Brandon Olsen has two tattoos inspired by Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and over coffee in Toronto’s Chinatown one morning, he offers to show me one of them. Wrapped halfway around his left bicep is a portrait of Willy Wonka, the eccentric owner of a fictional candy business, and under it, the words “Golden Ticket”, referring to the sought-after voucher that grants its holder rare access to a chocolate factory.
“In a weird way, Willy Wonka is a very inspirational character for me,” Olsen says. “[Charlie and the Chocolate Factory] is how I fell in love with chocolate.”
The Toronto-based chef recently fulfilled a lifelong aspiration by opening his own chocolate shop. While munchkin-sized in comparison to Willy Wonka’s factory, Brockton Village’s Chocolates x Brandon Olsen is a passion-project realized for the sugar-obsessed 32-year-old.
After attending culinary school at Toronto’s George Brown College, the chef logged hours at Napa restaurants French Laundry and Ad Hoc before returning to Toronto in 2011 to launch his first attempt at a chocolate business. At the time, it bombed, so Olsen went back to slinging savory plates at spots like The Black Hoof and Bar Isabel until fall 2015.
“[At that point] I decided I needed to do chocolates right now,” the self-taught chocolatier explains. “I got into chocolates just by reading books and goofing around. It’s taken me years to understand it, and now I can’t get enough of it. This body runs on sugar—good sugar, pastry sugar, and even Fuzzy Peaches sugar.”
“I don’t want to be a chocolate shop doing mint and caramel,” Olsen says.
Olsen’s culinary background of combining surprising and unusual savory flavours heavily influences his palate for sweets. His shop’s current rotation includes a lime-ginger-black pepper chocolate and another that teases the tartness of raspberries, the softness of rose, and the bitter licorice notes of fennel.
“I don’t want to be a chocolate shop doing mint and caramel,” Olsen says. “There will be some classics, like a salted caramel, but then I want to use goat’s milk or yogurt. I really want to take that experimental savory side and work it into the chocolate.”
Along with imaginative flavours, the chocolates have a strong visual component. Bright hexagonal shapes splashed with Jackson Pollock–like designs are influenced by Olsen’s partner, the filmmaker and visual artist Sarah Keenlyside, and of course, Wonka’s swirly, rainbow-dipped offerings.
“What’s unique about them is they’re not one chocolate design. I don’t ever want them to be the same. It’s imperfection in perfection,” Olsen adds.
Eventually, he plans on adding light French pastries and sugar-laden pâte de fruit to his offerings, perhaps even setting up a small chocolate bean-to-bar operation by next year. But for now, he’s focused on making, melting, and eating chocolate everyday, and living the dream inspired by the man tattooed on his arm.
“You know how Willy Wonka takes the Golden Ticket winners through a small door and opens up this world? That’s my world. I can do anything I want,” he says. “I love chocolate and that’s what I’m creating right now: a world where there is no ‘no.’”