Rocio Lazaro (28), of Auckland, is a Mexican-born chocolatier
"I can eat chocolate every day and every night, oh, yes! I was born in a little town in Mexico, which is also the birthplace of chocolate – so I grew up surrounded by cocoa plantations. I would see them and just know I would be working in chocolate sometime in the future. In fact, chocolate was first discovered about seven hours from where I lived.
Our day would start with hot chocolate. My family had a clay pot and we put in stone-ground chocolate with sugar, cinnamon and almonds, which would be rubbed together. We’d drink this every morning from a clay cup.
It was the first thing my mum would do after she woke up, then she would go to work. My mother made cakes for a living, which inspired me to become a pastry chef. It was my destiny to work with chocolate!
In my city of Oaxaca, life is easy and everyone knows each other. My grandma made cheese and my uncle made bread.
I left home at 17 to study culinary arts in Mexico City for three years, which was really unusual in Mexico as most people don’t leave home until they are in their twenties.
After that, I went to Vancouver to work. I didn’t know any English, but I knew I wanted to work with chocolate, so I learned how to make chocolate and speak English at the same time.
My first job was in a five-star hotel and I’ve also worked on a cruise ship as a pastry chef. I’ve seen the world in my job.
It was my teacher from culinary school in Mexico who first told me to come to New Zealand because he had moved here.
To come here to learn about chocolate was the perfect place because you get a huge production, which means you make volume. You have many opportunities to practise, which you really need when you work with so many unique ingredients and make thousands of different chocolates.
So let’s talk about how it’s made.
First you determine what chocolate you want – either dark, milk or white. Chocolate originates from cocoa pods. You ferment it, then you dry it and then you get the cocoa nibs out of it. Next you roast the nibs and put it in the machine for 28 hours to melt. Then we temper it and make it into tablets. It’s a huge process to make chocolate from bean to bar.
Chocolate is becoming more experimental. There’s so much opportunity to be creative. I’ve just made a chilli chocolate with a chilli jam – I love it! I’m a dark-chocolate person because you get all of the flavour of the cocoa. I think 72 per cent is my favourite. Not too bitter, not too sweet, something in the middle. You can still taste it.
Chocolate from different parts of the world tastes very different. Right now, we are working with a chocolate from Samoa. The soil the beans are grown in causes everything to change – even the weather impacts on how it will taste.I will say the best chocolate comes from Venezuela, but Brazil and Guatemala both have amazing chocolate.
Chocolate is universal and a lot of people can bond over it. That’s why Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas are always so crazy!
The Aztecs used to offer it to the gods, so in our culture, it’s like drinking gold. They would put chocolate with cinnamon and a little bit of chilli to drink it. So I take my time and appreciate the ingredients – these are the values I’ve had my whole life. Making the perfect treat takes a lot of time and patience.
Of course it’s not just about the chocolate – every time I eat it, I think about all the people who have put so much love into it. To work with chocolate for me is magical. It has so much soul!
In the future, I would love to open my own business in Mexico, to work with Mexican chocolate and to support the community. I’m from a small town and we try to support each other, so if I can do that, it will be a dream come true.”
My favourite New Zealand foods are… Crayfish and paua. I tried them both at a seafood festival – unbelievable!
I couldn’t live without… Chocolate and caramel. We make our caramel a little bit burnt, and the combination of bitter and sweet together is unique.
What I miss most about home is… My family. I have lived outside of Mexico for 10 years and they are the most important things in the world to me.