Singaporean auditor-turned-chocolatier Gina Hardy to launch brand here

Mrs Gina Hardy's sweet creations have been presented at state events.
Mrs Gina Hardy's sweet creations have been presented at state events.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Gina Hardy, whose Caribbean-based Gina's Chocolates is launching here next year, started out making the treats to wow her mother-in-law

For someone who had never made chocolate truffles until about a decade ago, artisan chocolatier Gina Hardy has certainly hit the sweet spot with her line of cocoa concoctions.

The 42-year-old Singaporean, who is based in Port of Spain, the capital city of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, owns and runs Gina's Chocolates, which specialises in bean-to-bar chocolates and bon bons.

The former auditor, who also has a law degree, made her first batch of chocolate truffles to impress her then-boyfriend, now husband's mother at a dinner party in 2007.

At the time, the couple had just relocated to Port of Spain from London, where they met while working.

Her husband, 43, a Trinidadian of British parentage, manages a chain of fast-food restaurants. They have a six-year-old daughter.

Mrs Hardy, who is back in Singapore to visit family, says: "My mother-in-law is a fantastic cook. She asked, 'Gina, what are you going to make for the party?' I knew it had to be something impressive. She doesn't make desserts, so I decided to make chocolate truffles, even though I had never made them before."

She followed a recipe she found in a "small Cadbury book" in her mother-in-law's library of cookbooks and tweaked it to include almonds, toasted coconut, dark chocolate and rum.

Those truffles, which were made with Belgian couverture chocolate (fine chocolate made with a higher percentage of cocoa butter), were a hit. They have since evolved into her brand's signature Trini Truffle, made with rum, coconut and white and dark chocolate.

These days, her chocolates are made in a fully air-conditioned central kitchen in the basement of her home in Port of Spain.

She learnt more about cocoa and chocolate through Trinidad and Tobago's Cocoa Research Institute and also honed her craft in Belgium at a masterclass.

She makes chocolates in more than 50 flavours, which include bon bons with Trinidadian passionfruit pulp and white chocolate, and ones with pomegranate and cayenne pepper. The bon bons are moulded, dusted and painted by hand.

She also makes her own couverture chocolate from scratch with Trinitario cocoa beans sourced from La Reunion Estate and the Montserrat Cocoa Farmers Co-operative in Trinidad. The local beans, which are exported all over the world, are known for their fruity and floral characteristics.

Mrs Hardy's chocolate-making process starts from tasting dried, fermented cocoa beans at the estates and deciding on which batches of beans to buy.

It then involves everything from hand-sorting and roasting the beans in 2kg batches to removing the husk from the nibs and gently grinding them into a powder without losing the nibs' volatile chemical components and natural flavour profiles.

She launched her bean-to-bar treats last year.

Gina's Chocolates are sold in eight shops in Port of Spain, as well as at the city's airport. In Trinidad, a 100g single-origin chocolate bar retails for US$10 (S$14), while a box of 15 bon bons costs US$25.

Her creations have also been presented at state events to the likes of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, former United States president Barack Obama and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

The brand will be available in Singapore by January at Singapore-based online bean-to-bar chocolate retailer Luvcacao (www.luvcacao.com).

The self-confessed chocolate lover hopes that people will learn to enjoy the intense flavours of artisan bean-to-bar chocolate.

Mrs Hardy says: "The reason why I do this is to make people happy.

"The reaction I get when people ask me where the chocolates or bon bons are imported from and I tell them that they are made locally with local ingredients - that joy on their faces just makes my day."

• Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2017, with the headline 'Chocolates made to impress'. Print Edition | Subscribe