Liquid lavender-infused honey caramel in a dark-chocolate shell, topped with a sprinkling of gorgeous fleur de sel: This mouth-watering description applies to one of the gourmet treats available at Bespoke Chocolates in New York City’s East Village. Founded by Rachel Zoe Insler and her husband, alumnus Gil Krakowsky (’00, M.A. ’04), Bespoke Chocolates offers high-quality chocolates from two academics-turned-chocolatiers.
The couple never planned on starting a chocolate business. “I was in the process of getting my Ph.D. in experimental psychology at Columbia University and Gil was getting his in political science, but neither of us was terribly happy,” Insler says. “When we met in New York in 2006, Gil had already left his program to become a management consultant, and I was seriously considering leaving mine to pursue pastry full-time. I found that I was deriving much more pleasure from my culinary school curriculum than I was from my doctoral program.”
When Krakowsky’s consulting job offered him the opportunity to work in London in 2007, the couple left New York to live abroad and explore Europe for several months.
“I landed an apprenticeship at Melt, this fantastic chocolaterie in London’s Notting Hill,” Insler says, “which gave me a taste for the chocolate business and motivated me to open my own shop.”
The couple launched Bespoke Chocolates in 2009, drawing on their scholarly skills to propel their work. Krakowsky uses economics to keep the shop financially solvent, while Insler uses her science background to create delicious combinations, melding ingredients in the most mouthwatering ways.
“There is a scientific quality to the blending and creating of the perfect chocolate,” Insler says, “from bringing out the best notes of each flavor and spice that we add to the chocolate to the timing of it all—it requires a methodical and precise approach.”
The ingredients they use are another important part of their formula, Krakowsky explains. “We try to use local ingredients whenever possible. For instance, we use Martin’s Pretzels from Union Square to make our pretzel-covered sea-salt caramels, giving our customer the finest culinary treat using a locally made product.”
Both Insler and Krakowsky believe that interaction with their customers makes for a better chocolate as well as a more enjoyable experience for everyone. As Insler explains, "I have worked with brides, couples, families hosting big parties, businesses—you name it—to create signature chocolates for special events. We'll experiment in the kitchen until we get something that's just right."
And their “lab” is open to visitors. “We employ an ‘open kitchen’ model at Bespoke,” Krakowsky says. “People come into the store and see Rachel working in the back and there's this easy-going, back-and-forth that happens, a sort of dialogue between chef and customer. We bring the customer into the chocolate-making process."
“I feel more involved in the whole process that way," Insler adds.
“Finding what you love to do and getting the chance to do it is the recipe for a happy life,” she says. “Chocolate is actually a great way to combine my love of science with my sense of creativity.”
For Krakowsky, "I get to use my Economics background and business experience to help Rachel bring her dream to life. And we make a lot of people happy in the process. What could be better than that?"