“I’M GOING TO TEACH YOU about chocolate,” John Doyle promises, holding out his hand, on which are perched three disks the size of thumbtacks. Doyle has blue eyes to die for, so if he was offering me thumbtacks, I’d probably eat them. But he’s offering me chocolate, so of course I put the disks in my mouth. They taste good.
“That’s $4-a-pound chocolate,” says Doyle. He opens another bag, here in the spotless factory on a hard-bitten block in Feltonville where he and his wife make John & Kira’s chocolates. “And this is $8-a-pound chocolate.” I pop the disk he gives me in my mouth and involuntarily say “Oh!” The taste is smooth and nuanced, with undertones of caramel and vanilla. The $4-a-pound chocolate was good. This is very very very good.
“Do you like figs? Have a fig,” Doyle says. If this is the Garden of Eden, I just failed the test. Doyle’s fig—grown on a small farm in Spain, bred to have a thin skin and particularly minute seeds—is filled with rich, creamy whiskey ganache and then dunked in dark chocolate. My knees are weak.
Once upon a time, Doyle, 42, was a financial analyst, poring over spreadsheets. When he decided that was dull, he took up cooking, and worked in Manhattan as a chef. Then he read about Judy Wicks’s White Dog Cafe in West Philly, and drove down to introduce himself. Three visits later, he was hired as manager. He met sustainability-minded farmers and learned about ecological responsibility. And he began thinking about making chocolates the same way Wicks crafted her dinners, using locally sourced products: mint raised by West Philly school kids, organic lavender, Pennsylvania-grown strawberries.
Doyle launched his company in 2003. Not long after that, he met Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl at a trade show. She adored his chocolates, and put them on the cover of her magazine. Oprah and Martha Stewart and Williams-Sonoma came calling, and he was on his way. “We moved around a lot at first,” he recalls. “I worked out of the Project H.O.M.E. kitchen for a while.” Meantime, he was calling up local chocolatiers and introducing himself. That’s how he met Tony Walter Jr., a plainspoken Philly guy whose chocolates are down-to-earth in a completely different way.