The sweet smell of (chocolate) success

The sweet smell of chocolate and freshly baked pastries fills the air at Chocopologie in South Norwalk. But it’s not just the smells that draw you in. The rugged hardwood floors creek charmingly as founder Fritz Knipschildt greets customers. The lighting is low and the tables, wooden, creating a warm, inviting, picturesque atmosphere.

Growing up in Denmark, Knipschildt says, his first experience in the culinary arts was as a 13-year-old filling in for his sister as a dishwasher at a restaurant. Knipschildt recalls falling in love with the hustle and bustle of the kitchen – the many cooks in close quarters, the enveloping steam, even the constant clink of the dishes.

At Chocolpologie, visitors are able to have a similar experience as they watch pastry chefs prepare spiced hot chocolate or a grilled goat cheese sandwich made with ham, mushrooms and caramelized onions. The most popular item on the menu, the chocolate truffle beignet, is a fried fluffy pastry that oozes with Knipschildt’s homemade chocolate truffles.

“It’s like a chocolate explosion,” he says.

The “chocolate love” is the ultimate sharing dish, though. It’s a sampler, including a molten chocolate cake, warm baked cookies, ice cream and chocolates.

“People order a lot of different desserts and then share,” he says, “which is the way I like to eat.”

Knipschildt trained in his native Denmark and worked as a chef in Spain and France in the 1990s before coming to the United States, where he studied hotel management at The New School in Manhattan.

With the chocolate industry beginning to flourish and a background in savory cooking techniques, Knipschildt began experimenting with the sweet, infusing chocolate with spices and palatable decadence.

“It felt good to be a pioneer in modern chocolate making and bring new spicy-sweet experiences to people,” he says.

In 2000, he opened Knipschildt Chocolatier in East Norwalk. Five years later, he moved the business to South Norwalk as Chocopologie.

Although well-known for his truffles and desserts, Knipschildt takes pride in his light-fare menu. Consisting of a few select soups, salads and sandwiches, the menu demonstrates thought and ingenuity.

“Life is all about focus. You know, if you do too many things, it’s not perfection. … I want to be known for a place that makes awesome baked goods and chocolates, so that’s what the focus is. As a trained chef, pastry chef and chocolatier, my dream always was to one day be cooking with chocolate.”

And Knipschildt does, making Lauren, Chantal, Eleanor and Michelle – a few of his signature truffles, named after friends and family. Each consists of an array of special ingredients. When one of the chocolatiers was asked which one was her favorite, she, of course, replied with the truffle named after her – Valentina. Made with burnt caramel, infused with lavender Provençal and molded in 71 percent dark Ecuadorean single-bean chocolate, the truffle is one delicious example of how Knipschildt takes chocolate above and beyond the familiar milk, dark and white.

Sprinkled with chocolate shavings and trays of truffles in every corner, the kitchen invites chocoholics inside during monthly truffle-making classes. Demonstrating the art of being a chocolatier, Knipschildt explains how the chocolate is churned and filled with flavor before being turned into delectable shapes. He even shares a few of his experiments, like a fun tie-dyed truffle or empty truffles waiting to be filled with fusions of caramel, apricot, basil or peppercorn.

“I want to make Chocolpologie a household name,” Knipschildt says. Selling his truffles to Whole Foods and Balducci’s, he seems to be on the right track. Knipschildt hopes to focus on wholesale items, delving into cookie and cake mixes along with chocolate powders.

While waiting for their orders, Chocopologie-goers are encouraged to take a look at the café’s gallery. Paralleling the open kitchen, the gallery is filled with bright photographs of Knipschildt’s desserts. Viewers can’t miss the display of awards resembling Oscars lining one of the displays. Pretty soon Knipschildt will have a new addition to the gallery – his first book. “Chocopologie” chronicles his culinary story, offering readers a chance to make their own Chocopologie favorites with original recipes, including coconut truffles and new delights like summertime grilled bananas.

Noting a mirrored specials menu on the way out, you catch the words “chocolate martini.” Or caramel lovers may notice the chocolate caramel and sea salt cocktail. Whether it’s an enticing beverage or the truffles themselves, Chocopologie offers consistent favorites along with a constantly changing truffle assortment, making every visit a new experience and each bite a mystery.

When asked what his favorite truffle was, Knipschildt laughingly replied, “I don’t have one.”

But then, does a parent have a favorite child?

For more, visit Chocopologie at 12 S. Main St. in South Norwalk or at chocopologie.com.

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