Q & A with: Kee Ling Tong of Kee's Chocolates
When it comes to chocolate bonbons, the citys most fickle palates head to Kees Chocolates on Thompson Street for Kee Ling Tongs handmade creations. amNewYork caught up with Tong.
How did you become a chocolatier?
It was a fluke. I worked at JPMorgan for many years but I felt I never fit in. In 1999, I got tired of the rat race and decided to make a change, so I went to culinary school for two years. After that I worked in a few bakeries and restaurants and found that I did not like baking at all. In the summer of 2001, I was working in a patisserie, but after 9/11, I stayed home and started practicing making chocolates because I was never good at it in school. I found that I really enjoyed it.You have some pretty unusual flavor combinations (such as chili peppers with chocolate, lemongrass-flavor chocolates and balsamic vinegar dark chocolate) whats the source of your inspiration?
I eat out a lot because I dont really cook for myself. When I see an item on the menu that I think may go well with chocolate, like lemongrass, I go home and try it.
Do you have a preferred chocolate that you use?
I use an outside couverture called Noel, and I use a blend of other chocolates to make the inside. It doesnt matter about the chocolate you use the final process if what you are after. The flavor has to come through. Of course, there is a difference between high end and low end chocolate, but anything in between is fine too, when it comes down to it. Its just chocolate.
Why do you think people love your chocolate so much?
Freshness has a lot to do with it. Im pretty sure a lot of the La Maison Du Chocolat chocolate is pretty good if its made in New York. Chocolate that is shipped is three days old. And anything on display can be five days old.
Where do you see your business going in this economy?
No doubt the economy will somehow affect the chocolate industry; but only to a minimum. Although it can be considered a luxury good it is still much more affordable than, lets say, having dinner at a four-star restaurant for two.
The chocolatier in her shop. Credit: Alana Abel