Guittard: The Chocolate of Choice for American Chefs

The Guittard chocolate company enjoys a reputation in the United States that it does not have in France. The company’s founder Etienne Guittard hailed from the Burgundy region and brought his recipes over in 1868. Based in California for five generations, this family business provides chocolate to the greatest American pastry chefs.
© Guittard Chocolate Company

In the middle of the 19th century, Etienne Guittard left his home town of Tournus in Burgundy, to try his luck in California. The West Coast was at the time experiencing a gold rush. The Frenchman had brought chocolate with him, hoping to trade it for mining supplies. The French sweets were so popular among gold miners that Etienne Guittard gave up his claim and returned to France to train with his uncle, a chocolatier in Paris. In 1868, Etienne Guittard was back in San Francisco, where he opened the Guittard Chocolate Company on Sansome Street, by the waterfront.

The chocolate factory eventually moved south of San Francisco, to Burlingame. Today, Etienne Guittard’s great-grandson, Gary, is at the head of a 210-employee company. The cocoa beans, which are bought in Latin America, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, are first roasted and ground. Depending on the recipe, cane sugar, milk or vanilla are also added to the mix. The next step is conching, where the chocolate mixture is mixed at 176°F, then tempered at 90°F, which gives it its smooth and shiny texture. Last, the chocolate is molded into bars, wafers or chips.

“We’ve updated our cocoa bean roaster, our conche and chocolate enrober machines,” explains Gary Guittard, “But our mixer and our recipes haven’t changed since 1868.” In 2007, when industrial chocolate makers decided to replace cocoa butter with cheaper vegetable oil, Gary Guittard sent a petition to the F.D.A. The Californian chocolate maker “has a very good reputation in the industry because of his ethics,” observes Estelle Tracy, a French expat who writes about artisan chocolate in the United States.

A Clientele of Professionals

About 85% of Guittard’s clients are food industry professionals, and 15% are pastry chefs. Chef Donald Wressel, who trained under French chef Jean-Louis Palladin in Washington D.C., helps promoting Guittard products to chocolate professionals. Chocolate bars, baking wafers and baking chips are delivered to groups like Baskin-Robbins and Shake Shack, to retailers like Williams-Sonoma and See’s, and to chefs like Thomas Keller, François Payard and Jacques Torres. “European chefs work with us because our chocolate is similar to what they can find in Europe,” explains Gary Guittard. “The physical properties of chocolate, like thickness or its melting capacity, are important.”

To diversify its clientele, Guittard recently developed a variety of chocolate bars for amateur bakers. Called Collection Etienne, the range includes milk chocolate with hints of apple and caramel (“Soleil d’Automne”), bittersweet chocolate from Latin America (“Quetzalcoatl”), and extra-dark hazelnut chocolate (“Nocturne”). A vendor at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris since 2014, the Guittard family is now eyeing the European market. “Our access to Asian and Latin American cocoa and our network of European pastry chefs are advantages for our business,” concludes Gary Guittard. “Our aim is to become the go-to chocolate makers for professionals.”