“People ask me if I get tired of chocolate, and the answer is no,” says Michael. “Sometimes I’ll find myself stopping to taste something and realize: Wow, this is really good. My favorite changes from time to time.”
But don’t ask Debbie, his wife, about chocolate — ironically, she has no taste for the stuff.
“When we were dating, I’d bring her chocolate,” Michael tells me. “I later found out that her mother was the one eating it.”
While Michael is my boss for the day, Rose (his sidekick, right-hand woman and “work wife” all rolled into one) is my enabler. Dipping a piece of banana from her own personal fruit plate into the dark chocolate, she encourages me to taste. Yep, no question about it: If I worked here, I would double my weight in a month.
My next task for the day is to work on pecan patties. Michael spreads the nuts onto a sheet and uses a funnel to drop circular dollops of caramel in orderly rows.
“There are machines for this, but I never saw the point,” he says to me as he works. “Here, practice on this.” He puts a plastic cutting board in front of me and hands me the caramel-filled funnel. “Hold it straight and control it,” he says, showing me how to move a stick up and down to control the flow.
“What do you call this little stick?” I ask.
“A little stick,” he answers. The mood here at JoMart is definitely irreverent — a radio blares in the background and people are constantly bumping into one another trying to maneuver in the small space. “You’ll get used to it,” Michael reassures me as he gently pushes me out of his way for the 10th time that hour.
Even though my caramel dollops are nowhere near as professional-looking as his, he lets me have a go at the actual pecans. “Look at you!” he says encouragingly as I increase my speed. He then takes the funnel from me and fixes my work.
No two days at JoMart, Michael says, are the same, but I’m curious about the Valentine’s Day rush. “We start preparing two weeks ahead of time. Men have to have those boxes,” he says, referring to the ubiquitous heart-shaped, lace-covered ones. “Men follow the pack. If one guy buys something, the next three will buy the exact same thing. Women spend more time picking out the chocolates.”
I tell him I’m hoping we can make something for my Valentine, and we decide on a chocolate heart stuffed with his favorite JoMart confections. Michael retrieves a mold and brings me into a workroom where three machines of chocolate whir — one with dark, one with milk, one with white. For Luke, it has to be dark, so we hold the mold under the flow for about three seconds and then squeegee away the excess. The mold goes from the cold room into the freezer and, about a half-hour later, a very professional-looking (if I don’t say!) chocolate heart sits on the counter waiting to be decorated.
“Why don’t you write something on it,” Michael suggests. He takes out a pastry bag and fills it with white chocolate. As an example, he writes “I love you” on a cutting board, in perfect script. I suggest that I could write the word Hi, but Michael tells me I can do more. We agree that I’ll write the twins’ names — Judd and Evelyn. After some practice, I finally work up the nerve to write on the actual chocolate — and instantly regret it. My “l’s” look like demented snakes, my “e’s” have blobbed into “o’s” and suddenly my sexy gift has turned into a kindergarten art project.