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The Art of Living: Phillip Ashley Chocolates

What Kate Spade did for handbags and Christian Louboutin for women’s shoes, designer chocolatier, Phillip Ashley Rix is doing for chocolate—liberating it from the confines of tradition. He has been named one of the Best Chocolatiers and Confectioners in America by TasteTV, donned the “Real Life Willy Wonka” by FORBES magazine, and Local PALATE magazine calls him “Memphis’ King of Chocolate.”

With a portfolio of over 200 designer chocolates, corporate and celebrity clients such as FedEx, Disney, Stevie Wonder, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and cooking at the esteemed James Beard House, Chef Phillip Ashley is a rising star in the culinary and business world. His delectable gems were the official chocolate of the 2016 GRAMMYS Celebration and 2016 OSCARS SALUTE. His designer collections are sold by national luxury retailers Neiman Marcus and Horchow.

A self-taught chocolatier, he is renowned for designing wildly imaginative chocolates with ingredients such as sweet potato, barbecue and bleu cheese. His passion for fanciful flavors and masterful attention to detail result in visually stunning decadent pieces of edible art.

Philipp Ashley is a sought after expert in branding, ideation, sales and marketing and small business development speaking in front of audiences from corporate executives to the United States Congress.

• LKF: What is your background in the culinary arts? I read that you are self-taught.

• PA: I spent several years studying food and ingredients and spices of all types-- all of the things that make a dining experience and food in general what it is. I studied peoples’ tastes and the zones of the palette and wines and liquors and distilled liquors. I wanted to be an encyclopedia of food and really take a research approach to how we develop and design chocolate, which is what allows us to create chocolate—to have these extraordinary combinations like collard greens and cornbread, which is one of our fall collections (It’s really good, too.) and then be able to pair them with wine, liquors and distilled beverages.

• LKF: What appealed to you initially about the world of chocolates and where did you train?

• PA: I grew up at my grandmother’s. She cooked and I learned how to build. My grandfather owned a construction company and I learned how to use tools and power tools, woodworking and gardening and how to prepare food, cook and paint. Over time I became more and more fascinated with cooking. I had a natural knack for it. One day I woke up and said “chocolate!” I wanted to do something different. I did not want to be a restaurant chef. What could I do that would be fun and creative and something you don’t encounter all of the time? How cool would it be to say that I’m a chocolatier!

• LKF: Talk about your national clients and national accolades.

• PA: Neiman Marcus and Horchow found out about my work. I went after people who thought our chocolates would work well with them. I have been with both of these clients for over a year now. We had an opportunity to supply all of the chocolates for the Grammies last year. They learned about our chocolates from an event I did in L.A. a few years prior, and they contacted me. That was a very big deal! And we have done a number of other big events.

• LKF: Has it been a long process from being a self-taught chocolatier to selling your designer chocolates to places like Neiman Marcus and Horchow?

• PA: Yes. A lot of times people say you’re doing so great so fast. From a surface standpoint it seems like it’s only been 3 or 4 years, but prior to that it was roughly 5 years getting everything going. I had to become a chocolatier. That was step 1 and to learn a very disciplined area of food and one in which it is not easy to find information. It has definitely been a long road but a good one. Looking back I remember reading and trying to find information and starting to play around and make the chocolate and wondering if people would like this and will they get it.

• LKF: Do you attend the major food and chocolate events in the country?

• PA: I go to some of the events. We competed in several events and won Gold Medals in big food and chocolate competitions. Outside of Memphis L.A. is one of our biggest markets. California, Texas, New York, Florida (a big state for us) and the Atlanta area. Our orders come from everywhere.

• LKF: What is one of the most fun chocolate events in which you have participated?

• PA: I haven’t done a ton of food-related events. I do a lot of events in general. One event that I like a lot is the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, which attracts over 10,000 people a year. I have a good time! I have not spent time in Switzerland, but I am planning on going to the chocolate regions of France and Belgium. I also want to go down to Africa and South America and check out the cacoa farms where they grow the beans. That’s on my agenda for 2018.

• LKF: What do you enjoy most about working with chocolate? Is it because you can utilize your art and food background?

• PA: Art and food and having a sales background. What I enjoy about what I do is it allows me to connect with people. I always tell people that what we do is tell stories about chocolate and we have chocolates that are conversation pieces. Each chocolate has a name. The ingredients start conversation. When they taste them they talk about food or drink or places they know. We tell stories that taste like chocolates. Food in general has gone back to farm to table. The key ingredient that attracts people. The stories behind all of this. People want to know the story behind what they buy.

