61. Jim and Maureen Elitzak of Zak's Chocolate
You'll find Zak's Chocolate in a Scottsdale strip mall, but this sweet shop isn't just another place for Hershey's bars and M&Ms. Owners Jim and Maureen Elitzak are both chocolatiers — as in, they make confections out of chocolate. And chocolate makers — as in, they make their own chocolate out of raw cocoa beans.
The shop's story begins when Maureen began making chocolates as a hobby as home. (While her talents lent themselves to skills that require attention to detail, precision, and hand-eye coordination, Jim just liked eating chocolate.) As her interest grew deeper, she began taking courses and became a certified chocolatier.
Eventually, Maureen began to look for organic chocolate, and when she couldn't find any products that tasted great, she began to make her own at home. The couple then began to make bean-to-bar chocolate together five years ago. When they realized they were making chocolate every day, they decided to turn their hobby into a career.
Today, Jim is the primary chocolate maker, roasting and grinding cocoa beans to make Zak’s Chocolate. Maureen serves as primary chocolatier, making chocolates in flavors ranging from straightforward Simply Chocolate to Earl Grey Lavender. Last week, Zak's Chocolate's 55 percent Dark Milk Chocolate Bar won a bronze medal at the International Chocolate Awards Americas/Asia-Pacific competition.
Today, the couple dishes on the three things you probably don't know about chocolate and their go-to place for a quick lunch.
Our go-to place for a quick lunch (when we can find the time) in Phoenix is Leoni’s Focaccia. Great sandwiches, but, oh that focaccia!
Our go-to place for a kinda quick, yet relaxing, dinner on the way home in Phoenix is Il Bosco. Awesome pizzas, salads, energetic inside, great relaxing patio outside … makes you feel at home.
The best kept secret in Phoenix is Toyama Sushi in North Scottsdale. Another really small, local place. Unassuming, just great sushi. Sit at the sushi bar and enjoy Mo’s infectious smile and laugh and let him do his thing with the omakase.
Three things most people don't know about chocolate are ... Okay, we know it’s "just chocolate” and people should enjoy chocolate however they like, so this might sound a little chocolate-geeky, but this stuff is part of what really got us into making our own chocolate.
1. Chocolate can have more than just one flavor (without adding anything to it). There are many varieties of cocoa beans and, like wine and coffee, they have complex and interesting natural flavors, which are also a result of terroir.
2. Dark chocolate does not have to be bitter. While cocoa beans have bitter notes, they are also acidic and astringent. As craft chocolate makers, our chocolate-making style (think craft beer or a winemaker’s style) determines how those elements do or don’t come through in our chocolate. Hint: We don’t highlight the bitter notes, and we strive for a balance across the board.
3. There is much less caffeine in chocolate than most people think. Most chocolate we eat is high in sugar and that’s what tends to give people what seems like caffeine jitters.
This summer, we're keeping cool by hanging at Zak’s Chocolate where it’s always cool inside (literally). Our little chocolate factory is kept at around 70 degrees year-round. We also keep cool with our cold brew cacao or coffee (using Peixoto coffee beans) and we always have some jazz, Jimmy Buffett, or Bob Marley playing. Come join us!
Our culinary guilty pleasures are just about anything in the case at Super Chunk Sweets & Treats (lately, it’s the canele).
At home, we love playing with flavors and our guilty pleasure “homework” involves taking our own brownies and pairing them with things like Super Chunk’s ice creams and something like a late harvest zin from Sand Reckoner. Guilty as charged.