anymore.

It then becomes chocolate, which needs to be tempered to align the crystals in the chocolate to create a shine and hard snap.

READ ALSO A growing love affair: How Cupitt’s Estate and Winery came to be

Shaye strives towards no waste in the business, so she uses the husks and nibs in her Christmas cakes too.

The chocolates are sold through Inspired Kiama on Terralong Street, The Top Shop Kiama on Manning Street, and occasionally at farmers’ markets.

“I really like my freedom of coming up with different flavours,” Shaye said. “So I can do 18 bars of one flavour one week and 18 bars of a different flavour the next.”

While she’s still working at the canteens, her goal is to transition more into the chocolate business.

“A lot of small batch operators do go broke because of the cost of the equipment,” she said. “So I’m lucky to have something to support my family at the moment and move towards my dream one day.

“I want my chocolate company as a shop in Kiama – very David Jones with the big beautiful window display. That’s my dream one day.”

Visit Kiama Chocolate Company for more information.

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