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Becoming a Chocolate Sculptress

I recently went back to school to earn my teaching license for K-12 art education. My art teachers always had a profound impact on me and their guideance is what eventually led me to be able to make art out of chocolate. Now I’m hoping I can help kids find their creative spark.

Emily McCracken holding her valentine's day chocolate sculpture in front of a pink wall
Emily with her Sailor Jerry Valentine Sculpture

As I shift focus professionally I am–at least for now–no longer making chocolate sculptures. It was a difficult decision, to say the least, but I'm excited for the future. Follow along over on my personal website if you're interested in where I land next.

Previously I worked for Lake Champlain Chocolates for 20 years where I focused on retail specialty products, taught chocolate bar classes, and created chocolate sculptures for their stores.

Over the years I've studied chocolate technique at the New England Culinary Institute, the Notter School of Pastry Arts, and the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy.

My chocolate career highlights:

From Clay to Chocolate

I'll often get asked how I first started working with chocolate. Looking back at the winding path that brought me to this point makes me appreciate the opportunity even more. Especially when you consider it really started with a hazelnut truffle. Let me explain...

A clay sculpture showing a sun tucking the moon into bed
A sample 3D illustration assignment from a class at Montserrat College

A Base in Illustration

I majored in Illustration at Montserrat College of Art but quickly discovered that my 2D work just wasn't where my heart was. And, if you ask my teachers, it wasn't where my skill-set was either.

On one illustration assignment I decided to take a chance by sculpting it out of clay. I was so much happier with the result but completely terrified to present it to the class since it was unlike anything else. Would I even get a grade?

To my surprise, the professor recognized that it was my best work and insisted that from that day on that I work exclusively with clay. In a class full of illustrators and painters, I was the one with messy hands in the corner making clay sculptures.

Finding Work

After graduation I struggled to find a company that would let me use my sculpting background for my job. With bills pouring in and no leads, I set out on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont with a stack full of resumes and a faint hope of landing a job.

As the day went on, things started to look pretty bleak. I needed a pick-me-up in found it in the form of a hazelnut truffle from Lake Champlain Chocolates.

As I was paying, the employee behind the counter noticed my stack of resumes and said I should apply for a part-time job. Not long after, I accepted a role and eventually worked my way up to the retail manager position of the factory store.

Discovering Chocolate

Working for a chocolate company was fantastic, but there was still something missing. It wasn’t until my boss recognized my 3D art background that things really started to take off.

Emily McCracken in the factory working on a 3D chocolate turkey
Attaching chocolate curl feathers to a Thanksgiving turkey sculpture

He wondered if I could replace clay with chocolate?

The company sent me to multiple chocolate classes to put my skills to the test. It was messy (in the best of ways), difficult at times but I was instantly hooked. I had found my passion -- I wanted to be a chocolate sculptress.

I set a goal of one day getting one of my sculptures onto the Food Network.

Learning About Chocolate Sculpture

For 11 years I managed the retail store at Lake Champlain Chocolates while taking any opportunity available to sculpt with, learn about or teach all things chocolate.

  • I made store displays and promotional items for local businesses
  • I create an annual display of sculptures for our local arts festival called the Art Hop.
  • I studied the technique of competitors on Food Network’s chocolate challenges and shows like Sweet Genius.
  • I read up on the characteristics of chocolate and continued to learn by taking classes at schools like the Barry-Callebaut Chocolate Academy.
  • I jumped at opportunities to teach sessions at the Vermont Chocolate Show and go on news segments with local TV channels.

Teaching Chocolate Classes

When Lake Champlain Chocolates opened a new restaurant and education center, called South End Kitchen, I transitioned to the role of chocolate instructor.

Emily holding a chocolate turkey during a sculpture demonstration
A chocolate sculpture demonstration at South End Kitchen

The chocolate classes were a hit, particularly Make Your Own Chocolate Bar. While teaching I used the opportunity to further my research into working with chocolate and gained so much experience until South End kitchen closed in 2015.

Whatever the opportunity, one thing remains – I love working with chocolate.

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