Pete Steffy chopping chocolate for his truffles (left); The finished products are milk-chocolate truffles with rosemary and sea salt (right).
Chocolate didn’t seem to be in the future of Pete Steffy when he headed for Mexico on a Fulbright scholarship to teach English at the university in San Cristóbal de la Casa. But as chance so often has it, he was introduced to the cacao bean while there and found a whole new world.
The 27-year-old Royal Oak native, who now lives in Detroit, says he was always into food, and while studying liberal arts at Oberlin College had been active in a food co-op. It was his duty to plan and cook once a week for the 80 members. “I had a lot of fun making soups, mostly vegetarian and cooking curries,” he says. Chocolate, not so much.
During his stay in Mexico in 2009, a year after his graduation, however, an American friend introduced him to a local chocolate shop, where he was able to take a private class, and quickly learned he had an aptitude for making hand-rolled truffles, the most delicate and perishable of the chocolate family. The private class cost a mere $50, but it set him on the road to Pete’s Chocolate Co.
He started making truffles for fun, as he says, “small batches for myself and friends, just giving them out.”
It “happened organically,” he says, as he experimented on flavors and proportions. Because his enterprise falls under the cottage-food law, Steffy — who also teaches bass guitar and works as a cook at Mudgie’s Deli in Corktown — is allowed to make the bonbons in his home kitchen. He says he enjoys the small-scale production, although “at some point I hope to expand.”
His basic flavors range from dark chocolate with cinnamon and cayenne, and milk chocolate with dried cherries and pecans, to white-chocolate coconut curry and mocha, for which he uses coffee from another small producer, HenriettaHaus, a small-batch coffee roaster in Wyandotte. He uses Barry-Callebaut chocolate (“not the most exciting flavor, but a good all-around chocolate when adding other flavors,” he says), Calder Dairy cream, and, occasionally, butter from Lurpak and Plugrá.
Truffle making is a two-day process, starting with the ganache (melted chocolate and cream) and then adding the natural flavors. The confections set for a day at 55 degrees and then are finished by rolling in cocoa powder or nuts. They’re sold in singles ($1.50) and in boxes of four ($6) and nine ($12), in simple packaging “stamped by hand by me, the truffle man.”
“It’s very exciting in Detroit right now,” Steffy says. “I’m proud of being part of the community of small food entrepreneurs doing high quality and exciting things.”
Currently, the place to find Pete’s Chocolates is on weekends at the Rust Belt Market at 22801 Woodward in Ferndale or online at peteschocolate.com.
photographs by paul hitz