Posts Tagged ‘chocolatier’

Math and Chocolate! What a Sweet World!

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

This week, in an attempt to answer that age-old question many students continually have of “Why study mathematics?” ATETV ventured out into a local community to uncover the less-than-obvious places where Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics might be hiding.

Kakao Chocolatier Brian Pelletier- St. Louis, Missouri

Kakao Chocolatier Brian Pelletier- St. Louis, Missouri

Our first stop? A gourmet chocolate shop of course! (It is all in the line of duty.) At Kakao in St. Louis, MO, we spent some time with chocolatier Brian Pelletier. Knowing that he liked math and was also good at solving technical problems, Brian originally started out by studying to be a computer engineer. Along the way to graduation this path took a couple of different turns and he ultimately finished with a degree in technical writing. For the next 20 years, he had a successful career in business writing and PR.

How did he go from that to making chocolate? Good question! One day, Brian looked around and realized he was ready for something different. The only things he knew for sure were these: he wanted to own his own business; he wanted to do something very different than what he had been doing- preferably with his hands; and he loved food. As he searched for his next opportunity, he prepared himself for the realities of both starting over financially and of learning an entire new trade. Brian didn’t know at that point which skills in his repertoire would translate and what new ones he’d have to acquire. But, he was ready to find out!

Mixing Up a Batch

Mixing Up a Batch

His chance would come along soon enough. That next opportunity came when a friend presented Brian with an existing chocolate business. Without knowing anything about making chocolate, he happily took over. The challenge then was to learn what he needed to learn to be successful. Assuming he was a long way away from all his previous training, Brian set about to gather whatever information he could find. First his friend passed along her notes on her recipe successes and failures. To make sense of these notes, Brian’s mathematical brain took over. He created a spread sheet with all her recipes and quickly identified ingredient proportions and cooking patterns that he continues to apply now to his newest recipe innovations.

In addition, his friend recommended the book “Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner” by Peter Greweling. Brian purchased this and discovered that the relevance for him was not in the recipes themselves but in the scientific approach to chocolate making. The book is similar to a textbook. It explains formulas, chemical processes, temperatures, dew points, humidity factors, emulsions, etc. My personal favorite was a designated chapter on “The Polymorphism of Cocoa Butter.”

Brian told me that if he hadn’t had the background in mathematics and science, he wouldn’t have known how to make sense of this information. For him, the relevance of his mathematics education was more than specific problems, skill sets or content. For him, it was a way of thinking and a foundation of strategies that he applies daily.

Brian and Jaerel - Hard at Work

Brian and Jaerel - Hard at Work

Think you may also be interested in taking on a new career? Perhaps entrepreneurship is in your future? For students everywhere, Brian recommends always paying attention to opportunities around you and not locking yourself into any situation. The beauty of a college education is that it teaches you valuable life skills like “how to learn” as well as “problem-solving”, “team-building” and other fundamentals that not only will make you a better employee but also just might be the bridge that connects you to a future you never even imagined.

Just ask 16-year old Jaerel Hulsey. Jaerel is a student at Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory School and an employee in Brian’s shop. “Math is everyday life,” he tells me. “It’s knowing how many minutes I have to get to work, how many bags I need for packaging the chocolate, how many ounces I am putting in each bag, etc.” Jaerel loves math and thinks one day he might want to go into architecture. But as we’ve seen from Brian, anything is possible.

Jaerel Hulsey

Jaerel Hulsey