Women in Chocolate: Ruth Kennison, The Chocolate Project

Ruth Kennison is a chocolatier, chocolate educator, and the founder of The Chocolate Project in Los Angeles, California. Ruth began her journey about eighteen years ago when she received a certification in pastry, after being involved in television production and professional organizing.

The Transition to Chocolate

In 2013, she took her first origin trip to Tabasco and Chiapas in Mexico with Chloe Doutre-Roussel and Steve Devries, who are two legends in the bean-to-bar chocolate industry, where she learned about the chocolate movement. After that trip, Ruth realized that she did not know as much about chocolate as she thought she did.

From that point on, she says “I learned everything I could about where chocolate comes from, as well as how to make bean-to-bar chocolate, and how to taste chocolate and cacao properly.” Chloe and her friend, Maya Schoop-Rutten, opened her eyes to what the industry was, but she also met a lot of other people along the way. Ruth says “there are so many kind, amazing, and generous people that I have met that have served as my mentors throughout this process.”

Ruth's Many Roles in the Chocolate Industry

This exposure and excitement led to The Chocolate Project, a place where Ruth educates children and adults on where chocolate comes from, does chocolate tastings, and teaches people how to make chocolate from bean-to-bar and how to be chocolatiers.

In addition to her work at The Chocolate Project, Ruth is the Chocolate Educator at the Gourmandise Cooking School in Santa Monica where, she says, “I founded the Santa Monica Chocolate Society – a community of chocolate tasters who meet one to two times a month to taste chocolate and meet makers, farmers, academics, and historians.” Clemence Gossett, the founder of Gourmandise Cooking School and one of her mentors, asked her almost two decades ago to choose a subject, become an expert on it, and run the program in her school. By the time the school was open,  Ruth was well on her way to becoming the chocolate educator she is today.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ruth taught in-person classes. There is a class she loved teaching that she described as a “two-day bean to bar class where the students learn how to source, sort, roast, crack, winnow, and process the beans into chocolate.” She also volunteered, as well as traveled to schools where she taught students from second to twelfth grade about how chocolate impacts history, colonization, social justice, and human rights.

Ruth thought chocolate was the perfect passageway into discussing all of these important topics. She says “My main goal is education—I want to educate both children and adults so that they can become smarter consumers.” As for her volunteering, she says “I volunteer at a couple organizations: one for homeless youth and another for disadvantaged teens, and I am developing curriculums about chocolate for those programs.” Ruth has also helped judge in chocolate competitions which involves tasting hundreds of samples of chocolate for several hours, days, or an entire week, and ultimately choosing the winners.

The Silver Lining of the Pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all of the in-person classes at Gourmandise and at The Chocolate Project stopped completely. As for the Santa Monica Chocolate Society, they were able to transfer to online, and did better than they had ever done. She says “I was able to Zoom with chocolate makers, farmers, and academics from all over the world. We weren’t limited to who could come to Los Angeles.” And at The Chocolate Project, Ruth began creating custom chocolate kits that included chocolate, cocoa bean, and nibs, and she sent those to people across the country who wanted to have virtual chocolate tastings.

The Bean-to-Bar Industry in 2021

When Ruth first began working in the industry, there were only about 150 bean-to-bar chocolate makers, but now there are too many to count. She muses, “It’s a great thing to have more chocolate makers - the more we have, the more awareness people have of  craft chocolate. And of course, the more fine chocolate that is sold, the more farmers will get paid. That being said, there is also sometimes the opportunity for error, some makers who aren’t really taking the time to learn all the nuances of craft chocolate. And consumers might not know what to look for—they may only see a pretty package but not really know what has gone into making that bar. So education about craft chocolate continues to be critical.”

Ruth also mentions that one of the main missions of craft chocolate is transparency. She says, “If you are not transparent, you will not be thought of highly in this industry.” It’s important for people who are in this industry to be invested and educated in it, so that they are able to fully inspire and educate others.

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