You won’t find plain praline or conventional caramels in the chocolate treats at Dude, Sweet Chocolate. This Dallas, Texas shop fancies unusual ingredients: dried eucalyptus, sweet potato and tamarind—just to name a few. Crave something exotic? There’s the Soraya, a toffee spiked with the Persian spice sumac. Tempted by salty snacks? Try the Albatross, a fudge made with dehydrated bleu cheese and sea salt.
The brain behind the confections is Katherine Clapner, who has more than twenty years of pastry-making experience working for big names including Steven Pyles. Clapner also creates “every man chocolate” for the less adventurous–take the aptly named Crack in the Box, a nut-filled dark chocolate bark that’s one of the shop’s bestsellers. “Regardless of creativity, I try to cover everybody in the best possible way I can.” Clapner says.
Dude, Sweet Chocolate sells its treats online along with spreads, balsamic vinegars and sauces–all made with chocolate. Clapner took a moment in the midst of the shop’s expansion to two new locations to chat with The Manual.
What’s the first flavor you concocted?
One of the first ones I’ve made was one of the artisans–it’s a beet and olive oil. Beets were used during the Great Depression as a sweetener and to amp up the color of crummy cocoa powder. It’s very versatile and adds an earthiness to the chocolate.
Can you describe your chocolate-making process?
I like to go into a market and find an ingredient and then develop the product around that ingredient. Though it seems like the important part is the chocolate, I found that if I start with chocolate and start adding ingredients to it, I’m not as successful. So I start with the ingredient, then look at what kind of chocolate would go with it.
Let’s talk about a current bestseller—the Chocolate Almond Salami. How did that come about?
I had an idea in my head that I couldn’t quite figure out. I wanted to make something that could be sliced, like an energy bar. Then I thought about things that are really good for you—nuts and dried fruit—and threw it all in a mixer. It just evolved into something that’s selling like crazy. And it all started out with just curiosity.
I try to find people that put a lot of love and attention into what they produce–and they are all over the country. I get my produce from a grower here and a cream that’s locally made. But I use a craft beer cider from a guy that makes a beautiful one in Cleveland, Ohio and soy sauce from someone in Kentucky.
Who are some of your most loyal customers?
A bunch of guys who are groundskeepers at the zoo come in twice a week. Dudes come in all of the time. One of the reasons why we do well with men—and that’s teenage boys to professional men to hipsters—is because we are not frou frou. We don’t have frilly stuff. It doesn’t feel like a women’s place. What are the odds that a guy can bring his girlfriend, wife or mother to a chocolate place that they are all comfortable in? That’s an exceptionally good thing.