The Perfection of Confection Chocolatier Albert Kirchmayr is pouting.
At least he got them to send 1,000 of the standard party favor type boxes when he rang them up on the telephone a day earlier. But he’s not happy. And he’s nervous. Orders for Valentine’s Day candy aren’t likely to come in until the week before the holiday, he says. This is all last minute stuff --- it’s unpredictable. Kirchmayr can only make an educated guess as to how much of the $25-per-pound chocolate he needs to make.
Kirchmayr wouldn’t be pouting if he weren’t such a perfectionist --- a characteristic he readily, pridefully, admits to. Maybe it’s his German heritage, he says, maybe it’s just his nature, but he wants his chocolate to be a paragon of confection.
“I want to expose people to the art of candymaking,” says Kirchmayr, his voice smooth and low. “Even if they don’t like marzipan, they know they cannot get a better one.”
Today, in his shop at 6223 N. Charles St., Kirchmayr is trying to perfect a bite-sized chocolate heart. Gripping a pastry bag, he stands over trays of the morsels squeezing a hazelnut caramel filling he has just concocted into each piece. Kirchmayr and a couple of part-time helpers produce as much as 50 pounds a day of the exclusive confections to meet the demands of the season.
Cointreau, marzipan, mocha, Irish coffee, praline, nougat and mandarin bonbons are dropped into shimmery cups nestled inside gold boxes. An order of 1,900 swirled white and dark chocolate dessert shells are stacked on a tray ready to go to a Washington hotel.
Simmering caramel is poured onto a marble countertop and rolled out. And hundreds of dark chocolate cups are being wrapped in red foil before they are filled heavy with candies and tied with a ribbon and a silk rose before delivery to one of four area retail stores.
The Kirchmayr Chocolatier business, however, wasn’t always crowned with success. Since opening two years ago, Kirchmayr has spent more than half of his time marketing the sweets. “In the beginning, nobody wants to carry your candy because you don’t have a name,” says Kirchmayr, a resident of Tuscany/ Canterbury. “Now it’s taking off. It’s becoming a big business.”
A native of Munich, Germany, the 34-year-old Kirchmayr came to Baltimore 12 years ago. Trained in Europe as a chef in a trade school in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Kirchmayr began seeking jobs in America in 1977. A resume mailing to four-star hotels drew a response from a food and beverage manager leaving his job at The Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. He asked Kirchmayr to work for him at his new job at Café des Artistes in Mt. Washington. Kirchmayr says he became “fascinated” with candymaking.
“I love chocolate,” says Kirchmayr, his slim build a paradox considering his occupation. “But I also saw that there aren’t people here like there are in Europe who make it. Like everybody that goes into business, I thought there was a need.”
In 1986, Kirchmayr packed up and headed back to Europe to study the art for a year with 85-year-old master Karl Daeuvel, head of a multi-million dollar candy business in Munich. From there, he traveled to Lucerne, Switzerland for a specialized two-week finishing class where he polished up his candymaking techniques for everything “from gummy bears to liqueur candies.”
Kirchmayr now supplies several country clubs, hotels and caterers with specialty items and centerpieces. He furnishes Troia’s International in Towson, Morton’s downtown, the Corner Sweet Shop in Owings Mills and a gourmet Giant in Virginia with the confections.
“If it’s somebody who believes in it that is carrying it in their shop, then it sells,” says Kirchmayr.
Greg Brennan, Macy’s Marketplace manager, melts at the mention of Kirchmayr’s candy: “It’s outrageous chocolate. I have been promoting the daylights out of this chocolate. Our customers like it because it’s unusual.”
Brennan began urging company headquarters to carry it a year before the store began to stock it.
“It’s at the same price point as Godiva chocolate,” adds Brennan. “But his is selling because it’s so fresh. He makes it three days before I see it.” The chocolate comes to Kirchmayr in 10-pound blocks from Lubeck’s in Munich. After being shredded, it’s put into the kettle and heated.
“Chocolate is a nightmare,” says Kirchmayr, his muscular forearms flexed and his pale green eyes fixed on the batch and sets it on the counter. “If it’s perfectly tempered, in five minutes that chocolate will be hard.”
Some days Kirchmayr spends his time pouring chocolate into one of thousands of figurine plexiglass molds that include everything from golf balls to Easter bunnies. There hasn’t been a request he’s been unable to fill.
A giant chocolate fish was created for a caterer who was bidding to service the opening of the Aquarium’s new addition next summer. For a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra gala last year, Kirchmayr made a colossal violin filled with his bite-size sweetmeats. On alternate days he will create the nut, liqueur, marzipan, caramel and cream fillings that are poured into hollow chocolates or coated and cooled on a conveyer-type machine called an enrober.
“Each one has a different character,” says Kirchmayr picking up the chocolate-coated ladle. “See, it’s perfect. See how shiny the chocolate is?” Although most buyers purchase Kirchmayr chocolates in retail stores, there are a few aficionados who come directly to the shop.
Jack Kidd regularly purchases chocolates for clients of the Charter Group Insurance Company in Towson where he works.
“You eat a piece of Kirchmayr chocolate and then a Hershey bar, you can’t believe that you thought the Hershey bar was good,” says Kidd. “The chocolate-covered strawberries he carries in the summer are absolutely orgasmic.”
Kirchmayr brushes aside the compliment: “You can’t talk to a chocoholic.”
Kirchmayr hopes to someday find an apprentice who would like to learn how to create the delicacies. Although he has family in Germany --- mother, two sisters and two brothers --- none have expressed interest in joining Kirchmayr in his business.
“I wish they would. It’s tough to find good people. If I’m going to teach, I want to know it’s not just a job to them.”
Bill Denny worked for Kirchmayr during the Christmas holidays. More than a few times he’s seen Kirchmayr be “difficult” in his quest for perfection, he says, but “he’s good,” and Denny wanted the opportunity to learn some trade secrets.
“I like to cook,” says Denny. “Working in a chocolate factory for three weeks was an ultimate culinary experience because there is no way to do it at home.”
Kirchmayr makes no excuse for his one-track mind. He wants his chocolate be like the pretzels made in Germany by generations of bakers.
“That’s when you’re good --- when each one looks like it was made by machine. That’s my drive. I would like to have every one the same at all times --- to be perfect.”
9630 Deereco Road, Timonium MD 21093 tel 410-561-7705