Philly and the Chocolate Factory: The Berley Brothers and Shane’s Confectionery

In an era when big-box megastores are calling the candy shots, Philly's renegade chocolatiers are intent on doing it their way. Sweet.

IN NOVEMBER, WHILE VISITING Philly to promote his 10 Arts restaurant, superstar chef Eric Ripert went on NBC 10 and proclaimed Christopher Curtin’s Éclat chocolate the best in the world. He said he eats a bar every day. Curtin wasn’t especially surprised. He’s paid his dues—14 years slaving for 16-hour shifts in four-star kitchens in Belgium and Switzerland and France and Spain. He was the first American ever to receive the title of German Master Pastry Chef and Chocolatier. And when it came time to open his own chocolate shop, he chose … West Chester.

As you enter the petite Éclat factory/­shop on High Street, you’re hit with a wall of chocolate scent that makes your head spin. Curtin crafts chocolate-coated­ ganaches in exotic flavors like Aleppo chili, single-malt whiskey and ginger caramel with red Hawaiian sea salt. His “Obsession Bars” have such non-intuitive mix-ins as toasted corn and wasabi peas.

Curtin, 46, is beefy and jowly, as a proper maître should be. He grew up in Wisconsin, but built his enterprise here because it’s where the cacao beans are. Besides, his is an old Philadelphia family—“My great-great-grandfather, Andrew Gregg Curtin, was governor of Pennsylvania.” With that pedigree, it’s understandable, perhaps, that he’s a bit of a snob.

“A true chocolatier can make chocolate, not just melt it,” he sniffs. “Anybody in America can call himself a chocolatier. A violin is a violin, you know? But what comes out depends on who plays.” Curtin duets with well-known chefs on creations like his new single-source bars with Jose Garces, which are sold at Éclat and Garces Trading Company: white chocolate with porcini powder and organic thyme, dark chocolate with roasted Spanish almonds and smoked paprika …

You might expect such a highfalutin chocolatier to look down his nose at the Berleys. You’d be wrong. “You can’t move forward until you know what’s in the past,” Curtin says. “I love what they do. It’s candy-­making that’s completely American in style.” Both he and the Berleys, he believes, are part of “a new age of chocolate-making” in the city. And just like Milton Hershey and Henry Wilbur, the new chocolatiers are carving out niches to call their own.