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Business

Owners of Chocolats du CaliBressan Enjoying the Taste of Sweet Success

With shops in Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, Jean-Michel and Jill-Marie Carré say the quality of their fine chocolate keeps people coming back

Jean-Michel Carré wanted to put the restaurant business behind him after 30 years of cooking. But just like trying a new tasty dessert for the first time, creating gourmet chocolate made him feel like a kid again.

After 30 years in the restaurant business, Jean-Michel Carré went back to school to learn from the best chocolatiers in the world.
After 30 years in the restaurant business, Jean-Michel Carré went back to school to learn from the best chocolatiers in the world. “My chocolate is really gourmet; it’s not the one you find in the grocery store,” he says. (Garrett Geyer / Noozhawk photo)

“When I was a kid with mom I would make Christmas truffles; it was family tradition,” said Carré, now the co-owner of Chocolats du CaliBressan in Carpinteria.

Carré was raised in Bresse, France, and began culinary school when he was 14. With a diploma in hand three years later, he cooked in small restaurants throughout England, Switzerland and his hometown.

The next move was California, but while pursuing his cooking career Carré happened to meet his wife, Jill-Marie. After deciding to go back to France, he and his wife opened a restaurant together called CaliBressan — “Cali” for his wife from California and “bressant” to honor his origins.

“We stayed four years in California and decided to move back and made a life in France,” Jill-Marie Carré said. “We never thought we would move back to the U.S.”

The couple owned the restaurant for 11 years, but the true satisfaction came from the chocolate Jean-Michel Carré crafted. When he would debut his holiday treats, people seemed to like it, he said.

But rather than making specialty chocolate during the holidays, he decided to turn his passion into a career.

Carré and his wife sold the restaurant and went back to school at l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Pâtisserie to learn from some of the best chocolatiers in the world.

“After more than 30 years in the restaurant business, I said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Carré said. “I wanted to have something else where I can still be creative, and when we came back to California in 2007 we went from San Diego to Napa Valley and fell in love with the Santa Barbara area.”

They opened Chocolats du CaliBressan in Carpinteria in 2007 after noticing there weren’t many businesses that offered fine chocolate. 

“My chocolate is really gourmet; it’s not the one you find in the grocery store,” Carré said. “It’s high quality with pure ingredients, so you see a big difference in taste.”

But the recession crippled his business.

Chocolats du CaliBressan opened in Carpinteria in 2007 and recently expanded to Santa Barbara.
Chocolats du CaliBressan opened in Carpinteria in 2009 and recently expanded to Santa Barbara. (Garrett Geyer / Noozhawk photo)

“The business was well-received, but it was hit by the recession in 2009. It was a hard year,” Carré said. “It put us an entire year back in the focus plan.

“But even during the hard times, we never sacrificed on our service and quality, we kept our high standard and never went for cheaper chocolate to save money, and it has paid off because people saw we were consistent.”

Chocolats du CaliBressan recently won Women’s Economic Ventures’ Business of the Year Award and opened a new chocolatrie on 1114 State St. in Santa Barbara in May, under the leadership of Jill-Marie Carré.

“There’s a clientele for this product that has quality, and they are willing to spend money on fine chocolate,” she said. “We offer a unique handmade box of chocolates. It’s something different, and it’s the reason the new store is doing great.”

Carré’s chocolates are defined by love, passion and creativity.

“There’s the love of tasting a fine chocolate, the passion of discovering new flavors and the creativity of achieving a perfect blend,” Carré said.

She said her husband should add patience to the definition.

“He loves creating and experimenting, getting different essences of flavors and mixing them and trying it over and over,” she said. “I don’t have the patience at all.”

Each chocolate takes two to three days to make. For one of the most popular bon bons, the French Bissou, Carré airbrushes each mold with cocoa butter, fills the mold with white chocolate, pipes the ganache and tangerine liqueur and seals them in the shape of lips. But if the temperature of the chocolate isn’t just right, they will stick.

“People are surprised because they don’t expect when they taste it, once they taste they are hooked,” Carré said. “People can really see the difference between my chocolate. You can taste the flavor, and nothing is overpowering.”

The business donates chocolates to organizations such as the Dream Foundation and rotates its chocolates every week, Jill-Marie Carré said. They buy their chocolate from Cocoa Berry, the same vendors who supply it in France and England to ensure customers understand the difference between European chocolate and the sweeter American version, Jean-Michel Carré said.

“We want them to be happy and to have a big smile on their face when they taste the chocolate,” he said. “I love to do what I am doing, I love working with chocolate and creating a new recipe. When I cannot eat anymore chocolate I will stop.”

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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