The cocoa bean may be indigenous to the Americas but these days its home is in West Africa. West Africa produces nearly 70% of the world’s cocoa yet we’re not renowned for making luxury chocolate ourselves. Princess Odiakosa wants to change that. She is a chocolatier that works exclusively with Nigeria cocoa and has plans to make Nigeria “the sweetest place in Africa”. Here, she shares with SLA the challenges of being a Nigerian chocolate maker and why her company is called Kalabari Gecko.
How did you find your way into making chocolates?
I have always had this love for chocolate. I think it was as far back as when I was a little girl and being ascribed to as having a chocolate complexion. Also as a child, my sister planted a cocoa tree in front of our house all on her own.
There is something very compelling about the visual structure of chocolates and its formation in a box. There is the mystery embedded in the interiors of its inner cavities, and the burst of polyphenols, a reward your brain is always thankful for.
Whenever I travelled outside Nigeria, people would request I come back with chocolate. That used to get me upset. My response sometimes would be, “But we have cocoa, why don’t we make ours?” It was even sadder when visiting friends or family abroad, I had nothing to offer as gifts from my beloved Nigeria. So, you can say it was a two edged-sword. Thinking about Nigeria and the cocoa we have motivated me to stop talking and start creating.
I’ve had this dream of becoming a chocolatier since 2010, but didn’t know how to go about it. There were no chocolate making schools or classes available anywhere in Africa. I had to head North of Europe to learn the art of bean to bar.
My passion is for the Nigeria cocoa bean. You probably don’t know that our cocoa gets a lot of bad press for its distinct character. My Kalabari Gecko is 100% single source Nigerian chocolate. My chocolates are made from our locally farmed cocoa bean into tasty, satisfying treats. I want to change all that and make Nigerian chocolate an acquired taste. Something we can call ours.
Why Kalabari Gecko? What’s the story behind the name?
Initially, I had another name for my company. But one day I was conversing with a friend’s brilliant mum about my plans for the business and she advised me to change the name to a more Nigerian one. It was from there, the name Kalabari Gecko emerged.
Every time the thought of my chocolate business came to mind, I always had a picture of this pretty rampant gecko in my head. This image started invading my dreams and I chose it as my logo.
What do you do for a living? Do you have any plans to move towards making chocolates full time?
I work full-time at a financial consulting firm, dbrownconsulting. We are into financial based training, consulting and outsourcing. I manage the Training and Marketing department.
I love my job so much, and my boss has been really supportive of my business. It can be really hectic juggling both, but for now I try to find time in the early mornings to make chocolate, or after work, most especially weekends. I try to make my passion fuel me, and my dreams take me there.
I would love to make chocolate full time and I am working towards that goal.
How do you plan to take your chocolatier business to the next level?
I have often heard about the difficulty of acquiring a start-up loan from the banks; that it’ll be easier bringing Steve Jobs back to life, than get a loan from one of the banks.
So, I am investing most of the money I take home to my chocolate business. I see my factory producing high quality affordable chocolate for Nigerians and the people they love all over the world. I want to make Nigeria the sweetest place in Africa.
To get there, I am taking things one step at a time and right now, trying to put everything in place.
If you could eat only one kind of chocolate for the rest of your life? What would it be?
It would be the darkest of the dark, or any flavor enrobed in dark. I love the honesty the dark chocolate has. I even find myself popping freshly roasted cocoa nibs into my mouth whenever I roast.
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