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When students, inspiration and a renowned chocolatier collide

It’s no secret that kids, brownies and chocolate are a popular combination and that they usually go together anytime or anywhere.

For example, a sixth-grade science class at a Vista school helped inspire a new candy bar for a renowned chocolatier based in Encinitas. The result: they can now see their inspiration on store shelves.

Creative kids

Last fall in a busy science classroom at Vista Christian School, some excited students began a STEM project (a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach) in which they innovated with chocolate and developed their own flavors thematically around the Chuao Chocolatier chocolate brand.

According to Sebastian Gomez, brand director at Chuao Chocolatier, this was a great project and fun for the kids of Rachel Flores’ class to participate in. It all started when they heard about the Chuao brand since the teacher’s husband works for the company, Gomez said.

“Because of their love of chocolate, they took it upon themselves to develop a project around creating bar flavor profiles for Chuao,” he said. “They went through a process of being innovative, being unique and having fun. One of the girls had cooking skills so they made them and even developed what the package and marketing would be. Everything was done around delivering a bar that would end up in a retail space.”

Gomez said when Chef Michael and Chuao staff heard about the students’ project, they were equally as excited.

“Chef Michael and I always wanted to get kids involved because they have no barrier to creativity,” Gomez said. “We also always wanted to bring them into the factory and brainstorm with them regarding what flavor profiles they’d like to see and taste, so we did. We gave them a tour and they asked lots of questions.”

Gomez said at the same time the conversations were going on, Chef Michael was trying to  develop a recipe for a bar with brownies — but he didn’t have a special ingredient yet.  

“We always have a twist that makes our bars unique, but he didn’t have one yet for the brownie bar he was thinking about,” Gomez said. “The students  mentioned they were playing around with a brownie bar, too, and had added mints to it … That became the secret ingredient that Chef Michael was looking for.”

When the two visions collided, the “Mintfully Brownie” was born.

Now months later, the Chuao website has acknowledged the students’ achievement with a photo and a blurb about the new and already popular bar: “Crispy brownie bites and frosted mint gems unite in deep dark chocolate Creativity fuels our joy — so when a local sixth grade class wrote to Chef Michael about an idea for a mint brownie bar, we couldn’t help but be inspired. Rich brownie morsels in dark chocolate and then topped with sparkling mint crystals earned an A+ from our co-conspirators. This one is for you, future chocolatiers.”

Chuao decided to invite the students back to the factory before the Mintfully Brownie bar hit shelves so they could see and taste the final product.

“We wanted them to see it and do a tasting,” Gomez said. “What’s interesting is that the mint comes from mint crystals — it’s not a true mint, but crystals that are integrated as an infusion into the bar — for example when someone bites into it the crystals they are visible. When you open the bar, they crystals are on top and look like chipped ice.”

Excited class, teacher

As for the kids and the teacher, both were thrilled and grateful to Chuao and Chef Michael.

“In using his chocolate as an inspiration for a class project, we were just hoping for some encouraging words from him when we let him know what we were doing,” Flores said. “To be invited to the factory, receive the royal treatment of a tour and tasting by Chef Michael himself, and for the kids to be treated with such value and respect was a huge blessing.

“As a teacher, I’m always trying to show the kids that hard work, taking risks and ingenuity are important. To have a passionate and generous person like Chef Michael show them that first-hand is more than I could ever ask for. The kids are ecstatic about our partnership with Chuao and have a feeling of ownership, humility, and gratitude that I know they will never forget. Chuao has earned lifelong lovers of their delicious chocolate. Thank you, Chuao, for doing what you say you are, spreading joy!”

Some of the students were equally honored by the experience and added they won’t soon forget:

“I felt so excited that we got to go to a real chocolate factory and that Chef Michael actually liked what we did,” said one student. “I felt like we have made a chocolate bar and no other class has ever made a chocolate bar at Chuao Chocolatier. I was so excited and grateful that Chef Michael actually made it into a bar.”

The same student said they were excited about the final packaging of the bar: “I think that when I look at the bar, I feel like it is a warm goodness of chocolate. I would describe it as awesome because anyone can do a STEM project but not every sixth-grader gets to make their idea into a bar.”

Another student added: “When Chef Michael invited us to the factory last year for the first time, I felt excited and curious to find out what chocolates they invented.
“When he announced the bar was going to be made, I felt proud and surprised because I was not expecting our idea to become an actual chocolate that was going to be sold out in the world.”

Another student added they loved the taste of the final creation: “What I love about the bar is how crunchy it is, and all the different textures that make the bar unique. I also thought the taste of the chocolate was so amazing it reminded me of the movie ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’”

Overall the students said they were happy to have had such an amazing experience and learned so much from the project: “I learned how whatever ideas you have to not be afraid to tell them because each idea can be used for something good and each idea can affect many people.”