Inside Oliver Kita Fine Confections, the decor is French luxe. A fresh white orchid stands on a pedestal, while a vase containing branches of flowering quince adorns Kita’s desk. The individual chocolates—les caramels, les truffes, les pralines, les ganaches—are displayed in large glass display cases. Dark-brown furniture complements the striking color of the walls.
Kita says that he chose the pink-toned orange as his signature hue because it flatters everything around it. “It’s very evocative,” he says. “It speaks of quality, and it speaks of beauty and richness and longevity.” The shade is also used in his marketing materials and for the ribbon that Kita ties around the shop’s sturdy, custom-designed candy boxes.
Kita lavishes the same obsessive detail on his intensely flavored chocolates. Starting with French Valrhona chocolate (and on occasion, chocolate from a Swiss source), he adds fresh butter, heavy cream, fruit purees, nuts, essences, and spices. Perhaps the most traditional of Kita’s offerings are Caramel au Chocolat, made from bitter chocolate, sweet caramel, fresh butter, and heavy cream, and Espresso Double Shot, composed of dark chocolate, Arabica coffee beans, and crushed cacao nibs.
The latter is a truffe en chardon, or thistle truffle, and is one of a group including the more exotic Cherry Ancho (Morello cherry and ancho chile); Mint and Lemon Balm; and Shiki Matcha Crunch, with green-tea-infused ganache and a croquant exterior. Ganache is the French word for a mixture of chocolate and heavy cream. Croquant means crispy or crunchy.
In the ganache collection, there are Palet d’Opium, with lapsang tea, blood orange puree, and spices; Palet du Figue et Cognac (fig and Liqueur); and Palet d’Olivier, featuring one of Kita’s favorite flavors: black currant. “Black currant has a lot of depth and character to it,” says Kita. “It’s very sensual. I use it a lot when I do sauces for people in the summertime. I love to make cakes that have lemon curd in them with black currant puree as the sauce.”
Before opening Oliver Kita Fine Confections, Kita owned the Heaven cafe in Woodstock, where he also ran a catering business. Kita ran Heaven for 10 years, and although he shuttered it in early 2006 to focus on becoming a chocolatier, he continues to operate Oliver Kita Fine Catering. The catering business is one of the reasons that Kita chose the location outside of Rhinebeck instead of in the village itself. The chocolate boutique, located in the Astor Square business complex, includes parking for a catering truck. Kita caters weddings and other exclusive events at private homes and historic sites in the Hudson Valley, including Boscobel in Garrison, Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie, and Wilderstein in Rhinebeck.
Kita was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and, as the baby of the family and only son, he admits to being spoiled by his mother and three older sisters. He didn’t learn any “domestic skills” until he became house manager at the Phi Delta Chi fraternity at Ferris State University, where he studied pharmacology and earned a degree in microbiology. Instead of becoming a pharmacist, Kita worked briefly in the restaurant business before receiving a fellowship to study at the Culinary Institute of America. While still in school, he operated a wholesale pastry company called New York Biscuit.
Like many CIA graduates, Kita left the Hudson Valley to take a professional position in a large metropolitan area. For one year, he worked as the pastry chef for the Russian Tea Room in Manhattan, but he gave up big-city life, including employment with a renowned restaurant, when he fell in love with someone who had no desire to leave the Valley and move to New York City. For five years, Kita was the executive chef at the Park West Conference Center in Kingston. In 1996, he opened Heaven and started the catering business.
Seven years ago, Kita designed a mold for a chocolate Buddha that he intended to sell at the cafe in Woodstock. Inspired by his quest to find high-quality chocolate, he began educating himself, which led to studying with masters in Canada and France. In St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, not far from Montreal, he studied with Julian Rose at the Barry Callebaut Academy du Chocolat.
“I spoke enough French to go to Canada and not be kicked around,” Kita says. “I chose to go to Quebec because the people were kinder, and it was an easier start. It’s like learning to swim in the ocean versus trying the pool. So I went to the pool to get ready for the ocean.”
In Paris, Kita studied at L’Ecole Lenotre before being given a full scholarship by Valrhona, a small French chocolate company, to attend its prestigious L’Ecole du Grand Chocolate in Tain L’Hermitage, a small town in a wine-growing district near Lyon. Today, Kita has a direct-buying relationship with Valrhona that allows him to purchase chocolate from the company at an attractive price, as well as obtain recipes and information solely available to Valrhona-approved artisan chocolatiers. Kita is the only chocolatier within a 90-mile radius of Rhinebeck with an exclusive contract, and in December, says Kita, “The sales representative for the East Coast came to visit me and photograph the studio, and they’re going to use [the collection of photographs] as an example of how they want other Valrhona artisans to portray themselves.”
Kita uses seven different types of Valrhona chocolate, one of which is organic. Each has a different flavor profile, which Kita considers when creating a new piece of chocolate to add to his line. He uses dark chocolate from Madagascar, Ecuador, and Venezuela. A blend from Indonesia is used for the milk chocolate.
Like coffee, chocolate is grown in equatorial regions of the world, and in order to assist the cocoa growers and their families, Kita has become a member of the World Cocoa Foundation. The organization provides programs that help raise farmer incomes and encourage responsible, sustainable cocoa farming. Says Kita, “I think it’s important to give back. The World Cocoa Foundation is doing its very best to help farmers in West Africa, where there is a great deal of suffering and disorganization and chaos based on political structures.”
Kita has come up with a slogan for his business: “Mind, body, chocolate: Every day.” He says, “It’s about opening up your awareness and understanding of this experience of appreciating chocolate.” By tasting a finely crafted piece of chocolate, he adds, “you can understand where you are and appreciate what you have, right now, today. It’s focused attention through pleasure.”
At Heaven, he composed his menu according to the season. “Autumn was inspiring. Spring was rejuvenating. Summer was soothing. Winter was satisfying. I took those four buzzwords that create an emotion and attributed them to the chocolates.”
At oliverkita.com, from which chocolates can be ordered and shipped, the four collections are Inspiring (ganaches), Soothing (caramels), Satisfying (truffles), and Rejuvenating (a selection of all three). A nine-piece box ordered from the website costs $23 plus shipping and applicable taxes. At the shop, a nine-piece box is $22.75—about $2.50 per piece.
Kita crafts and finishes the chocolates in view of customers, who are encouraged to ask questions and chat with him about artisanal chocolate. He employs one assistant, plus a counterperson on weekends.
Regarding his slogan and philosophy about chocolate, Kita says, “A lot of people need to be gently poked and told: You can be inspired today. Perhaps you can be inspired by chocolate. Or maybe your child’s laugh will inspire you. Or the music on the radio will inspire you.” By making the most magnificent chocolates that he can, Kita says, “I’m just part of that picture.”
Oliver Kita Fine Confections and Fine Catering is located at 6815 Route 9, Astor Square Number 8, Rhinebeck; (845) 876-2665; www.oliverkita.com.