• LKF: What is the biggest challenge of working with chocolate?

• PA: My biggest challenge is to constantly come up with things that are fresh and new. We have our core chocolate. We have over 200 plus flavors now. And we have a vegan collection. I’ve been working to have our top 50 and eventually grow it to our top 100. These will be the flavors we will always have. Then we will rotate through these flavors. This week we will feature 30 or so flavors. Next week we will feature another 30. We will have our standard signature collection like our gemstone caramels and our seasonal collections (4 seasons). Last year’s summer collection was real popular. We’re making choctails that celebrate different cocktails like Moscow Mules and margaritas. We use those ingredients with my chocolates. For example the Moscow Mule consists of ginger beer, vodka and lime. The margarita contains tequila and sour mix and we finish that chocolate with a lime sea salt.

That’s the thing that I like to do with chocolate—take things in the real world that we eat and drink and figure out a way to turn it into chocolate. We have Strawberry Cheesecake and a Key Lime Pie that is two layers so you get the filling and the crust.

• LKF: You are to be congratulated for carving for yourself a point of difference that sets you apart nationally and internationally. Your chocolates are works of art. Some describe them as Jackson Pollack art.

• PA: We like to call them edible chocolate art. The visual is just as important as the food. People say we eat with our eyes. But they’re not too pretty to eat. That’s what we want to achieve. We want to create the most meticulously fussed-over chocolates. That’s why our pricing is what it is. There is a lot of time and effort in our chocolates. We have chocolates that look like planet Earth. We really want them to be visually stunning!

• LKF: Has it been a long road from your culinary beginnings to being a sought-after expert renowned for designing very imaginative chocolates such as sweet potato, barbecue and blue cheese. You have a passion for fanciful flavors and masterful attention to details, which is apparent when I look at your stunning edible art. The box of chocolates you sent me are gorgeous! They really are almost too pretty to eat, and they are decadently divine!

• PA: I am passionate about chocolate and I try to break the mold of what’s been done, not just for the sake of shock value. Some people may be hesitant when we say ‘here’s a barbecue chocolate.’ A lot of time and effort are spent in developing it. It must taste like we say. A lot of people love our barbecue chocolate because it tastes amazing. If we say it’s mango habanero you get the heat of the habanero. You get the burn and then it kind of goes away.

• LKF: What is the shelf life of your chocolate?

• PA: Our chocolates will last 21 days or about a month, but it is best consumed within 7 to 10 days. We use no artificial preservative or sweeteners to prolong shelf life.

• LKF: Tell me about your Valentine’s flavors this year.

• PA: Each year we put out a new Valentine’s collection. This year it is all hearts. We will always go with that theme in some way. The cornerstone or the themed ingredient is burnt orange. We have a 12-piece box with four flavors. The white chocolate piece is blood orange and vanilla bean. The milk chocolate piece consists of blood orange, strawberry jam and cognac ganache. The dark chocolate piece is blood orange and balsamic vinegar and there’s a caramel, which is a blood orange caramel, which has pink peppercorn and pink salt. You get three of each of those in the box.

Seasonally going into March we will launch our spring and summer collection. Every season we put out a spring, summer, fall and winter collection.

the backs of the gowns have become as important as the front.”

Never to be forgotten is the man of the hour; and, according to Forest, blue might just be the new black... “Navy is the color for men this year, so almost every tuxedo company has added a navy tux to their line.” Other trends to track? “Slim fit is still the most popular fit for tuxedos, though not everyone chooses to stay with all the traditional pieces and opt for a slightly more casual look with just vests and pants,” Forest says. For the final touch, bow ties are making a strong showing; and color-coordinated socks kick things up a notch.

While bridesmaid’s dresses are notorious for being unflattering and cringe-worthy, Forest predicts that the upcoming bridal year could be an exception to the rule. In fact, with styles in everything from strapless to halters and colors that may span various shades of the same color family, the dresses walking down the aisle in 2016 are being given the priority of being tasteful rather than becoming a bitter pill to swallow.

Even tiny details are front and center: “Flower girls and ring bearers generally steal the show, so whatever they wear is going to be a hit. The most popular dresses for flower girls are colored and very simple,” Forest continues, “and little boys in knickers or wearing suspenders and bow ties offer that classic touch.”

Regardless of what colors may be on the hot list or whether lace is in or out, the true focus of a wedding is love — and that’s something that will never go out of style.

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