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Published 4/16/2008

Douglas Cale owns Schakolad, the chocolate café that recently opened in Birmingham. The parent company, Schakolad Factory, based in Orlando, Fla., is run by the son and grandson of the founder, who got into the business in 1969, combining his name and the word chocolate. The Schakeds have been franchising about 12 years. Doug retired from Deloitte in 2002 after 25 years as a management consultant. Five years later, he acquired a franchiseand and began another career.

METRO TIMES: You were a consultant at Deloitte until your retirement a few years ago. Was life too quiet for you?

DOUGLAS CALE: I retired to start doing some things that I wanted to do and stop traveling on airplanes, to do some things that were fun, not necessarily for profit. So I got into ski racing, home remodeling and things that expanded my horizons. I took classes in drawing and painting. I relaxed, got into good shape. I even took up cooking — self-taught — and became the family cook. My wife was teaching at the time. I did do some sweets — cookies, cakes and puddings. It never occurred to me to make candy.

MT: What got you into the candy making business?

CALE: I was looking for a good business opportunity that would be a nice fit in downtown Birmingham. I got to know the owners of a couple of the other local Schakolad stores. Over a period of time I thought that it would be a lot of fun and a cool thing to open a store in Birmingham. There didn't seem to be anything quite like it. The kind of concept I came up with was a gourmet, European-style, family-owned chocolate café, the kind of place where people were comfortable coming in for a hot chocolate and a couple of handmade truffles. Eventually we plan to have gelato and desserts.

MT: What is European-style chocolate?

CALE: It's really got to do with truffles being homemade, hand-dipped dark and milk chocolate. A truffle is a small candy about the size of a mushroom. It's kind of a European thing as opposed to American fudge.

MT: How does your chocolate differ from other premium brands that are available?

Cale: When you look at each truffle, every one is unique because they have been hand-dipped. We don't have a machine that does the work. When you look at a Godiva, every one is identical, machine-made. Ours are individually made, hand-formed, including how we make the centers and cook the ganaches. I don't know if that, in and of itself, adds flavor, but I think the individuality of a box of our chocolates stands out because everything's a little bit different. It adds a little character.

MT: How complicated is the process of making chocolate?

CALE: Some of it can be very straightforward. If you're pouring a mold of solid dark chocolate, you go over to the tempering machine and pour it into a mold and chill the mold down, take it out and package it up. If you're making a ganache, a rich cream-based center that has to be cooked the night before, it has to be set out to rest at exactly the right temperature before you dip it. These are all things that we learned the hard way in a lot of cases. We've thrown away many batches. Chocolate is very temperamental.

MT: What exactly is tempering?

CALE: Basically, tempered chocolate has a nice, shiny, dark look to it with a nice surface, which means that the chocolate crystals are lined up. If it is out of temper, it has a grayish color to it and it doesn't reflect light. Taking it in and out of refrigeration can take it out of temper. Chocolate likes to be kept at 68-70 degrees. The process involves going through a temperature cycle. We store our chocolate at over 100 degrees at night. We drop it down about 20 degrees, and then bring it to a stable temperature. It's something that you have to keep an eye on all day. There are some tricks of the trade that are not documented, intentionally so, but are verbally passed along.

MT: Do you make the chocolate?

CALE: We do not process the chocolate from the cacao. We get our chocolate in 10-pound blocks about a half a ton at a time. We get our chocolate from two sources: One is Belgian, the other is French.

MT: What differentiates great chocolate from plain old chocolate?

CALE: Certainly cocoa content has a lot to do with it. If you go out and buy a typical candy bar, the cocoa might be 15 to 20 percent. The cocoa content in our dark chocolate is probably four times that. Our milk chocolate would be three times that.

Schakolad is at 167 N. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-723-8008.

Jeff Broder does this monthly food interview for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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