A Sweet Dream Comes True

lifestyle, savannah
Written By Mary Landers
Photography By Kathy Almand

Rummaging through the Pinch of the Past architectural antiques shop in Savannah, Georgia, a chocolatier named Adam Turoni came across a surprising piece of inspiration. A pocket-door pull. Made of brass decorated with a fanciful raised pattern, the hardware spoke of the elegance of the Victorian South in his newly adopted hometown.

Turoni bought the pull, then used it as a template for a handmade silicone mold. Reproduced in the finest dark chocolate and highlighted with gold luster dust, it’s become his signature keyhole chocolate bar, one that looks too beautiful to eat.

But please, do, insists Turoni.

“You have to eat that,” he tells the more than occasional customer who keeps his creations as a feast for the eyes only, displayed under a cloche. “I always say it tastes even better than it looks.”

The gold-dusted chocolate bar is just the start at Chocolat by Adam Turoni on Savannah’s Broughton Street. Here the downtown door stands open, beckoning passersby to a dining room like no other. Inside, a buffet table overflows with silver platters piled high with peanut butter cups, airbrushed habanero caramels and hollow chocolate eggs. A floor-to-ceiling grand breakfront displays two dozen varieties of truffles—from blood orange to mint julep—amidst Limoges teapots and fine bone china. Crystal chandeliers and gilded picture frames complete the feel of sophistication. The carpet tells you you’re in for a magical experience, too. It’s bright green artificial turf, grounding the elegant room in whimsy.

“It’s Alice in Wonderland meets Marie Antoinette,” Turoni states. “It’s not really a dining room. It exists in its own little world.”

Customers are invited to take a silver tray and tongs and choose their own assortment of sweets. When they open the breakfront, the rich sweet aroma of chocolate wafts out, sealing the deal.

About 10 blocks away, Turoni’s second shop on Bull Street is set up as a chocolate library. Built-in bookcases show off the sweets at eye level, with clothbound encyclopedias and novels completing the scene above and below. Chocolate lovers load their choices into custom-made wooden trays reminiscent of the drawers of old-time library catalog card cabinets. Here, too, the grass is ever greener, as artificial turf again stands in for tile flooring. Think Thomas Jefferson meets Alice in Wonderland.

“Chocolate can’t be too serious,” Turoni asserts. “It just needs to be fun.”

Early Creations

Turoni, 26, is having fun. The chocolate prodigy was named one of the top 10 chocolatiers of 2015 in North America by Dessert Professional magazine. With an easy smile and a natural earnestness he demonstrates his techniques in the open kitchen of his Broughton Street shop. He’s in his element, having come off an all-nighter of making “Royal Hares,” a rabbit-shaped chocolate with a golden crown.

He tempers his 72 percent chocolate—it’s single source and fair trade, he notes—then pours it into a silicone mold, forming the shells for a batch of salted wildflower honey caramels. When the shells harden he sprinkles in Cypress flake sea salt. Next he pours the caramel, a buttery golden filling he’s made ahead and infused with wildflower honey from the Savannah Bee Company. A chocolate cap completes the shell. He tops each creation with the largest salt crystal he can find, selecting each by hand.

“My flavors are very classic and simple,” he explains, leaning on the gray marble countertops of his candy kitchen, a workspace visible to customers. “They tell a story on your palate.”

Turoni’s story begins in Pennsylvania. The second of three children, his fondest memories revolve around trips to his grandmother’s house, where he’d sleep over and help her bake trays of homemade Italian wedding cookies, biscotti and ricotta cookies.

By age 14 he was prepping vegetables on the line at a high-end restaurant. It was hot, crowded and loud. Turoni loved it.

“I would work a 40-hour week,” he recalls. “After school I’d go straight into work. I couldn’t even drive. My mom would pick me up at midnight every night when the restaurant closed.”

That restaurant went out of business just a year after he started there, but managers wanted him back when they regrouped at a new location. He remembers one day in particular that helped map his culinary path.

“They showed me how to debone a chicken,” he says. “They cracked the rib cage and I passed out.”

That episode moved his talents down the menu from main course to dessert, where he found what he thought would be his niche forever.

He whipped up strawberry shortcakes, cannolis from scratch and specialty empanadas filled with chocolate pecan ganache. Turoni plated the desserts, making them beautiful as well as delicious. It was training that laid a foundation for his chocolates.

“There’s almost architecture in that you have to have structure,” he explains. “You need to know shapes, what flows, movement and composition, too.”

After high school he headed to the Culinary Institute of America, where near the end of his coursework he took a class in confections that set him on his current path.

Chocolate allows Turoni to be creative in a culinary sense but also to express himself with the beauty of each tiny masterpiece.

Appeal and Inspiration

Chocolate allows Turoni to be creative in a culinary sense but also to express himself with the beauty of each tiny masterpiece.

“I love how much flexibility and creativity I can really have with everything, from the flavors to the aesthetic,” he says.

There’s a science to it that appeals as well. The creative and the scientific don’t always go hand in hand, Turoni asserts. But in chocolate’s case they do.

“Picture your favorite dessert,” he says. “Scale it down to 1.5 inches. It needs to be aesthetically pleasing and needs to be left out at room temperature for two months and taste the same as when you first made it.”

While he focuses on the chocolate, the company’s vice president, Alexandra Trujillo de Taylor, directs the branding, adding a signature touch of lightheartedness to the exquisite shop interiors and promotional materials. Trujillo de Taylor’s background in international shipping and brand messaging has proved invaluable, but the two have also learned how to flavor their relationship with mutual trust and an infusion of joyful creativity.

Turoni draws inspiration from culinary sources. The red velvet truffle is based on the classic down-home Southern dessert. It’s a milk chocolate mousse infused with red velvet essence. Hand piping on the white chocolate coating makes each look like a miniature layer cake.

Fashion inspires him, too. The raspberry Chambord truffle came to Turoni when he saw Trujillo de Taylor sporting a cream-colored Chanel boucle jacket with raspberry red buttons. Reimagined as a truffle, it became a milk and dark chocolate mousse center infused with raspberry puree and Chambord that Turoni enrobes in white chocolate. Each truffle is buttoned on top with a chocolate flower made crimson with raspberry powder.

And, of course, there’s Savannah itself as an inspiration. The city is a sultry setting of majestic oaks framing picturesque squares, where around every corner is another exquisite architectural detail. For Turoni, those are details just waiting to be rendered in chocolate. The city is his ultimate muse, he says.

“How could it not be?”

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