At the Grammy Awards on February 15th, performers, presenters, and guests will get a taste of Memphis — literally.
Everyone at the Grammys will get one of Memphis chocolatier Phillip Ashley's golden pralines, a pyramid-shaped, 68 percent, single-origin dark chocolate praline laced with 23-karat gold leaf dust. Each golden praline retails for $79.
Ashley, who creates artful chocolates in his Cooper-Young shop, was named the official chocolatier of the Grammy Awards gift lounge. It's not his first award show, though. Ashley's chocolates were handed out at the Oscars in 2013.
The award shows are just one step in his plan to spread his Memphis-made chocolates across the nation. In January, Ashley began selling several of his chocolate collections through luxury brands Neiman Marcus and Horchow.
Dubbed the "real-life Willy Wonka" by Forbes magazine, Ashley creates chocolates that double as works of culinary and visual art. Each chocolate is hand-painted and boasts wild flavor combinations, such as apricot and gorgonzola dulce or bacon caramel shortbread. — Bianca Phillips
Flyer: What's the plan for the Grammys?
Phillip Ashley: We're doing the chocolate for the gift lounge for the performers, presenters, and media. That's February 12th through the 14th when people are coming to rehearse or media is coming to work on pre-stories.
We're also doing the chocolates for the 30 performers' dressing rooms. So, like, Adele is opening, and LL Cool J is the host. We're doing personalized gift towers for each one of those performers.
We're doing the media room the night of the Grammys, and we're doing 6,170 pralines for the after-party. They're going to build a big pyramid of our chocolates, and people will be handing them out.
And this chocolate is coated in gold?
We put flecks of gold inside the praline, and we dusted them with gold dust. We use a makeup brush, and a little dust goes a long way. It's $160 for a gram of gold dust.
How did this happen?
They contacted me. I went to a summit in L.A. a few years ago, just another entertainer/artist event. We did chocolates there, and turns out, some of their representatives were there. They contacted me last spring, and they said they liked my stuff.
Your chocolates are now being sold through Neiman Marcus and Horchow. Are you on a quest for world domination?
The goal was always to grow our corporate gifting business, which is something we're constantly going after and doing luxury retail from a wholesale perspective. We're based in Memphis and always will be, but I never wanted to be a mom-and-pop. We wanted to mass produce but with a high level of handcrafted, artisan work.
How did you get into the gourmet chocolate business?
It was kind of a crazy idea just dreaming about chocolate. I said, why isn't anyone in real life doing what Willy Wonka did? I would have ideas for chocolates flavors, like barbecue or bleu cheese. We have a chocolate that reminds you of an orange dreamsicle that's blood orange, vanilla bean, and tequila. I wanted to come up with imaginative combinations.
Do you ever have combinations that don't work out?
Yeah, when you're pushing the envelope, sometimes you have to re-work things or rein it in. I've worked on it long enough to be able to create a formula base so I can plug things into the equation.
Does your staff taste-test?
Oh yes, I'll hand them a spoon and say, try the ganache. Funny enough, I taste them for balance and all those things. But once the final product is made, I never eat it.
They're like little pieces of art.
When I started, I planned to do it the old-world way with everything hand-rolled, rustic style, hand-dipped. And then somebody asked for 1,500 pieces, and I said, that's the last time I'm doing that.
The molded shapes and the painting came in large part from me figuring out a better way to produce at a higher rate. They're mini-sculptures, and the way they looks ties into the ingredients. My dad is our head painter. He retired from being a basketball coach for 38 years. All of the chocolates that are going out, he paints. It takes someone who can be methodical and disciplined.