The Fremont-based chocolate makers have put their story — and a raft of recipes — between covers.
Seattle’s celebrated chocolate factory is known by one name: Theo. With the publication of the new Theo Chocolate cookbook (Sasquatch Books, $24.95), two other names — Debra Music and Joe Whinney — move more into the public eye.
Music and Whinney are co-founders of the company, named for Theobroma cacao, the scientific name of the cocoa tree. Since its 2006 opening, Theo has gained global attention for its organic, fair trade, bean-to-bar chocolate, plus local fans for its factory tours and chef collaborations. The personal journey of the founders — a divorced couple moving cross-country together to go into business — is as central to Theo’s story as the book’s other features, from tips on chocolate tempering to cooking with cocoa nibs.
“I think it’s a very sweet story, and also, the story of our relationship is very much at the heart of our philosophy of the business,” Music said.
Theo Chocolate founders
Debra Music and Joe Whinney will speak on “forging a new chocolate frontier” at 6:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 23, at Town Hall, 1119 Eight Ave., Seattle; $5 (206-652-4255 or townhallseattle.org).
Music will also speak and give a recipe demonstration at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 3, at Book Larder, 4252 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle; free (206-397-4271 or booklarder.com).
Whinney, who had spent years working on conservation issues, had led efforts to import organic cocoa to North America after seeing “the horrible impact” the conventional chocolate industry had on growers and the environment. His dream, he writes in the book, was to start up a company that began by paying farmers a fair price and ended with a product “people could believe in.” But when the opportunity came to move to Seattle from Boston to do just that, Whinney couldn’t leave his 8-year-old son behind. He asked Music to cross the country with him.
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“She has always been a brave and strong woman,” he writes, noting that she did not laugh him out of her living room. When Theo opened, she joined him at work too, with indispensable experience in marketing and a willingness to take on any task down to scraping cocoa butter from the factory floor.
“It was a huge leap of faith on both our parts, because we didn’t know anyone out here …” Music said. “It turned out to be such an incredible move, because the community was so receptive. Seattle is just an amazing place to start a business. I don’t know if it’s that pioneer spirit that still lives or what.
“We’ve had so much support … I just pinch myself every day, I feel so lucky.”
The company now employs nearly 100 people, offering an array of chocolate bars and confections, including early trendsetters like a “bread and chocolate bar” using toasted breadcrumbs and a special line of bars supporting Congolese farmers.
To make a fundamental difference in the industry, “It comes down to, how much cocoa can we buy, how much cocoa can we source responsibly, how many farmers lives can we impact, and how big can we get without compromising our integrity, our ideals, and our principles?” Music said. “We have grown quickly, but we’ve also been very intentional about our growth so we have not compromised those things.”
Why launch a cookbook now? Music said it was long overdue. For one thing, the company has reached the point where they could free up time to write the book with freelance author Leora Bloom (a Seattle Times contributor). Customers always ask for recipes, Music noted, and the company has just started up a line of baking chocolate, making specialties simpler to recreate at home — from the chocolate-dipped ghost chile caramels sold at the factory to the cocoa nib tagliatelle served at Tilth restaurant. There are salads and spot prawns as well as sweets.
“Chocolate has these amazing savory applications, and it’s just not thought of in that way,” Music said.
The book follows the journey the chocolate takes from farm to shop, as well as practical directions on confection making, the host of recipes, and the stories behind them. Part of being an authentic business, in Music’s opinion, is sharing who the people are as well as their principles.
“Joe and I have a very deep well of trust between us, and it’s been possible for us to move beyond a divorce and into a very healthy, loving, supportive relationship with one another — and to create something beautiful with one another.” Music said. “I think it’s worthwhile to let people know that that’s possible.”