Student chocolatier hits a sweet spot
If the brooding Bender and the preppie Claire of the cult teen film “Breakfast Club” were chocolate flavors, what would they be?
Perhaps a dark cayenne-spiked chocolate whiskey caramel or a champagne orange mimosa?
Those questions swirl around Beloit College sophomore Eric Seo’s mind as he concocts new chocolate flavors.
The Chicago native was already a skilled chocolate maker when he landed at the college in 2021 but was looking to boost his entrepreneur skills.
As a teen, Seo loved making pastries and mastered techniques by watching YouTube and poring over a slew of cookbooks.
He also followed Michelin-starred pastry chefs, including Jared Bacheller. Seo’s family often went to Entente, a sophisticated Chicago eatery, to try Bacheller’s creations but then the pandemic hit, and the restaurant closed. But COVID turned out to be a door-opener for Seo, who learned that Bacheller had started a chocolate-making business. Seo eagerly bought some chocolate and talked his way into an informal apprenticeship with Bacheller.
The art of creating molded bonbons appeals to Seo.
“Tempering chocolate by hand is a defined process; you really have to follow the rules. people don’t understand how hard it is,” the 19-year-old says. “It is very meticulous, and I enjoy that nitty-gritty process.”
When Bacheller opened Bad Bach, a brick-and-mortar chocolate store at the TimeOut Market in Chicago, Seo became its first employee, helping to make bonbons, macarons, and chocolate bars. After a summer of chocolate-making, he landed at Beloit College to study mathematics and physics and sharpen his business skills.
It was in Brian Morello’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship that Seo received sound advice.
“He told me never to sell myself short and that it wasn’t hard to be an entrepreneur and that I had the skills to do it,” Seo says.
Morello was impressed by Seo’s thoughtful business outlook.
“Eric is also a doer, which is key to success,” Morello says. “He is a great example of a Beloiter: someone who is good at setting goals, building skills, and putting his energy into accomplishing what he has set out to do.”
Seo started creating bonbon specialty chocolate boxes for Beloiters.
The Breakfast Club box highlights the characters of one of Seo’s favorite movies. Andrew’s All-American had dark chocolate with a touch of whiskey, and Allison’s Basketcase was imagined with coconut-pineapple rum. Claire, of course, was Princess Breakfast, featuring a hint of strawberry and champagne mimosa.
“It’s my enjoyment playing with the flavors — I thought, ‘if this person was a flavor what would it be?’” Seo says.
Judging by the positive feedback, the Basil Hayden’s Whiskey Caramel is the top contender for Beloit College’s favorite bonbon.
During spring break, with no students around, Seo used the Bon Appetit commercial kitchen on campus to make his chocolate, thanks to the help of general manager Ken Hnilo.
Seo took Morello’s advice and reached out to admissions staff and enticed them to include his artisan four-piece bonbon boxes at Beloit College events and as swag bag treats.
In May, Seo took on an even bigger endeavor — making 400 chocolates for his sister’s wedding, who trusted him to come up with the flavor. Seo settled on a perfect combination of taste and celebration — a strawberry and champagne truffle. Each batch makes 200 chocolates and about five hours of hands-on time.
“I just hoped that it worked out because if not, I was kind of screwed,” Seo says. “I put in a whole batch and just trusted my instincts, and the flavor worked out really well.”
Seo eyes the future when he can cater large-scale events with his one-of-a-kind chocolates.
“It’s nice for people to enjoy what I make and that they are excited about it,” Seo says. “It’s also fun because if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t do it.”