Cacao’s Kristen Hard has advice for women working in the male-dominated restaurant industry

Plus 12 other things we learned from the founder and CEO of Cacao
Photo by Lee Clower
Photo by Lee Clower

13 Questions is a weekly series where we ask chefs 13 questions to get to know them outside of the kitchen. Kristen Hard is founder and CEO of Cacao

How much chocolate do you eat a day?
I would say anywhere from a quarter ounce to a bar. Sometimes I’ve eaten a whole box of chocolate truffles; if I got like a 12-piece, I could eat half a box if I was really in a mood. My favorite is our Patanemo. I really like it in the morning. I pretty much come into work and eat chocolate immediately. There’s always something I have to taste for quality control.

What do you do when you aren’t making chocolate?
It’s pretty much work and taking care of my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Delphine. I am a single mom. Now with our Japan business opening [first a store-within-a-store then eventually a freestanding store], traveling with a three-and-a-half-year-old for a month will be interesting. The last time we traveled for a month was in Peru, and she was great, but it has complications; trying to make things magical and do business is difficult.

What’s one baking technique you have yet to master?
I’ve been working on a waffle recipe for about four months. It’s like the liège waffle, but getting the perfect crispiness on outside and perfect melt in your mouth on the inside with right amount of maple syrup is tricky.

You discovered cacao while working as a chef on yacht. What was the craziest thing about that job?
The amount of money I was able to spend on food at any moment. I would have dinners for five people that cost $2,000. It was total artistic and financial freedom to do what I wanted to for one year. When I left to move back to Europe, I was studying for LSAT, and I was having late night panic attacks. I moved to Europe with the intention of getting a job with a chocolate company but then had the intuition that I shouldn’t get a job working for someone else. If I did that, as much as I wanted to learn, it would be stifling my own voice and I had something to say.

What’s your advice to women in this male-dominated industry?
Be fearless. I think some of the things that I’ve done most people probably would avoid, but I don’t have the barometer. I’ve been in a plane crash in Venezuela and felt like I was going to get kidnapped by a taxi driver I had to ride with for eight hours. I was stuck on the side of a mountain at four months pregnant for 14 hours in Peru. Or sleeping in a hammock in the jungle and getting bitten by something and my lip swelling up.

What’s your guilty pleasure candy bar?
Of my chocolate, it’s my Halloween chocolate with the candy corn. I typically stash a few away when we make them at Halloween. I am still hiding bars right now.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to make sweets from the time I was five or six. I always wanted to have a little cafe. I also spent a lot of my time inventing. When I was seven, I was obsessing about a chemistry set.

Who is your role model?
Steve Jobs really spent a long time trying to do something and change the fabric of the computer world. I’ve spent 10 years speaking a language that is very foreign to many people. I have a vision, and I am not going to stop until I accomplish it. It’s not about making a cute truffle; it’s about changing the fabric of an industry, from the source model to the genetic varieties to what consumers understand about what chocolate even is and the different levels of consumption and what they’re willing to pay for it.

We’re in the beginning phases of a new world of chocolate. It’s also really hard, and I’ve been in Atlanta with this business since 2006. I get a lot of critical feedback about my pricing, but with every penny we get we fund more research that all goes back to further this vision. Steve Jobs did the same thing.

How do you stay in shape?
Chocolate is very healthy, as healthy as fruits and yogurt in the morning or half an avocado. It has good fats, very little sugar, fiber, protein. For chocolate, I don’t think twice about it. I will eat as much as I want every day. I will only let myself have one slice of cake a week. If it’s a macaron, I have just one, an oatmeal cream pie every few weeks. I don’t ever binge on anything, and I don’t want to. I am believer in eating what you want. If you refrain, then by nature you start to obsess about it.

Do you have any pet peeves?
People not paying attention to the details.

Has your philosophy and pre-law degree helped out at all in the kitchen?
I haven’t been in the kitchen for five years. I do R&D. I am very much a strategic thinker, and in philosophy and pre-law you have to think strategically. On the other end, there are constant moral issues we face. I have a desire to redefine the industry from the farm perspective. There’s a lot of moral code that goes into business and operating with third world countries and raw materials and the exchange of wealth of what we sell and how we purchase and how we produce.

What’s one place you’d like to travel to?
I would really like to eventually set my sights on making some changes in Africa. I’ve been building my business now for 10 years, and I feel like I’ve spent my time growing as a person and a business and really investing into growth. In the next phase in the next 10 years, I want to take a more philanthropic approach. We already give back. We work with farmers; we go direct; and have tiered pricing (not commodity), but I feel like there’s a lot of things I’d like to do in Africa with Cacao: bringing water, bringing education, so many different things we can help with over there.

What was the last great book you read?
I’m reading like five books. There’s a great book about being a CEO and an artist, The Heart Aroused.