THOMPSON INFLUENCERS X KATRINA MARKOFF
Chocolatier, CEO, champion of fair trade: Katrina Markoff (who Fast Company once described as one of the most creative people in the world) wears many hats in her professional life. After graduating with a chemistry degree from Vanderbilt, she forewent medical school to enroll at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris. She traveled the world, trained under famed chef Ferran Adrià, renowned for his unconventional and creative approach to gastronomy, and opened Vosges Haut-Chocolate, a tiny store in Chicago, which became a chocolate empire. Known for high-quality, fair-trade goods, a typical box of Vosges truffles might contain tallegio cheese, star anise, and ancho chile, among other rare, surprising ingredients. Markoff is also the mind behind Wild Ophelia, whose chocolate-dipped strawberry chocolate bars is one of the best on the market and whose profits fuel grants for young female entrepreneurs. We talk to Markoff about the influence of travel on her work.
What’s the significance of the Vosges company name?
Place des Vosges in Paris is where I had my very first chocolate “experience.” I never loved chocolate growing up, but one evening I was dining at L’Ambrosie, which is located in Place des Vosges. At the end of dinner they brought me this frozen dark chocolate ganache that had been rolled in beignet dough, deep-fried, and then served immediately. That moment on my palate brought me into the present. I could only think about the chocolate and crispy sweet dough. After traveling the world for a year and starting my company, when it came time to naming it, I knew I wanted to pay homage to that first experience.
Do you have an all-time favorite chocolate flavor combination?
This is always the hardest! It is dependent on my mood and what I am currently working on in my lab. My go-to, which I always have available, is the Rooster, which is included in the Italiano Collection. The Rooster is Taleggio cheese, walnut, vanilla bean, and dark chocolate. However, currently I am working on a “Dream Collection” using ingredients that have properties to help you sleep, like ginger, turmeric, and tulsi.
Your experiences traveling have informed the Vosges brand and flavors. Is there any one place in particular that’s had an outsize influence on your work or thinking?
There are so many. I know I keep saying that but each place I go, each artist or purveyor or farmer I meet has a tremendous impact on me. I would say most recently traveling to Bulgaria with my mother to harvest the roses was one of those experiences, because my grandfather was from Bulgaria and bringing my mother there with me was deeply emotional.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to someone who is pursuing their professional dream?
Trust your gut. Learn from others, but make those learnings your own. You are in charge of your own dream and destiny.
Can you tell us your favorite desserts (and where to find them) in Chicago?
I love the pastries at Floriole!