Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Esther Aguirre and I currently live in the small Hamlet of Holmes, NY with my hubby Eduardo, our three-year-old son and chocolate critic Alex, and of course our chickens. I moved to the US from the other side of the puddle 10 years ago, a few years after finishing my business administration studies.
I’m the chocolate nut behind Xocolatl Chocolates (which means ‘bitter drink’ or ‘bitter water’ in Nahuatl Aztec). I was born and raised in the small town of Orduña, which is located on the Spanish side of the mountainous and rugged Basque Country. It’s more than 1,000 years old! I’m the youngest of five children. Like our land, we are rugged and warm people, also known for our loyalty as well as for our love of food. Cuisine and the kitchen are at the heart of Basque culture. I grew up basically in the kitchen, reading stories to my mom while she cooked food for an army. That’s what probably turned me into a food nut and a book rat.
Basque food is all about quality, not so much about lots of ingredients, but about cooking with the best possible. My mom used to say, there’s no mystery to making a great meal when you have all that you need and more. But when you only have the basics (or not even that) and you are capable of warming your guest’s stomach as well as their heart and make that meal one to remember, then you’ve done something great. I always keep that principle in the back of my head when creating chocolates or baked goods – keep it simple, but keep it good. At Xocolatl Chocolates, you won’t find items with more than five or six ingredients, if that, but I can guarantee you they will be of great quality.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
My other passion is books. I think they’re treasures of time. I love antique books and oftentimes I wonder who read them, and about their past and their experiences. I also like history very much. I really enjoy historic novels, I just wish I had more time to read, but for that I would need at least 30 hour long days! I love to sketch, draw, color, and once in a blue moon when I have the time, I love to knit in bed.
What would be the title of your memoir?
The title of my memoir would be Finally Walking on the Dark Side…of Chocolate That Is!
As a kid, I used to love milk and white chocolates and I still do, don’t get me wrong. But time, age and experience has shown me that dark chocolate is such a wonderful ingredient. It just has it all. Its color, smoothness, taste, smell, feel, look, health advantages, complexity, moodiness, working potential and versatility just keep amazing me more and more every day. It’s simply a passion. I love all kinds of chocolate, but now I’m definitely on the dark side.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Food of course. I’m a foodie to the core, always trying different cuisines, flavor combinations, new and exciting spiced up dishes. Having friends from all over has helped me a lot. They have opened my mind and tastebuds to new flavors and to the unknown. I’m proud to say that I’ve tried alligator, guinea pig, fruits and tubers among other things that I didn’t even know existed, and I love it all! I’m not afraid of trying new foods, and all that thanks to them. Thank you, guys!
Also the international foods aisle, and ethnic supermarkets (especially Korean) are a great source of inspiration. If I see a product, fruit or spice that I don’t know or haven’t worked with, oftentimes I buy it and then I research on the Internet and look for recipes to try.
My customers also inspire me and give me new ideas – a few products exist thanks to their requests, ideas and challenges. I would also like to say a special thank you to Joanne Yobak, she’s the one person who basically pushed me to do this, to do what I love today. Thank you for your challenging requests, referrals, confidence in me, as well as for being the most loyal of customers.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade to me means, putting my heart, passion, time and effort into something special. Handmade is something that doesn’t just come from a mass production factory and can sit on a shelf for a couple of years and still “be fresh.” It means quality, something special made just for you. Handmade also is when somebody doesn’t even have words to express how much they like what I made for them – they close their eyes and simply go, “Mmmm!”
Who has been most influential in your craft?
Definitely my mom. She was always super creative in the kitchen, even though she didn’t have a huge variety of ingredients. We did have a garden, so there were always plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables available. She made meals to remember from the simplest ingredients. My dad used to tell her after every new unexpected creation: “I cannot believe that after a lifetime together you are still able to surprise me in the kitchen.” I want to be like that. When you get your goodies from Xocolatl Chocolates, I would like your experience to be like that – a surprise for your taste buds.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I wouldn’t call myself an artist, but I’ve always been a crafter and maker. Since I can remember, I always loved to do things with my hands. I’ve done everything from making clothes for my dolls, knitting a scarf, playing with dough food, playing board games, putting on puppet shows, coloring in coloring books, making up comics, and cooking and baking. Nowadays, I find myself sometimes unable to fall sleep because I’m thinking about a recipe for a new item or a menu for an upcoming get together with friends. My mind is never still.
How would you describe your creative process?
Ideas often come when I least expect them. It can be a smell, a color or a familiar taste, something that takes me back in time or to places I’ve visited. Often trips or different foods just make the lightbulb turn on. I have to write ideas down, otherwise I will forget them. Seriously, when it comes to ideas I have the retention of a fly.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
When I was pregnant my mom and older sister knitted an amazingly soft white angora baby blanket for Alex. I really keep it close to my heart because my mom made it for my son, and she never got to meet him in person.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
When I’m in a rut, sometimes I like to work on other aspects of Xocolatl, like how to improve on its looks, the pictures, the packaging or ideas for the exciting near feature launching of the website, thanks to fellow Etsian friends Janet and Scott McEntire at Vendzi. The attractive appearance of the store and appealing branding are that good because of their expertise and professionalism. Also, if I’m up to it, updating and giving a little bit of love to my blog that’s in desperate need of my attention.
I sometimes like a change of scenery, get out of the kitchen, or relax with a cup of Spanish style hot chocolate, so thick that the spoon stands on its own (nom, nom), read a book, go for a walk, sketch, go out to eat, or I simply do something unrelated.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I would love to be in a better, sweeter world filled with love and peace, surrounded by family, friends, chicks and chocolate. I would love to be in paradise.