For Alysha Kropf of Ecole Chocolat, an online culinary school for all things chocolate, a love of chocolate is in her genes. She got her sweet tooth from her mom, who got it from her grandmother. For each birthday growing up, she requested chocolate cake with chocolate icing.
“Sticker Girl” Start
Years before she fell into the role of program and marketing director for Ecole Chocolat, a young Alysha watched gleefully as her aunt, Pam Williams, made handcrafted chocolates at her Vancouver, B.C. chocolate shop. One of Alysha's fondest childhood memories is of playing the role of "sticker girl" to help her aunt fill the influx of orders around the holidays. Her aunt made the chocolates, her mom wrapped them in foil, and Alysha added the finishing touch, sealing the treats with a brightly colored sticker.
Pam launched Ecole Chocolat in 2003 to provide comprehensive online programs for aspiring chocolatiers and chocolate makers, after noticing a lack of educational opportunities available for those looking to get the training needed to start a chocolate business.
Alysha joined her aunt's blossoming business in 2014, shortly after becoming a mother to twins, and not just as a sticker girl. Alysha is incredibly passionate about the work she does for Ecole: "It's been really exciting to take my love of chocolate and learn so much more about it. I found I also really love learning about social media and photography, and connecting with our community of students, graduates and colleagues."
Working to Transform the Chocolate Industry
Alysha plans to be in the chocolate industry for the long haul. Surrounded by driven, passionate, and knowledgeable colleagues, Alysha is always learning more about the complex and sometimes challenging world of chocolate production. She’s involved in the Chocolate Industry for Social Justice (CISJ), which is where she met Tangle Chocolate’s founder, Suzanne Forman. Like the other chocolate lovers in the CISJ, Alysha thinks the chocolate industry needs a major transformation. That's why she's passionate about the CISJ's goals, such as increasing diversity in the chocolate industry and ensuring cacao farmers are paid a fair wage. "It's such a big tide to turn," Alysha says, "but we all have a responsibility to try to work towards a better cacao industry."
To that end, Alysha also volunteers her time with the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund--the nonprofit offspring of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) and the USDA--where she is on the social media marketing team. The HCP grew out of a desire to find, identify, and preserve fine heirloom cacao. The organization works to empower farmers and their communities through their genetic identification and sampling process. Once cacao crops are assigned heirloom status, farmers can charge more for their crop. Good for farmers, and good for the environment too; their practices encourage biodiversity and cacao sustainability while supporting small agriculture. (Read more about the HCP in our article, https://tanglechocolate.com/blogs/news/saving-cacao-trees-that-make-great-chocolate-the-heirloom-cacao-preservation-fund.)
A Supportive Community
While there's a lot to be fixed in the chocolate industry, Alysha said the thing she appreciates most about it is the people. "The community is so full of people who are so driven, passionate, and knowledgeable. [They] really want to produce amazing quality products that people enjoy. [They're] conscious of the issues that face cacao farmers and want to be involved in trying to make their situation better." She has been surprised how willing people were to share information. Unlike many other craft food communities, experienced chocolatiers and chocolate makers are more than willing to mentor newcomers.
Ecole Chocolat’s Curriculum
If you're considering starting your own sustainable chocolate business or just picking up a new hobby, the programs offered by Ecole Chocolat Professional School of Chocolate Arts are sure to pique your interest. Their two core programs are their Professional Chocolatier Program and Chocolate Making from the Bean. There are also add-on courses for business development, and enrichment courses in chocolate quality, shelf life, and recipe development. Check it out!