Like many Woodstock natives, Emily Kellogg comes from a family of artists, but it was the art of chocolate where the Michelin-star trained chef finally found her creative streak. At EJ Bonbons & Confections in Woodstock, her culinary artistry is evident in everything from the bonbons’ whimsical, hand-painted patterns to their subtle yet complex flavors to the elegant jewel-toned boxes they come neatly packaged in.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute, Kellogg was working as a pastry chef in high-end New York City restaurants before joining the team at Thomas Keller's Michelin-starred Per Se in Manhattan. Though chocolatier is a much-coveted position, it was one she had avoided since culinary school.
“Pastry in general is scientific and chocolate is extremely so,” she says. “It has a lot of rules that you have to follow or it just doesn’t work, but there’s also this really beautiful side to it. Chocolate and confections are what really drew out that fun side in me.”
At Per Se, she rose to head chocolatier and it was during her time there that she met Pouplard, who was working as the sous chef. Then came COVID-19, and Per Se along with countless other restaurants shut down. “We’d both been in the industry for 10 years and suddenly were out of a job,” she says.
It was during a weekend trip to visit her mom in Woodstock, when the two stumbled across an empty storefront in town that got them dreaming of moving upstate. “We always thought we were going to open our own business in a few more years, and then everything fell into place,” she says.
After Winn Morrison heard that the two chefs were looking for a space to rent in Woodstock, he offered up his location at the corner of Old Forge and Rock City roads, right at the center of the village. Over the next few months, Pouplard and Kellogg’s uncle, a carpenter, completed the majority of renovations themselves. The exterior is painted a sophisticated blue-gray with script signage in royal blue over the door. The interior is clean and minimal. A neon sign on one of the walls inside reads “Life happens. Chocolate helps.”
At the center of the shop is the custom-designed display case, which houses neat rows of colorful bonbons and a small array of other confections, including wrapped soft caramels in flavors such as simple sea salt and tangy passion fruit, chocolate-covered almonds and hazelnuts, and pâte de fruit, a traditional French fruit paste. Behind the counter is a picture window that provides a view to the kitchen, where you can spot Kellogg and Pouplard working, often with their four-month-old in tow.
The bonbons are the pinnacle of the gourmet variety that has risen to popularity in recent years—thin, delicate chocolate exteriors giving way to luscious fillings made with the highest-quality ingredients. Kellogg favors the bean-to-bar chocolate from Tuscan-made Amedei, which provides plenty of rich, satisfying cocoa flavor in each bite.
“They have a really beautiful product that we enjoy working with,” she says. “It’s pure and clean with no emulsifiers like the big brands use, and the flavor is nice and strong.”
Kellogg starts each batch of bonbons by hand-painting their surface decor—Pollock-esque splatters, neat dots, and cosmic swirls made from colored cocoa butter—using everything from paintbrushes to q-tips to sponges.
“When we pick a flavor that we want to try, we have fun playing around with the different decors and techniques,” she says. “A lot of it is just trial and error. You have a vision in your head but you don’t see it until it comes out of the mold.” Then in goes the tempered chocolate to make the shell, followed by the filling, and a chocolate cap to seal it all in.
Nearly always on offer are classic flavors like salted caramel, hazelnut, and dark chocolate, but there are also more adventurous pairings like passion fruit and blueberry lemon and new flavors to match the changing seasons. For Valentine's Day, they have a new 12-piece bonbon box with the oh-so-classic flavors of salted caramel and raspberry dark chocolate, which are covered in edible gold and silver leaf, as well as chocolate hearts with assorted fillings. During the colder months, customers can also plop down on the window benches and linger over an espresso, cappuccino, or housemade hot chocolate.
Most of EJ Bonbons & Confections’ products are also available online, and they’ve already begun shipping for the holidays. “When people are trying to figure out what to gift, chocolate is an excellent choice,” Kellogg says. “It’s a wonderful gift for someone who has everything, or if you’re going to a dinner party, in need of a housewarming present, or just looking for something small and special that someone can enjoy.”