ex-pat discovers the world of chocolate in Ecuador
I hope you enjoyed our introductory post on Ecuador. Those pictures certainly brought back some memories, none of which would have happened without the help of our gracious host, Jeff Stern, a chocolatier from Quito whom I’d met online and who helped plan our Ecuadorian itinerary of chocolate travel.
Jeff Stern Chocolatier
Jeff is originally from Santa Monica, California, and met his Ecuadorian wife, Maria Andrade, in the 1990’s. Both with a sense of wanderlust, they chose to work in Nicaragua as international development consultants on a two-year contract, and then settled in Washington, DC while Maria continued to work on government contracts and Jeff attended culinary school in Maryland. His passion for chocolate was beginning to flourish!
To give their two young children the benefit of an extended family, Jeff and Maria moved to Ecuador in 2007 to be near her parents and family. He now runs a chocolate business in a small shop on his in-laws’ property in North Quito’s Plaza Las Americas district. Not that easy to find as there is no signage, but if you call ahead, Jeff will be pleased to show you his shop and give you a taste of his chocolates.
Chocolate in Ecuador
Jeff has become one of the leaders in the Ecuadorian chocolate industry over the past few years, making the Gianduja brand of chocolates to suit the tastes of the local market, the more adventurous Aequare Fine Chocolates brand of bars for the export market (being rebranded as Stern Chocolates,) some custom chocolate for larger firms, and giving chocolate tours for groups such as Ecole Chocolat. He also has a Cocoa Pod business! Jeff is quite an enterprising man of chocolate and always looking for new opportunities.
He makes 15-20 flavours of pralines, depending on the season. Blackberry, salted caramel, milk chocolate truffles, coffee, rum and coconut, and fondant with coconut are his most popular flavours of enrobed chocolates. As Jeff uses a butter ganache to make his chocolates, they have a longer shelf life of 8-12 weeks if stored properly. He also makes four flavours of chocolate bars. We really enjoyed the lemongrass variety.
We stayed in the small apartment that Maria’s family rents out to international travellers and found it to be an excellent way to tour Quito on a budget. There are many families that rent out private accommodations throughout the Ecuadorian capital — a highly recommended way to see this city of just over 2 million residents. Hosteling is a great way to go if you’re short on funds and /or are interested in meeting people. A good site to check out if you’re looking for a hostel is http://www.italian.hostelworld.com.