He Had me at Christen
A lady never tastes and tells…. well almost never
Article by Christen Fisher
There is a line I’ve used on pretty much every man who has ever approached me in a hotel lobby bar since I was 20:
If you really wanted a shot at getting a taste, then you should have at least gotten my name right.
Christine, Kirsten, Christian—I’ve heard them all. (For the correct one, see byline.) Once I even had a T-shirt made that said, “Christen,” across my chest and on my back—so you could see it when I walked away—the words, “Pronounced: No Thank You.” It didn’t help.
The name thing, as my partner and I call it, is something I’ve learned to live with. Long ago, I accepted that for me the world is really just a giant waiting room staffed by low-level government employees empowered by clipboards and a collective fetish for phonemic fuck-ups, until last week when I met with American Chocolatier, Robert Bowden of Viveré (pronounced: vee-vuh-RAY) Chocolates.
He extended his hand and in a clear baritone said my name perfectly. When I looked down at the handwritten note artfully tucked until a fuchsia grosgrain ribbon tied around a black box of chocolate he’d brought for me to taste, I noted he had spelled it correctly too. An unusually promising beginning.
As our conversation wound gracefully through his southern roots in Alabama and Tennessee and the never-ending renovations to his historic Victorian home in New Jersey, I became smitten, professionally speaking anyway. Robert’s speech was generous and free allowing me to do what I do (and like) best, listen. He had a preternatural gift for selecting subjects that would spark my interest, and never once mentioned anything about untying the ribbon on my box. To quote my best single friend after a particularly wondrous first encounter, “It was as if he’d known me all my life.” Rarely is an interview, or an interviewer, so easily won.
But perhaps that’s not such a tremendous feat for a man who previously made his way in the world as a prominent horse trainer specializing in prickly mares and in the procurement of multi-hundred-thousand dollar mounts for even pricklier clients. Attention to detail and sensitivity to the needs and desires of other creatures are essential for success in the horse world, and according Robert, the chocolate world as well.
Two very different products of course, he says, but the client and more importantly the level and type of personal service required to work with them is very much the same. Adhering strictly to what he calls, the “luxury business value system”, Robert claims to be a “dealer of passions.”
Chocolate, much like the sport of kings, carries with it a sense of indulgence and decadence. Good chocolate is a treat, a reward, something special and in a way deeply personal. I prefer mine dark, a little spicy and paired with caramel or nuts or both, maybe a touch of salt. Other people like it loose and boozy, a hot burst of Kentucky bourbon on the tongue as the chocolate melts into the corners of their mouths. And still others like it a little fruity or a lot, or to have their coconut in the raw or even toasted. We all have our predilections and penchants, our secret and not so secret thirsts that are rarely quenched by a box of premade, assorted confections. No matter the price, the name stamped on the side, or our individual preferences, most of us experience a box of chocolate the same way we might experience speed-dating at a dentist convention—taste, spit, rinse… taste, spit, rinse. With a 10 per cent hit rate at best, it’s a far cry from satisfaction, let alone indulgence, decadence, and passion.
Viveré Chocolate’s bespoke process begins with a conversation and an elaborate flavor breakdown tasting to get a sense of what you need and what turns you on. Is this something you want to experience alone or with someone? Perhaps a few someones? More than a few? Would you like it to pair well with a special bottle from your private wine cellar? Or maybe you have a mind for something rougher, more spontaneous like three am on the kitchen counter? Would it tickle you to infuse it with lavender? Or saffron? Or perhaps a dusting of 24K gold gives you a shiver. Whatever you desire, however exotic, Robert and his staff will create it for you using sustainable products obtained through fair trade practices just to leave your conscience and his out of it.
Once you’re fully satisfied, he’ll place your personal recipe in a vault because it’s yours and yours alone. Privacy and exclusivity are paramount to the process. In fact, you don’t even have to worry about some FedEx or UPS worker mishandling or manhandling your goodies because Robert doesn’t ship. He hand-delivers whether you’re in the Victorian house next door or the wilds of Estonia or New Zealand.
As for the untying of the ribbon on my box, I’ll say only this: He had me at Christen.
Viveré’s bespoke service beginning at $900 US