For Brigid Woolnough, chocolate isn’t just food, it’s a whole food group. She’s turned her passion into an award-winning business that combines art and science in chocolate form.
Sunshine Coast chocolatier Brigid Woolnough fell in love with chocolate as a teenager. She was an exchange student in Germany and her host father worked for an international chocolate manufacturer. She was amazed by the Mary-Poppins like cupboard that refilled itself daily and the amazing uses that chocolate could be put to. It wasn’t until she was on maternity leave from her primary school teaching job that she was able to indulge her passion.
“I was used to play and had lots of tactile experiences in the classroom. So making chocolate was something that I could do that inspired me creatively and also gave me some sort of tactile, physical outlet,” she says. “And then, because I wanted to continue, I had to find ways to be resourceful. I would sell the chocolates at the markets in order to make money to then buy more chocolate.”
What started as a hobby became her artisan chocolate business, KOKOPOD. After studying chocolate making in Melbourne & Switzerland with some of world’s leading chocolatiers, Brigid began to grow the business at home, juggling the demands of her young family while her husband worked in a FIFO job.
“For the first few years it was just all me,” Brigid remembers. “My sister helped with the weekend markets where there was lots of trial and error. Lots of experimental products, branding and presentation, until we started to work with wholesale, and then that's when we realised the business had legs.”
Thanks to Brigid’s dedication to her craft, the business grew steadily and, by 2017, Brigid was confident to expand into a purpose-designed space on the Sunshine Coast. She now employs a team of twelve to make and sell chocolates to order, but KOKOPOD is still proudly handcrafted. “I want to prove that quality can conquer; to;show up every day with a product that's superior and allows the consumer to experience our justification for why it's better,” she says.
While KOKOPOD creations look like art, Brigid insists that the creative process behind them is more like science. “It's literally just a bunch of ingredients on a table and tasting all the different ones together. Just playing around, changing the ratios and asking if that makes a difference? Other things come into play but generally the whole thing is just literally one big science experiment.”
But like any other artist, Brigid’s creativity takes time. She mulls over ideas for flavour combinations for months, jotting down notes of what she thinks will work before she takes to the kitchen. Then she begins to build the taste experience, chasing the perfect balance of flavours.
“It all starts with taste, a single ingredient that I want to profile. What's its texture like? Where does it come from? What's important about it? I start to think about what flavour chocolate will best enhance its taste. And then what kind of supporting elements can I offer to really make the prime ingredient shine. And then finding all the other ways, visually, textually, taste, that we can highlight those key notes.”
At KOKOPOD, the words ‘chocolate coated macadamia’ take on a whole new meaning. The range of flavours in their macadamia collection is extensive. With their pearly sheen, they almost look like art in a jar thanks to the skillful panning and polishing of the chocolatiers.
Brigid is quick to admit that KOKOPOD is her palate on a plate. Macadamias feature highly in the KOKOPOD range because she loves them. She can easily enthuse about all the different ways to combine them with chocolate. “We put a layer of micro toffee coating around them, then top them in some really luxurious chocolate. The caramelized range comes in white chocolate blonde as well as milk and dark, and we have a coconut chocolate, which is a bit like a coconut rough.” There’s also a new range of vegan chocolate coated macadamias that have been in development for several months.”
Brigid also loves to combine distinctly Australian flavours. KOKOPOD’s Ginger Nut bar, for instance, combines locally-produced ginger and locally-grown macadamias in a chocolate bar that represents the flavours of the Sunshine Coast.
So does Brigid still like to eat chocolate now that it consumes her working days? “I eat it every day, constantly,” she says. “It's a food group. It's life. It's part of the pyramid. We eat it as we make it because we have to. The chef has to try the soup! And then we also just enjoy it.”
But unlike her host father back in Germany, Brigid doesn’t keep much at home. “When my family come over, they raid the cupboards and they're always astounded that there's not a chocolate stash,” she laughs. “But we graze throughout the day. We’re definitely not sick of it.”
And with KOKOPOD’s ever expanding range, there’s always something new to try.