The New Wave: Chocolates x Brandon Olsen
Photography: Mauricio Calero
When it comes to food and drink, Toronto is in a league of its own. Our cocktail scene is impeccable, and new chefs and restaurateurs continue to push the envelope in order to offer fresh perspectives. But it’s not just the bars and restaurants that are defining the culinary landscape. It’s the individuals behind some of the city’s most exciting food and drink companies that are also staking their claim on the cultural capital in Toronto. And while building a brand is no easy task, every so often there are those few cases that break through the fold because of a great product, a strong team and perfect timing. These three companies embody those very characteristics and have captured a group of engaged and loyal followers along their trajectory to success. Here’s what you can learn from them.
“My body runs off of sugar. I love sugar.”
Brandon Olsen, formerly of Bar Isabel and California’s French Laundry, has a bit of a sweet tooth. But it’s certainly not something that he’s ashamed of. Quite the contrary, Olsen has channeled his love for sugar into a business built off of passion (and a lot of cocoa beans.) Together, him and his fiancée, Sarah Keenlyside, are the two confectionary maestros behind Chocolates x Brandon Olsen (CXBO). He brings the culinary skills while she, a filmmaker and artist, handles the marketing and distribution of the brand.
“When I was out in California at French Laundry, I learned what bonbons and truffles are, and how you can really make them look beautiful in flavour combinations. I was hooked,” says Olsen. “In Toronto, chocolate shops stick to the guidelines. You have a salted caramel, a toffee and a mint. They are not really pushing any boundaries of flavours or design. They’re just doing what they know, and they are great at it, but it’s nothing exciting.”
Housed in a humble storefront along the Dundas West strip, you’ll find Brandon and Sarah in their sugar lab thinking of new ways to make chocolate fun and engaging. Their signature geodesic treats have been a mainstay at some of Toronto’s most popular events and respected businesses, garnering a loyal base of fans eager to see (and taste) what the duo will put out next. And can you blame them? With flavours like Yuzu Sake, Pistachio Bergamot and Raspberry Rose Fennel, a CXBO experience is like treating your taste buds to a fantasy of Wonka-esque proportions.
Getting to where they are now hasn’t always been smooth sailing, though. A failed first stint at the chocolate business with another partner proved a valuable lesson for Brandon in exercising business skills and following your intuition. “If you believe in yourself and you want to change, do it,” he says. “If I lose everything tomorrow, I’m still going to wake up the next day with a smile on my face.” Fortunately, his work with Sarah has proven to be a fruitful collaboration that has kept them both inspired and excited to show the world what great chocolate is all about.