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Photos by ANA STUART
SURROUNDED by golden bunnies with sprinkles, sparkly dark, blonde and milk eggs filled with chocolate bark and rainbow eggs nestled into little cartons, Stuart Strutt-Shotton says he’s in his element creating Easter goodies at his home chocolate studio in Lyneham.
And the space smells divine – although Stuart says he’s immune to it now.
“People always say how great it smells in the studio but I don’t notice it any more,” he says.
“I still like chocolate, though I appreciate it more these days. I can eat just bits and pieces rather than gorging on it!”
Stuart, 32, started Enigma Fine Chocolates in 2015 and says he enjoys the creativity and artistic expression involved in making handmade chocolate bars and truffles.
“It’s been a big learning curve doing it as my own business, and it’s only me making the chocolates so it can be a push at times,” he says.
“But when you’re doing something you love, that makes a big difference. We’re just trying to keep growing, we’re seeing a growth each time we do something, whether it’s a bigger market, being able to produce a bit more each time.”
Starting out at the Old Bus Depot Markets and the Handmade Markets, Stuart now does custom orders, has received several awards and the chocolates are sold at various shops around town.
Stuart says he gets a lot of support from his partner Adna and three daughters aged 11, six and five, with family friends helping with packaging and everyone pitching in to work at the markets.
Stuart’s been a chef for 17 years but says he became fascinated with chocolate after working in London (with chocolatier Paul A Young) and Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio in Melbourne.
“Chocolate is a bit of an enigma, it’s such a versatile and amazing ingredient and I enjoy being able to educate people a bit about where it comes from and how it’s made,” he says.
“It’s one of those things that a lot of people enjoy, and we’ve all grown up with it so there’s a nostalgic feel to it as well.”
Like coffee, Stuart says cocoa beans have their own characteristics, complexities and flavours depending on where they’re grown.
He mainly uses Valrhona chocolate from France, though he says he gets a lot of support from Canberra and likes to incorporate local produce wherever he can into his various truffle flavour combinations such as cinnamon doughnut, peanut butter and jam on toast, bittersweet orange, espresso pod and butterscotch popcorn.
“We can really customise our products at this point and respond to what people want. I use local honey, popcorn and coffee to keep the support here,” he says.
“I’d like to start using indigenous ingredients like wattle seed and lemon myrtle, which work perfectly with chocolate.
“We also use single-origin beans from Ecuador, Madagascar, Grenada, Peru and the Dominican Republic and they all have a different flavour. The conditions and the soil all play a part and that’s reflected through the chocolate.
“Creating the chocolates is also an artistic expression for me, I use a spray gun and cocoa butter to create a solid colour or a pattern with splatters and speckles, and there are so many techniques you can apply.”
Enigma’s awards include the 2017 Champion Australian Small Producer/Manufacturer trophy across all categories at the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria.
Stuart says that while the business is constantly growing, he loves that he’s still at the point where he feels close to his customers.
“It’s all about making the connection and I find it’s more personal that way,” he says.
“We need that, and being a small family business we rely heavily on being able to talk directly to people and getting to know our repeat customers, and that’s so important to us.”
Stuart also holds chocolate-making classes and enjoys the teaching element of the business.
“It’s great being able to talk to people, demonstrate what I do, and they like to get their hands dirty as well,” he says.
“I often hear that people don’t realise how much is involved in doing something like this!
“By the time we temper, decorate, mold, wait for the chocolate to set, stick the pieces together – it can take a couple of hours to do 10 eggs, and when I’m making 100-plus for a market they realise, there’s a lot involved in that.”
More at enigmafinechocolates.com.au