By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun
For a wedding dress designer turned chocolatier, the decision to trade in bridal gowns and tiaras for truffles and a chef's hat came after a chance encounter too delicious to pass up.
Lara Vaarre wanted to complement her wedding dress design business by creating wedding cakes, but her search for a hard-to-come-by decorating tool changed the course of her life.
Chocolatier Lara Vaarre can make up to 10,000 delectable truffles per weekend.
The 32-year-old was living in Ottawa and came across a newspaper ad posted by a chef who was retiring and selling off his equipment, including the chocolate temper she wanted.
"He asked me if I'd be interested in learning how to make chocolate, but I couldn't imagine adding one more thing to my list," says Vaarre, who was also designing sportswear for the NHL's Ottawa Senators.
"When I mentioned his name to my cake-decorating teacher, she told me she'd run over with a tape recorder and record every word he said. Apparently he was very well-known."
Vaarre took the legendary pastry chef up on his offer. "He was 92 years old ...and promised to teach me his secret formula if I promised to do something with it. I told him I couldn't make any promises, but that I'd keep my eyes open for an opportunity."
The opportunity soon followed when an aunt asked Vaarre to make truffles for a list of clients that included a receptionist at the Radisson Hotel (now the Mariott), who shared her treats with the head caterer.
"He said it was the best chocolate he'd ever had and wanted to know if he could have 1,200 truffles by the weekend...I thought, 'That's quite the opportunity.' My kitchen was so small, but I decided to do it."
A writer for The Ottawa Sun tasted one of those truffles and featured the budding chocolatier in an article that landed in the hands of Judson Simpson, executive head chef at the House of Commons. Vaarre accepted a six-month contract to work there before heading to Paris, where she took courses at the prestigious Ecole Lenotre culinary and pastry school.
She eventually relocated to the Toronto area, setting up shop in Port Perry last year. Her business, Truffle Treasures by Vaarre (www.truffletreasures.com
) continues to grow, primarily by word of mouth.
Vaarre won The People's Choice Award for the 'Best hand rolled fruit truffle' at Vancouver's Festival of Flavours, landed a contract with the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Quebec, and has earned a loyal following across North America and abroad - including movie stars who stay at a local spa while filming here.
"I work a lot of hours, but I love it," says Vaarre. "It's entertaining...I love to see the truffles all rolled and packaged. They're so pretty."
The recipe for each of her 30 truffles is carefully memorized but never put down on paper. "I try the fillings out every day, but don't ever eat a truffle."
More than four years later, she maintains regular contact with her mentor, escorting him last year to the Ottawa Wine & Food Show. "I told him he completely changed my life," says Vaarre, who continues to design wedding dresses for friends.
"I asked him how many truffles he thought I've made since I met him. 'Ten thousand,' he answered...I laughed and told him I had made 10,000 truffles (the previous) weekend."
(Linda White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)
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