Eva and Les are a couple of characters. They are also chocolatiers and the owners of Accent Café and Chocolates in Penticton, where one bite of a truffle will turn you into a hardcore addict.
Accent Café’s chocolates are ‘magnificent’ as one customer describes them, and they are also visually beautiful. As Les says in his thick Hungarian accent, “you buy the chocolate first with your eyes, because you don’t yet know the taste. They have to look beautiful and the taste has to be on the same level.”
Les knows what he’s talking about. He and Eva have made over 1,200,000 pieces of chocolate since they first got into the business back in 1995.
The accidental business of chocolate
Les and Eva came to Canada in 1976 after escaping an oppressive communist government in Hungary. After 19 years of too many cold Alberta winters, they decided to buy a chocolate shop on the southern end of Vancouver Island.
With no experience it was difficult. After a few months they were ready to give up when Eva heard about a highly-skilled European-trained chef who was also a professor at the Malaspina College and was responsible for starting the college’s Culinary Arts program in 1969. His name was George Wagner.•
George was a Frenchman from the Alsace region who had begun his career at the age of 14 as an apprentice pastry chef. A true culinary master, he was also a chocolatier and four-time gold medal winner at the World Culinary Olympics.
Fate and George Wagner
Eva convinced George to come by their shop and within five minutes of meeting them, he laid out a plan and a teaching schedule and said that he wouldn’t charge them if Eva made him a bowl of goulash. Les and Eva were like a couple of sponges soaking up information, and when George commented on it, Eva told him they didn’t want to end up under a bridge, destitute.
Over time, with George’s help and by reading everything they could get their hands on, they learned the art of chocolate making and their business began to thrive.
Vineyards of the Okanagan
Les and Eva loved Vancouver Island, but the humidity was hard on Les’s health so they decided to move to the Okanagan.
“We came here in 2000, and we looked all over the valley. We liked the vineyards in the South Okanagan, because it seemed like Hungary’s Lake Balaton region.”
They figured that with 35,000 people and no competition, they had a chance of making it. They were right and the business quickly grew.
Handcrafted works of art
Les and Eva make all of their chocolates by hand and true to the traditional form of chocolate making, Les uses marble slabs for tempering the chocolate. “It is the tempering that gives the finished chocolates the sheen that you won’t find on lesser quality chocolate and the sheen can only be achieved with this method.” says Les. “Many ‘chocolate makers’ don’t even know how to do it.”
They are also purists when it comes to the type of chocolate they use. “The only supposed real Belgian chocolate in the world is Belcolade. You have to be careful when selecting chocolate because the cocoa content listing can be deceiving. It might say 85% cocoa content which may be true but that can also include cocoa butter which is not chocolate – it is fat. But even worse than eating cocoa butter, some chocolate is made of ‘confectioner’s fat’ and sugar.”
“We want to be as good as possible, which is why we import the best Belgian chocolate.” says Les “We have compliments from highly trained professionals and other chocolatiers who say they have never tasted anything like this. Or if someone takes the chocolates to Europe, someone else will ask; “where the hell did you get this chocolate?”
A few with nuts
Les and Eva describe, (simultaneously) why their chocolate is so good. “It has the beautiful roasted nutty flavor. Ours is so different. When I eat our dark chocolate, you kind of go like this… (she makes a puckering sound with her lips), you have to educate people – then they understand. It’s an acquired taste just like wine. It’s about education combined with what a person really likes themselves.”
When asked what their technique is, Eva’s answer is “it’s the Hungarian method. If I like it, then it’s good.”
Almost all of their chocolates are truffles but they have a few caramels and also a few with nuts. “Every flavor has to have alcohol flavors or it is not a truffle. A truffle is made with chocolate ganache. You can only call the cream a chocolate ganache if it is at least 50% chocolate. The rest of it is usually alcohol-based flavor, other flavoring components and whipping cream.”
Two tons of chocolate
The year before the recession hit was Les and Eva’s best year. They went through two metric tons of chocolate. Things have been tougher with the new economy but they have learned to “work smarter, not harder” as Les says and this philosophy has kept them going.
Les experiments with new flavors only when he feels like it, which is once or twice a year. One of their latest creations is a green apple-vodka chocolate – unusual but delectable, and pomegranate is another new flavor.
“When you are making a new chocolate, obviously it is in your brain first and you have to think it over, why you are doing it, what flavor goes together and what flavor goes against each other. Some flavors hate each other so you first make a small batch, taste it, refine it, have a few people taste it.”
The seductive quality of chocolate
When asked if they would describe their chocolate as being seductive, Eva says “this is the Kama Sutra of chocolate.”
It’s hard to disagree once you’ve tasted Accent Café’s chocolates as everything else pales in comparison. And an encounter with Les and Eva only adds to it. When you leave their shop, Eva calls out, “Okay sweetie dahling. We see you soon, OK?”
No doubt about that Eva.
article/photography by Stephanie Seaton
• George Wagner now has a school in Nanaimo; the School of Sugar, Chocolate and Confectionery Art. George is a Member of the Canadian Federation of Chefs and Cooks, Academie Culinaire de France, Chaine des Rotisseurs, U.S. Pastry Alliance and the Victoria Academie of Chefs de Cuisine.