HEARTS AFIRE: Each piece of Tradestone chocolate is handmade and hand-packaged.
With iridescent, green-speckled rounds of maple passion fruit, glowing red-gold orbs of liquid caramel and a ruby-ridged piece of strawberry verbena, a box of chocolates from Tradestone Confections brings the same kind of excitement that comes with, say, opening that iconic baby-blue box from Tiffany & Co.
Launched in November, Tradestone Confections is a collaboration between chefs Chip Roman and Fred Ortega. The pair met back in 2000 when they were both working at Le Bec-Fin, Roman working his way up to sous chef and Ortega in the pastry kitchen.
“To get to the lockers you had to walk through the pastry kitchen. He’s real chatty and I’m real chatty so, you know … two Chatty Cathys met up,” Roman explains of their fortuitous back-of-house meeting.
Roman moved on to quietly build a mini empire of food establishments, including Ela in Queen Village, Mica in Chestnut Hill, Blackfish in Conshohocken, a catering company and two restaurants in Costa Rica. Ortega, meantime, was heading up the pastry program at the oh-so-swanky Lacroix restaurant in The Rittenhouse hotel.
The initial idea for Tradestone came to Roman a few years back when he spotted a company selling those ubiquitous molten chocolate cakes, frozen for home delivery, four for $32. “I thought, ‘Shit, that costs like 52 cents to make.’”
The frozen-dessert business never came to fruition, but when Ortega left Lacroix back in August, Tradestone and a whole line of gorgeous confections (including some lovely pates de fruit in flavors like apricot, blackberry, passion fruit and strawberry) did.
Initially working out of the kitchen at Mica, Ortega and Roman created a line of truly elegant chocolate candies and confections like malted-milk truffles, bark studded with crushed pretzels and fleur de sel, anise-and-cinnamon-spiced pecan turtles, just-salty-enough salted caramels and a rainbow of macarons in shades like seafood pistachio, lipstick raspberry and sunny passion fruit, along with chocolate bars.
A few weeks ago Roman opened the doors to Tradestone Cafe, a coffee, breakfast and lunch spot at 117 Fayette St. in Conshohocken, right next door to Blackfish. And now Ortega has his own personal candy workshop in the rear of the sleek cafe.
But the boxed chocolate assortments, every piece handmade by Ortega and Roman, are the real jewels at Tradestone. When asked about the origins of flavors like pistachio citrus, double mint and banana nutmeg, Ortega explains the process: “Some of the combinations are classic and some of the flavors are geared toward specific holidays like the mango and passion fruit. Some of them are personal like the caramel apple, the strawberry verbena; my mother loves strawberry. A lot of the inspiration comes from the way chocolate balances with fruit. I always like passion fruit with chocolate.”
While some of the combinations are unorthodox, Tradestone isn’t venturing too far outside the chocolate box. “Chocolate’s not too hard to pair with,” Roman nonchalantly puts it. “It’s not like we’re doing anchovies and chocolate. Everything is pretty traditional flavor-wise. It’s more about the flavor and design.”
Design is a big part of Tradestone. It took them eight months to come up with their simple, yet elegant, navy blue box with a seasonally color-coordinated band. Each box of Tradestone is hand-packed. Opening a box and seeing that a round piece of mango-lime white chocolate is slightly out of place, Roman shakes his head, “I probably packaged this one because it’s all backwards and messed up. It’s a pain in my ass,” he says while readjusting the candy.
Inside each box is an insert by local food photographer Jason Varney, with a miniature portrait and information about each piece. The caramel-apple chocolate is made with tart Granny Smiths; the strawberry verbena, with locally grown berries; the toasted coconut, with finely grated coconut from Thailand.
Chocolate R&D was a big part of starting Tradestone, meaning that Roman and Ortega ate their fair share of Valrhona while developing the line. Roman is not a big sweets guy, and so when it came to flavor development, he took more of a lead on the savory side. Honey almond with caramelized nuts and just the right hit of salt is especially enjoyable after a few drinks, Roman points out.
You can find Tradestone Confections at their online store, tradestoneconfections.com or locally at Green Aisle Grocery (1618 E. Passyunk Ave.) where a 9 piece set goes for $17 and Night Kitchen (7725 Germantown Ave.) in sets of 16 for $30.
French fare done just right by Bibou's Pierre and Charlotte Calmels
Most 21st-century parents have one or two kids. Pierre and Charlotte Calmels have five. Roll call:...
The week in eats
Pizza & Beer Happy Hour at Nomad Roman, Thu., March 6, 4:30-6:30 p.m., pay as you go ...
New restaurants and cafes
Baker’s Jar | We’re happy to say that the cupcake’s moment in the sun has passed. The...