Within five minutes of entering Sarah Alhajji’s beautiful home, I am met with a welcoming fresh blood-orange juice and an array of snacks and foreign sweets. Immediately I understand that a zest for flavor is pivotal in her everyday life as well as her booming local chocolate business. Her business’s name is Xocolât – pronounced ‘sho-ko-laht’ – and is the word for chocolate (or “bitter water”) in the Ancient Aztec language of Nahuati.
The Xocolât chocolate bar concept first formed in Sarah’s mind after her 9-month culinary Grand Diplome course in London at the internationally renowned Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in 2013. The 9-month course teaches participants all there is to know about gastronomy and culinary art. From lessons in cuisine and pâtisserie to the practical implementation with specialist ingredients of the highest quality, the source of Sarah’s love for depth of flavor is evident. It was during her time in London that she discovered her love for dessert and pastry-making. Once she partnered with her business-savvy husband Abdulaziz, her chocolate dream became a reality and a booming success at that.
Although not often drawn in by food videos on Social Media or the Nutella-saturated content that pops up on my news Feed, when I watched a 3-second clip of Xocolât’s decadent peanut butter brownie mix being spread onto a pan, my mouth was watering. Unlike other local small business Social Media platforms, Xocolât has gained a dedicated following by returning customers who genuinely love the products on offer. Every photo and video is flanked by endless comments commending the innovative ideas and punting all-time favorites. These loyal customers also act as the springboard for new ideas, as they suggest potential new flavor combinations.
Nonetheless, the hard work that goes into creating a new chocolate bar is extensive. First of all, Sarah finds her inspiration. This can come from absolutely anything, she tells me. “Even now, I’m looking at the sesame seeds on that snack platter and I’m getting inspired”. Sometimes, she wakes up in the morning and has an idea for a new chocolate bar. That is the story of the most popular bar produced by Xocolât : the peanut butter brownie and sea salt chocolate bar. Thereafter, the process becomes much more complex. Several recipe tests are necessary to find the perfect ratio of high quality ingredients for consistent taste, color and texture across all products.
Although Sarah’s imagination is limitless, she sometimes meets obstacles in the production of her chocolate bars and must test her ingredients to see if certain combinations are feasible. For example, a honey/ chocolate combination would result in the chocolate splitting. To mitigate this, Sarah looks to other options such as infusing other ingredients like cream or another type of chocolate with the ingredient of choice. After that, the lucky friends and family of Sarah and Abdulaziz taste the new chocolate flavors and give feedback on elements such as sweetness and depth of flavor. Before the chocolate bar reaches their Qout Market stand, prices are deliberated to ensure that customers really are getting a lot of bang for their buck.
A focal part of the process, and one of the reasons Xocolât is now recognized throughout Kuwait, is the colorful, attention-grabbing packaging the chocolates come in. Sarah designed her logo herself, but sought help from the local designing and marketing agency Studio AIO (All In One). In keeping with the locality of the business as well as the Aztec origins of the name, Studio AIO designed a vibrant, geometric pattern with hints of Kuwaiti Sadu to compliment the Aztec print. Each box has the flavor hand-written on it, consistent with the local, small business aesthetic Xocolât so successfully emulates.
Recently, Sarah was asked to organize the food for Chopard’s first dinner of 2016, consisting of an 8-course dessert dinner. Featured on the Xocolât Instagram account, the dishes are complex, calculated and perfectly balanced both in flavor and plating. Sarah worked for two weeks to ensure that the dessert dinner didn’t overwhelm diners with sweetness, incorporating subtle salty and creamy flavors for diversity and balance. One particularly striking dish was the first selection of the evening; the mango gelato was topped with real passion fruit pieces and sat comfortably on a dash of pomegranate reduction, mint syrup and a glass-like mint jelly. It truly was an excellent opportunity for Sarah to demonstrate her vast experience of culinary innovation.
Although Sarah is flooded with orders from customers as well as getting ready for the upcoming Qout Market, she has some new ideas up her sleeve. She is thinking of producing chocolate bonbons (or truffles) in sets of 2, 4, 6 and even 12! She also sees her business extending past Kuwaiti borders with potential retailers in other Middle Eastern countries. We can’t wait to keep up with Sarah and her inventions at the next Qout Market!
Check out Xocolât’s excellent chocolate bar range at the next Qout Market. For any orders, contact this number: 9877 1742. For mouth-watering chocolatey goodness follow Xocolât on Instagram @Xocolât_kw.