Joseph Schmidt is the nicest man you will ever meet, a true gentleman, funny, sweet, and infinitely enamored of chocolate. The doorman at his San Francisco home said that Schmidt regularly still fashions masterpieces for friends and family. “I can hear him up late at night, pounding. He works into the wee hours.”
And in fact Schmidt has worked in chocolate for some 30 years. He gave me a box and a bag filled with his confections, and I was touched. Why does chocolate mean so much to women?
“I don’t know,” Schmidt told me, “but it makes them happy. And the smart man will keep the woman happy.”
Schmidt and I walked to the Fairmont Hotel and sat in the lobby, looking through album after album of breathtaking chocolate sculptures and art installments of epic detail that he created throughout his career.
There are pictures of chocolate tables, literally: tables nine-foot long, with intricate carving and edible gold leaf, made of solid chocolate…rows of his signature giant chocolate tulips, so vivid and alive with color. Year after year, page upon page of edible Valentine sculptures so amusing, so clever, so imaginative and beautiful, as to be rendered inedible, ironically.
But how does one become the most influential chocolatier in the world?
It’s an interesting story. After a failed petits fors business attempt in 1982 which resulted in 500 pounds of surplus chocolate, Schmidt, who was working as a pastry chef, with then-girlfriend and fellow pastry chef Audry Ryan, made the mistake pay off in a big way when Schmidt began experimenting with the chocolate, creating his signature egg-shaped truffles.
“Some people think I was inspired by women’s breasts, but that’s not the case,” Schmidt told me. “It was the best shape to produce it faster,” he explained.
“We had to figure out what to do with 500 pounds of chocolate,” Schmidt said, “And I found my passion.”
“The truffles were so in-demand that I worked from home 20 hours a day seven days a week” and a company, Joseph Schmidt Confections, was born.
Joseph Schmidt Confections caught the eye of big business and was later acquired by Hershey’s, which discontinued the brand in 2009.
But not before Schmidt graced the TransAmerica Exhibit at Golden Gate Park…the Natural History Museum…Disney…Market Plaza and Pink Gallery in San Francisco…and the Kraft Museum.
Companies like Starbucks and The Nature Company commissioned Schmidt to produce special products for their customers. There is nothing this man cannot create out of chocolate.
Infinitely beautiful and unique visions, like the 13-foot tall rocket filled with teddy bears, and gardens of flowers and baskets of giant tulips and daffodils, with butterflies, all in brilliant color and detail, are captured in countless portfolios.
His consistently awe-inspiring Valentine’s installments featured white chocolate cherubs with dark chocolate wings holding puffed hearts of red, seemingly impossible creations of chocolate.
Schmidt produced seven seasonal lines a year, including chocolate tool sets for Father’s Day and holiday elves and toy soldiers with faces rendered delicately in the delicious stuff.
His famous chocolate boxes, made to hold more chocolates, came in every conceivable shape. The unforgettable dark chocolate puffed heart-shaped box of 2008 was filled with six decorated heart-shaped molded truffles, making it an outstanding gift for some lucky soul. It made such an impression on me that I had to have one too.
Each project could take “between 20 minutes to three days,” Schmidt said, “but you don’t count the hours when you have passion.”
The variety of the chocolates Schmidt gave me was quite amazing. No two were the same: salted milk chocolate with peanut butter in Schmidt’s classic slicks, stamped with edible gold leaf hearts; Hazelnut layered in between dark bitter Belgian chocolate; White chocolate-capped truffles…each candy uniquely beautiful.
The domed truffles caved into fruity liqueurs of strawberry and cherry and Schmidt’s personal favorite, Grand Marnier. Rum-soaked pineapple dipped in dark, each a joy to experience at the talented hands of Joseph Schmidt.
With each bite I reminisced the years I enjoyed his fabulous Santana Row shop, now a tiny jewelry store.
And, having shifted at this point in his career to training mode, teaching others in the fine art of confectionery, Schmidt reflects like a man with no regrets.
“There’s nothing like beauty. It helps you focus your mind into positive thoughts, away from evil and destructive thoughts,” he said.
“And it doesn’t cost you anything. Some people need other substances to get excited because they need to feel alive. But beauty makes you feel alive.”