Spreading Joy: Behind The Scenes At Chuao Chocolate Factory

On Fridays, San Diego’s beloved Chuao Chocolate (chew-wow) now offers guided tours — complete with tastings — for $10 in Carlsbad.

And local chocolate-thirsty inhabitants are making sure the tickets sell out fast (so fast, in fact, that as of today, the earliest you can get in on a tour is May 26th).

Our tour begins with our guide, Katie, who takes us into a room with other chocolate-appreciators and serves us samples of the Pop Corn Pop chocolate bar.

An ode to a movie theater treat, the bar mixes puffed whole grains, toasted corn chips, popping candy and a sprinkle of sea salt in milk chocolate. When you take a bite, you’re instructed to close your eyes, to feel the sensation of “popcorn popping in your mouth.”

These famous bars all began with Chef Michael Antonorsi’s love of — chocolate. His ancestors owned Aguasanta, a Venezuelan farm known for its fine cacao.

At 16, Michael left home to study biomedical engineering at USCD. In his mid-thirties, with his curiosity and love for food still abounding, he ventured to Paris with his wife and two daughters to train as a French Chef — eventually specializing in Pastry and Chocolaterie at the École LeNôtre.

In 2002, he founded Chuao chocolate alongside his brother, Richard, opening the first chocolate café in Encinitas, followed by locations in Del Mar and Carlsbad. With a mission to share joy with the world through engaging chocolate experiences, he wanted to shock and wow with ingredients that surprised and aroused the senses.

He became a pioneer in combining the sweet with the savory in chocolate bar form.

“Chef Michael enjoys the added challenge of fitting a meal inside a chocolate bar,” Katie says, as she goes over Chuao’s expansive and wildly unique library — Strawberry Waffle Wild, Ravishing Rocky Road, Baconluxious, Potato Chip and more, “to explore the palette and provide a lot of different flavors, textures, and combinations to really get creative.”

Next, we put on our hair nets and ventured into the factory, where Katie tells us how the magic of Chuao comes to life through the melting, molding, tempering, packaging and storing.

Like being inside Willy Wonka’s factory, there is a lively and intense pattern to the process as bars are being made.

Chocolate school culminates with another round of tastings. This time, we begin with French Toast bon bons made with cinnamon buttercream, toasted panko breadcrumbs and maple syrup — an explosion of breakfast in chocolate form.

And next, firecracker truffles, as seen on Food Network. They’re handcrafted with chipotle caramel fudge, sea salt and popping candy in dark chocolate.

When the group takes their bites, the room echoes with a subtle, sizzling popping sound.

“This is insane,” one girl whispers to her friend through a mouth full of chocolate.

As the popping subsides, the group saunters out front to eagerly purchase more chocolate from the wide assortment of creatively crazy bars.

We came. We saw. We sampled.

And we left happy, with an even deeper love for the art of crafting beautiful chocolate.

As a sign on the wall in Chuao Chocolate reads, “You can’t buy happiness. But you can buy chocolate.”

Thanks to Chef Michael and the Chuao team, for spreading both happiness and chocolate in San Diego.