Alaska Life

Anchorage chocolatier seeks beauty with each tasty brushstroke

Ingrid Shim, Aurora Chocolate, painted chocolate, bonbons, candy, business

An artist began to create this month in South Anchorage. She dabbed her thin brush into green paint for abstract brushstrokes to signify trees, then added a golden touch to represent soil. Swirls of blue indicated ocean waves.

“I want to show the beauty of the Earth,” said Ingrid Shim.

If all goes right, Shim expects her tiny works to shine like glass. But it’s not just how her creations look that make them unique. It’s how they taste.

For eight years, Chef Shim, 52, has been making her unique, high-end chocolates in a kitchen adjacent to her small retail shop on Dimond Boulevard. With a delicate process perfected by years of practice, she makes each luminescent batch of bonbons from Swiss chocolate, flavored ganache and colored cocoa butter. Each batch takes two to three days to make, she said.

There are certainly quicker and easier ways to make bonbons. Though painted chocolate has roots in Belgium and has been around for generations, she said, most modern chefs prefer to use airbrushes to speed the painting process along. Shim said she, too, might use an airbrush if her kitchen could accommodate the equipment, but she thinks the effort required to create her morsels makes them special.

“Eighty percent is doing it by hand,” Shim said.

Shim first paints a mold with temperamental cocoa butter, working layer by layer with small brushes. Painting can’t begin until the cocoa butter reaches 28-30 degrees Celsius, about 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Molds are “shocked” in a freezer several times to hold each color layer in place.

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Ingrid Shim, Aurora Chocolate, painted chocolate, bonbons, candy, business

Near Shim, chocolate cycles through tempering machinery set to 29.8 degrees Celsius. When the time is right, chocolate will flood the mold to create a 2- to 3-millimeter shell on which the color will bond. The trays then cool overnight before ganache can be piped into each shell by hand.

“Before you unmold, you don’t know if it’s successful or not,” Shim said. “If the painting process is right and the coating temperature of the chocolate is right, it will make it shine like a marble. That is what we’re looking for.”

“I cannot say every time is 100% perfect,” she said.

Aurora Chocolate generally has 10 different flavors on hand, some in multiple kinds of chocolate — milk, dark and white. Though she also offers more traditional chocolates, her painted bonbons account for 70% of her business, she said.

Shim launched her business in 2014. At the time, she was looking to offer her customers bright and cheerful colors to contrast with the steely grays of winter.

She was also inspired by a late drive she took with her husband on the Anchorage Hillside one clear night.

“The northern light was dancing in the sky, the whole sky,” she said. “It was very beautiful.”

Aurora-like swirls are featured on several bonbon varieties, like strawberry confit and lemon ginger, caramelized pear with saffron, and orange Grand Marnier.

Ingrid Shim, Aurora Chocolate, painted chocolate, bonbons, candy, business

Born in Taiwan, Shim sought a new career start when she moved to Los Angeles to be with her husband in 2005 at age 35. She was looking for an occupation that would combine her love of handcrafting with her passion for cooking, she said. That landed her in seven months of intensive coursework in a pastry school.

While working in luxury hotels in the years that followed, an executive chef encouraged her to hone her skills through continuing education. Shim chose to specialize in chocolate. She estimates she traveled to take 15 different classes in various states and countries in two years.

[Open & Shut: A Peruvian chicken restaurant opens in Anchorage, as well as a boxing-inspired fitness studio and a cafe-playhouse for families]

In 2012, Shim and her husband, Jae, moved to Anchorage looking to live some place new after a company Jae worked for was sold. Neither had visited Alaska before.

These days, Shim shares the joy of creating with her five employees.

Nou Yang, 26, who has been working at Aurora Chocolate for more than four years, said the job is never boring, even if there are occasional moments of deflation.

“You spend so much time to paint one circle at a time. When it comes out, (if) it’s not shiny or the color doesn’t come out perfectly, you’re just ‘Ugh,’” Yang said. “When all of them come out really good, it’s just like ‘Yay!’ It’s like satisfaction, like something you accomplished.”

Ingrid Shim, Aurora Chocolate, painted chocolate, bonbons, candy, business

Shim, too, said she still enjoys the moment when she taps the chocolate pieces out of the mold, inspects them closely, and finds them to have the design, flavor and the glossy shine she considers essential. In Anchorage, she has also come to enjoy interacting with shoppers. Many have offered encouragement and inspire her to improve, she said.

“I have a responsibility to all my customers,” she said.

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Individual hand-painted chocolates sell for $3.45 each. Gift boxes range in size and price. In 2016, Shim opened a second retail location in the Hotel Captain Cook.

This month, Kathleen Robinson stopped in to the Dimond Boulevard shop while visiting from Las Vegas. Robinson said she was a repeat customer when she lived in Anchorage. Her husband in Nevada asked her to bring back some of Shim’s chocolates.

“She has unique flavors, and they’re so beautiful,” Robinson said. “It’s hard not to eat them, but they taste so good.”

Ingrid Shim, Aurora Chocolate, painted chocolate, bonbons, candy, business

Marc Lester

Marc Lester is a multimedia journalist for Anchorage Daily News. Contact him at mlester@adn.com.

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