Chocolatier Andrew Shotts of Garrison Confections
Bonbons by the Boxful, Deep in the Heart of Chocolateville.
Andrew Shotts is all about all things chocolate—even his puppy (Lucy) is a chocolate Lab!
Shotts is Rhode Island’s best-known chocolatier, based on the national and international accolades he’s received since setting up shop here in 2001. His cookbook Making Artisan Chocolates (Quarry, 2007) with photos by Madeline Polss, has been lauded by home cooks and chefs alike.
And he remains the owner, pastry chef and, by his own definition, “chief cook and bottle washer” of Garrison Confections, located in Central Falls since 2006.
In the heyday of waterpower from the Blackstone River, Central Falls was called “Chocolateville,” after the chocolate factory built next to the river. In the winter of 2012, Shotts jumped into a local fundraising campaign for a playground in Jenks Park by making special “Save Chocolateville” chocolate bars.
Nowadays he spends his days dreaming up unusual seasonal flavors for his specialty chocolates and envisioning a full-on pastry shop somewhere down the line. His chocolates are sold at specialty stores across the country, with outlets in NYC, Florida, California and Massachusetts, including Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. The only two retail outlets in Rhode Island that sell Garrison products are Sweet Lorraine’s in Barrington and Stock Culinary Goods in Providence. Ninety percent of his wholesale products go out of state, including to his biggest customer: CocoaBella, in San Francisco.
Despite all the praise and publicity for his chocolates, Shotts remains modest and says, “I’m still fascinated by making chocolates—I haven’t gotten bored from it yet.” He is eager to talk about two seasonal-flavored bonbons: pear crumble, with flavors of holiday spices (nutmeg, cinnamon and clove) and apple caramel. Indeed, the pear crumble does evoke the flavors of pears and their baked topping.
As we talked in Shotts’s office, closed off by a glass door from the production room, a tail-wagging Lucy snuck in a door on the opposite side of the office from her hangout in a nearby room (no access to the factory side of the building). Shotts was quite amused by having to re-capture the escapee not once but twice!
Alabama native Shotts began his career at the Culinary Institute of America, worked in France for a while and then in renowned Manhattan restaurants such as Lutèce, the Russian Tea Room and La Côte Basque. It was at the latter that he began to put together his signature knock-out flavor combinations and offered his truffles and chocolates as a treat to the restaurant’s patrons.
From there, he joined the Guittard Chocolate Company to create the E. Guittard artisan line of single-origin or blended small-batch baking chocolate. Shotts still uses only Guittard chocolate, which is certified fair-trade and rainforest sustainably grown. After Shotts opened Garrison Confections (Garrison is his middle name) in Providence, he quickly began piling up recognitions as one of the “10 best pastry chefs in America” and one of the “top 10 artisanal chocolatiers.”
Although Shotts made one outing as a celebrity chef in Rhode Island (at Gracie’s, in Providence), his only culinary activity outside Central Falls is an annual trip to the Masters of Food & Wine event in Mendoza, Argentina, where he does a bit of cooking other than chocolate.
His small factory is in a neighborhood dominated by triple-decker apartment buildings and it is by no means an assembly-line operation. There are unusual pieces of equipment everywhere you look in the large open room where most of the chocolates are made. Huge panning machines—resembling oversized hair-dryer hoods—spin nuts and other items with liquid chocolate so that they build up a chocolate shell: almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, dried cranberries or blueberries, Rice Krispies, pretzel nuggets or cookies.
“Anything that tastes good with chocolate,” Shotts emphasizes.
There are also giant mixers, large metal pans and an oversized checkerboard-like cutter (similar to a boiled-egg slicer and called a “guitar”) that can make dozens of square bonbons in one chop across a rectangular slab of ganache and flavored “pate du fruit” (fruit jelly). The jellies are made from scratch, usually on Mondays, in exotic combos such as grapefruit Earl Grey; fennel pollen praline; or mango lime. They are set to firm up overnight and cut the next day with the “guitar.”
On Wednesdays, Marlene Maldonado, who has worked with Shotts for seven years, lines up the squares on a wire conveyor belt to go through the enrobing machine, which encases the jellies in a waterfall of chocolate. Shotts catches them as they come out on the other end of the machine. Together they can make 16,000 in a day.
“She’s amazing—she anticipates everything that’s happening in the kitchen and makes use of every minute,” Shotts says. “I’ll get over to make the toffee and she’s already weighed out the ingredients for me so I can jump right from one project to the next. Meanwhile Marlene will already be back doing something else like packing an order.”
The colorful designs on the bonbons are made from cocoa butter and placed silkscreen-style atop the wet chocolates (just after their “enrobing”). Then the sheets are lifted off, leaving a distinctive design (for each flavor) on the square bonbon.
Best-selling chocolates from Garrison include the 12-piece bonbon box, which changes seasonally on the solstices and equinoxes; confections such as the chocolate- covered items spun in the panning machines; “Rocky Rhode Island,” mini-marshmallows in a peanut butter ganache, with a graham cracker crust and drizzled dark chocolate; Shotts’s favorite—”ultimate toffee,” with plenty of butter, milk chocolate and nuts; and “ultimate chocolate caramel popcorn.” The original popcorn has an extra kick of Southwestern spices, and there is a new variation with cinnamon and pecans.
Garrison also turns out turtles, chocolate patties (in coconut, peanut butter or Piedmont, a hazelnut praline) and “tablets,” otherwise known as chocolate bars, in white (with lime), milk chocolate and dark chocolate (with add-ins of salted pistachios, blueberries or habanero oil).
With a staff of five, Shotts and his crew work five days a week but add a sixth in November and December, partly to accommodate the demand from their popular seasonal “factory store.” They open before Thanksgiving and stay open until Christmas [check GarrisonConfections.com]. Don’t disappoint those on your shopping lists who are dreaming of a chocolate Christmas!
72 Ledge St., Central Falls, RI.
Nov.19–Dec. 23; W–Sa 11 am–6 pm
Jan. 22–Feb. 14; W–Fri 11 am–6 pm