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Annie Rupani On Opening Cacao & Cardamom

Owner Annie Rupani behind the counter at Cacao & Cardamom.
Owner Annie Rupani behind the counter at Cacao & Cardamom.

"Cacao & Cardamom" [Photos: Holly Beretto]

Annie Rupani wasn't supposed to be a chocolatier. She was going to be a lawyer. After studying anthropology and religion at Boston University, the Houston native was all set to take the L-SAT and become a lawyer. But life had other ideas.

She launched Cacao and Cardamom in late 2012 and earlier this month the business opened its doors in the swanky Centre at Post Oak on Westheimer. Rupani sat down with Eater's Holly Beretto to chat about this sweet life she's living.

You were getting ready to be a lawyer. You were taking the L-SAT. How'd you go from that to this?
I started getting really into food as a junior in college. For my 21st birthday, I even took a cooking class. But this wasn't something I was going to do. I figured I would be a lawyer and I'd make great food and that was it. But as I was studying for the L-SAT, I gave myself six days of studying and one day to play around and cook. And I was traveling as I was doing this.

Along the way, you say became fascinated with the terroir of chocolate.
I did. I'm amazed at how chocolate from Hawaii is different from chocolate from Venezuela. And, in my travels, in Hawaii, for instance, I would talk with people who were growing cacao, about the soil, about what was in it, about how chocolate was made. And I ordered 50 pounds of this Hawaiian chocolate and I just started playing with it, during my day off of studying. I went from Hawaii to Pakistan, and I was still thinking I was going to law school, even though I was also starting to get the feeling, "Maybe this isn't for me." But I took the test and handed in my application – and went to pastry school in Malaysia.

And you didn't go to law school?
No. I came back to Houston and I just had chocolate on my mind, and I was thinking things like, where can I get really good, single-origin European chocolate to work with? At European Imports, I found out the chef at the Houston Raquet Club needed someone to make desserts, and I did a three-month internship there, making my chocolates. It was a great experience. I learned about commercial production, instead of just creating things for myself. And I did the 2012 Curry Crawl in CityCentre and won awards from the Rodeo and it became apparent that chocolate is what I was supposed to do.

Your chocolate incorporates elements of savory and sweet. How did you decide to go that route?
People think that chocolate is sweet, but it's not. It's that way because we made it that way. Chocolate tastes like where it comes from, like in Hawaii, you get these notes of coconut and banana and lava from the soil. So, I want the flavors I use to enhance each other. The Guava Tamarind is guava puree and tamarind paste around white chocolate. The Cardamom Rosewater are the kind of flavors that remind me of my heritage. I'd put cardamom in my chai every day and I'd round it off with rosewater. So, I put those flavors in a bon bon and my mother said it tasted natural, like an Indian sweet.

How many different kinds of chocolates are you making?
We probably have about 20 or so different types every day.

And what's been the reaction to your shop so far?
It's been pretty good. We sell by the piece and we have boxes you can make up of four, eight, 12 or 16 pieces. I try to greet everyone who comes in with a sample, to explain to them a little about what I want to do, where the different flavors come from. Chocolate really overtakes people in a way that not many foods do. And the great thing about being in the Galleria area is that it's such an international location. I mean, people come to the Galleria from everywhere. It's a destination. There's really something for everyone, and I love being part of this neighborhood.

What do you see for yourself next?
I'd really like to be a little like the Houston Dairy Maids. They bring in artisan cheeses from around Texas. I want to work with cacao growers and producers around the world to get their product and make confections. We still sell online, but I'd love to take my bon bons everywhere.

-Holly Beretto

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