February 1, 2010

Katrina Markoff

"I was a vanilla girl forever ... [until] I realized the power of chocolate."

I harbor a secret dream of running away to Paris, attending Le Cordon Bleu, and becoming a chocolatier.

That is exactly why I admire Katrina Markoff. She does things her way, and is celebrated for it. After college, most of us uncomfortably shift into a corporate job. Not Katrina. After graduating from Vanderbilt, she hopped onto a plane to Paris, spending her days training as a pâtisserie chef, and nights exploring Michelin-rated restaurants. It was at 3 star restaurant L’Ambrosie in Le Place des Vosges that she had an epiphany. "[A]t the end of the meal, Chef Pacaud brought out these very particular beignet bonbons on toothpicks. He had frozen ganache truffles, dipped them in beignet batter and deep-fried them to curvaceous golden perfections. One bite and the experience began – a sweet crunchy l’attack en bouche followed by a burst of molten liquid chocolate, time stood still as it was nothing less than life-altering for me. That was my first chocolate moment and it’s why I decided to name my company Vosges Haut-Chocolat."

"It's about telling a story of a different culture, artist, movement or religion through the medium of chocolate."

"We use chocolate as a tool to get people to slow down and be present and, when they are, any experience is amplified."

She then spent nine months traveling through Southeast Asia and Australia on a street food journey. Inspiration from her first truffle came from a necklace from the Nagaland tribes, an ethnic minority group in India. Vosges' concept was born.

"Chocolate is an incredibly versatile ingredient that comes in many shades, textures, states of matter and forms. I find it a perfect medium for story-telling. Of course, the product has to be delicious and the packaging beautiful, but there’s intention in everything I create from the spice to the story. For me, the objective is to give people an experience that opens their mind to new ideas. I always want to touch on an element of surprise and leave them to ponder."

“I like the idea of yin and yang.”

Katrina is a natural storyteller, but what makes her chocolate stories compelling are the unexpected elements taken from all around the world: Tuscan fennel pollen, Japanese wasabi, Mexican ancho chili. Who knew applewood smoked bacon would taste so sinful with chocolate? Inspiration comes from everywhere. For "Chocolate and the Nose," a box filled with vials of different aromas, to be mixed with chocolate bars from 15 countries, former Gucci fashion designer Tom Ford was her inspiration. For Vosges' new "Sweet Coquette" Valentine's offering, it was Bonnie Raitt's song, "The Road's My Middle Name." “If I get into yoga, I’ll do a yoga chocolate collection. If I get into tarot cards, I’ll do a tarot collection. If I get into fermentation, I’ll do a whole study on fermentation.” Katrinia's open mind and thirst for knowledge drives her and her chocolates in unexpected directions. “I’m always trying to stay out of my box.”

"I came from my heart and made it about the things that are important to me and that’s what resonates. Be genuine and true to yourself at all costs because people are attracted to passion, and passion speaks louder than anything.”

"My mother always told me there are no limits. I think that’s a good rule for life and business."

Within three years, Vosges had $3 million in annual sales. From a small outpost in Chicago, it now has an international presence in London and Toronto. Katrina Markoff has been named "Food Artisan of the Year" by Bon Appetit magazine (2004) and "Woman of the Year" by American Express and Entrepreneur magazine (2007). Not only is she an innovator, she is an inspiration. As a company, Vosges uses 100 percent renewable energies. It also sponsors many chariatable activities, including V-Day (to end violence against women) and Little Kids Rock (to bring musicial instruments for children).

"Where the heart leads you, the money and success will follow."

Find out about Vosges Haut-Chocolat Here

Katrina speaks at TASTE³ about her inspirations.

"[Katrina] has a natural beauty and warmth that seem to captivate everyone she meets, from journalists to celebrities to the young, hip staffers." - Vanderbilt Magazine


  1. I absolutely LOVE Vosges Haut Chocolat! I discovered them while living in Chicago and I spend my days and nights dreaming of the glorious chocolate concoctions Katrina might come up with next!

    P.S. - Want a killer s'more's idea? Grab a Mo's Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar and use that instead of your traditional chocolate. With the 'mallow and the graham, it's divine!

  2. Thank you for the idea!

    My brother used to live right near the first Vosges store. Amazing chocolate.

    I am always looking for suggestions for cool girls to profile. Please let me know if you have any ideas. xx

  3. Wow what a huge compliment! Thank you so much, it was so refreshing to read this again. Makes me reset my priorities and reminds me to get out from the grind of the business and into evolutionary, instinct following --- this must occur to really grow. You just inspired my next big wanderlust move. I am going to do it alas, take off for the next 6 months, Russia, Mongolia, Ireland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Madagascar, Sri Lanka.
    I'll keep you posted. Thanks for the push.

  4. Thank you so much for commenting, Katrina. I really admire your spirit. Please keep me updated in your taste journey. Your trip sounds amazing, and I completely expect something extraordinary to come out of it. xx