Mixing It Up With Dude, Sweet Chocolate's Katherine Clapner.
Dude, Sweet Chocolate pastry chef and co-founder Katherine Clapner knows exactly what she wants.
And what she wants is chocolate.
It took her a minute to come to this realization, though. Clapner's been making desserts since the early '90s, but she initially got her start elsewhere — namely in cakes to candies. It was when she started making some really kick-ass gourmet chocolate that she really found herself — and her career path, too.
Her Dude, Sweet Chocolate brand has been around for about seven years now, and, already, it's got three stores to its name — two in Dallas; one in Fort Worth. Don't live close or shop elsewhere? If you email them and tell them what you want, they'll help you find it right where you're at. Of course, you can just get their signature chocolate — in liquid or bar form — at stores such as Whole Foods. Or, if you're a famous musician like Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, Clapner might even make custom, anatomical chocolate hearts for you to put USB copies of your albums inside.
Point is, Dude Sweet Chocolate isn't showing any signs of slowing down. It's impressive really. So we caught up with Clapner to about how she's turned her passion into her life's work. In turn, we learned about the beginnings of Dude, Sweet Chocolate and, yes, how she came up with that really sweet name.
Your company has a very colorful selection of chocolate bars and liquid potions. What are some of your favorite recipes to make?
Our coconut marshmallows. I'll never get sick of that recipe. It's really funny, though: My favorite recipes change all the time. A favorite recipe is usually the one that is attached to an ingredient I am learning about or just discovered. That becomes a very big piece to what makes me love it. I was reading about something as stupid as preserved lemon and I thought, “You know what? I need to do something with preserved lemon. I need to make my own because buying those things is really stupid because you're paying $30 for six lemons. Why would I do that when I can control the flavor?” That was one of my favorites for the longest time. We had one that was a pistachio — there's no big deal with that. It's just a pistachio. Some people think it's the end all, be all, but it is what it is. Anyway, we made it and everybody loved it. I rediscovered the recipe because someone came in with this really kickass apricot rakia — it's like a brandy, like the triple-distilled, super-pure crazy stuff coming out of San Antonio . At the moment, I'm into Secret Asian Man. This recipe is everything. I change a lot and it's all very relevant to what I might be working on at that time.
When did your affinity for chocolate begin?
Well, I've always had it. I've been a pastry chef since 1990. It's always been a part of what I do. It wasn't until Christmas 2008 that I did projects with my now-business partner. He was with Merrill Lynch at the time and they needed a gift for their high-end clients. They asked if I would do chocolates for them — something nobody else had. It was the first time I did just chocolate. When I was with [my business partner] for all of those years, I did chocolates just for him. If you're a pastry chef, it's a part of what you do. It wasn't until the end of '08 when I did that project that I looked at [chocolate] completely different. I had to create a box of 12 [chocolates] and I looked at it completely different at that time. That was the pinnacle moment. I treated it the way I saw it — the ingredients, the aesthetic. It just kind of happened. There was no master plan. Somebody asked me to do a project and it was a lot more fun. It can take a lot more than what I thought. I've got so many different chocolates to choose from. For the next six months, I did farmers markets and came up with the name “Dude, Sweet Chocolate,” ran into my business partner [Redding May], said I'm thinking about doing this and he said, “I'm in.” And off we went.
So, did the name just pop in your mind?
No, I was really lamenting on names. It was a beast of a thing. It was the last piece before I saw Redding. I have a really good friend — her name is Christina. She's one of those gregarious personalities, an absolute doll. She always said, “Dude!” and it drove me insane. And so I would say “Sweet!” and I thought maybe she would stop. [Instead] it just became our shtick. That was just what we did. We were outside, sitting on a patio at a friend's house on a Friday, just hanging around. I had all of these lists of names and they all had these glorious meanings [but] everything was too damn serious. We said [“Dude!” and “Sweet!”] again and I said, “There's the name.” It's identifiable. [My goal] was not to create a chocolate shop but a brand, so it needed to be straightforward.
It sticks with you, though. It's very poppy.
Yeah, it was a really smart move.