SWEET TALK WITH QUDSIA KARIM
My first introduction to Cocosia chocolates was when FoodeMag DXB invited me to the preview of Farzi Café – our take away was a bespoke chocolate made by Cocosia. Fast forward many months to when I got an invitation to visit Cocosia to try some of their chocolates and meet the lady behind the brand. As soon as I met Qudsia I knew I wanted to interview her. Here was a South Asian lady who decided, after having spent most of her young life being a homemaker, to turn things on their head and go off and learn how to make chocolates which finally developed into a profession and business. Kudos to her husband for planting of the ‘chocolate’ seed in Qudsia’s mind and then for the never ending support. An inspiring woman who sets a great example to people out there – you can start at any age – you just need to find your calling.
Name: Qudsia Karim
Chocolate Shop: Cocosia Artisan Chocolates
From: Toronto, Canada
Did you have a sweet tooth growing up?
Yes. Always. I used to like Kit-Kat. In fact I still have Kit-Kat but the one made in the UK – it’s different. Growing up in Pakistan we did not have much choice when it came to chocolates but as we travelled a lot so I got to try a lot of chocolates. Kit Kat is still one of my favourites, I don’t know why but I like to eat only one strip at a time. I also like my Bounty or Ferrero Rocher.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to go to design school. I used to paint a lot. But in college I took the Humanities subjects and graduated in Arts. I got married soon after I graduated – I think it was 3 or 4 months later and moved to Jeddah.
How did the dream of becoming a Chocolatier come about?
There was no such thing as a dream. In 2006, two years after we moved to Dubai I was looking at avenues to keep myself busy. I am not a coffee party or kitty party kind of person and I like being in a group where I am comfortable. I looked at a French textile company which I could franchise in UAE but that fell through right at the very last minute. So I started looking at other options and came across a Turkish furniture brand but that did not work out either.
In 2010 my husband, Junaid asked me why I don’t do something with chocolate. I used to love baking but never thought of chocolate making and I told my husband that chocolate making is difficult but the thought had been planted. So in 2011, I went to Bowen Island in Vancouver and did my first master course in chocolate making for one week. I did this course thinking it would be something new to learn, not that it would turn out to be a profession I pursed. In the same year I googled other courses and ended up in Chicago at the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy again on a week’s course. And that is how my journey into the chocolate world began.
What was your most memorable on-the-job experience?
Thierry Mulhaupt is a French chocolatier and patissier who has a few shops in France mainly in Strasbourg. I met Thierry when he was my teacher in a French pastry school I attended and I told him that I would like to work with him and we exchanged emails and I worked with him I think it was for 5 days. He is a very generous man and taught me everything – whatever I asked, he taught me.
What are your favourite things about working with chocolate?
Love developing a new recipe. Currently I am working on figuring out how to incorporate beetroot.
Place you eat most often on days off?
I like Coya – they serve small quantities and it justifies the price and the food because they serve quality. Their tacos are fantastic as well as their desserts. I also enjoy burger places like Elevation Burger, Fuddruckers or Gourmet Burger if you want a good meat burger. In Dubai you have so many choices that you don’t tend to repeat. I also enjoy Din Tai Fung at Mall of the Emirates if I find a table or I go to Cheesecake Factory for their salads.
What’s your favourite chocolate to work with?
Dark chocolate – especially single origin couvertures – without a doubt. The bean quality and manufacturer have to be top notch or grand cru (denotes high quality).
What has been your most disastrous kitchen moment?
I wouldn’t say disastrous, but when we had just started off, we got a huge Valentine’s Day order which was for 20,000 chocolates all to be delivered within 3 days. There were a lot of requirements by the client and at that time we were using only the finest quality ingredients. So we made the praline in-house instead of buying pre-made praline from the market. Just as the last batch was remaining, the chocolate machine broke and we had to call in the supplier to get the machine repaired. We still had to wrap the chocolates and at that time I only had three staff at the back and me, and three in the front. I remember we worked 24 hours non-stop to get the order completed.
How would you describe your business philosophy?
Packaging, Product Quality and Customer Service – they all go hand in hand. For my packaging I prefer to use branded paper and it needs to be subtle. In terms of quality, you need to use premium ingredients – you should know the source of all your products. We want our customers to be happy and they should trust us. What we say is what we do.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
By my Dad who always told me to be honest and stay humble. Always stay grounded.
What are some of the challenges that you have encountered while running your businesses?
Human Resources (HR) – that is the biggest challenge. No matter how nice or honest you are people will always want to take advantage of you. So it took me a while to understand this and I now have fixed rules and procedures.
What would you recommend that folks new to exploring fine or craft chocolate do to learn more?
Keep on experimenting. Studying is one thing – you will get the know how but you will not get experience, and that can only come by experimenting yourself and being your own judge.
A chocolatier that inspires you? Patrick Roger. The kind of work he does is phenomenal and he does not market it globally. He gets the honey from his own backyard. You can see the passion in each chocolate. Each chocolate may look the same, but the minute you taste it you know where the ingredients are coming from if you have the taste for the finer things.
Describe your chocolate making style in 3 words.
Elegant, passionate and subtle.
THIS OR THAT
Food on a skewer or food in a tiny spoon?
Hot curry or haute cuisine?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Mints or gum?
Soup or salad?
Greek yogurt or labneh?
Butter or olive oil?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
And lastly, cake or pie?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!