Phyllis Robinson knows the ultimate test of any chocolatier’s talent is pure chocolate ganache—the creamy, dense filling that marks a superb bonbon.
“It has to be smooth as silk—as smooth as humanly possible,” she says. “But, while I do love, respect, and make endless batches of dark chocolate ganache, caramel is my first true love. Well, also coffee. . ..”
And so the animated conversation goes as this former Park City manager of community and public affairs, and longtime local affordable-housing advocate talks about the passions that drive her sweet new career. As of 2015, she declared herself the official creator, heart, and soul of Tandem Chocolates, headquartered in a small kitchen in the Benson Building of Prospector Square. You won’t find a storefront. Tandem runs on e-commerce and special orders, and for now, that’s just fine with Robinson.
“Although some people may have thought otherwise when I finally left my wonderful city job a couple of years ago” (after keeping it for about a year while she launched Tandem), she notes, “I didn’t dive into this on a whim.”
Yes, she has an advanced degree in city planning, but it turns out that chocolate may be in her DNA. As a child in Baltimore, she and her entire family helped out in the confectionary her mother created in the basement of their home. “She was known for her buttercreams and chocolate-covered cherries,” Robinson says. “My job was quality control, but I never really thought that chocolate would be my path. When my mom passed away, there was $13,000 left for me and each of my three siblings. I put the money away, thinking I’d do something to honor her. And then one day I looked at my husband, Brooks, and told him I was going to get serious about chocolate. I used the money to travel and study, and one thing led to another.”
Among other credentials, Robinson has earned the title of master chocolatier in Italy. She has an ongoing fascination with the science as well as the art of chocolate, and when she’s not working, she’s likely to be learning new techniques at a high-level workshop somewhere in the world.
True to her progressive nature, Robinson maintains a deliberate focus on family- and female-owned supply chains whenever possible—purchasing her couverture (different from bean-to-bar chocolate, couverture contains a greater percentage of cocoa butter, best for tempering) from San Francisco’s Guittard and from Grocer’s Daughter, a revered Michigan chocolatier that sources heirloom Arriba cacao from Ecuador from a consortium of small, sustainable plantations.
While she stays the course when it comes to the rules of her exacting craft, Robinson also happily indulges her biases. Consider her blend of macchiato espresso ganache (based on local Hugo Coffee Roaster’s Howler Espresso) kissed with a thin layer of vanilla caramel, all enveloping a hazelnut speculoos crisp “for that wonderful element of texture and surprise,” she smiles.
Given her boundless devotion to caramel, it’s no surprise that her chai caramel won a gold medal for best taste, and her Hawaiian caramel—a brightly flavored blend of chocolate and caramel with passion fruit, orange, and guava covered in a swirl of tropical hues—brought home another gold for best ingredient combination at the 2018 International Chocolate Salon.
So, this is serious business, but it’s also infused with Robinson’s delicious sense of humor. Her vintage chocolate melting machine is named Lucy, paying homage to the famed I Love Lucy chocolate factory scene. In fact, she has likewise named most of her equipment, including Little Ricky, Fred, and Ethel.
Find Tandem’s seasonal chocolate selections and a roster of classes and events at tandemchocolates.com, 435.658.1044.