Have you ever met one of those people who knows where to grab the best sandwich, show you the prettiest hotel lobbies and can rub elbows in the dingiest bar or the snootiest art party? Layer on top of this panache, an unrelenting love for chocolate, a fantastic fashion sense and a silky vocabulary that can describe even the most illusive of flavors.
It’s no surprise that in 2014 Yuh published a book that acts as guide for adventures in chocolate tasting and eating. The Chocolate Tasting Kit published by Chronicle Books, is one of the most curious of food-based volumes on my shelf. The kit comes with a tasting guide, cue cards, note paper and the cutest little envelope for keeping your favourite wrappers in. It’s also one of the most practical items in my cookbook repertoire.
Though I’ve known Yuh socially for years, I’ve only just learned of her professional chocolately exploits in the last couple of years. So who is this person who dedicates so much of her time educating and spreading cocoa-inspired wisdom? Read about her and her f*#king awesome job after the jump.
Eagranie Yuh, Chocolate educator and consultant | Author, freelance writer and editor, 35, Vancouver, B.C.
So how did you get that f*#king awesome job? Can you describe what your job is and what it is that you do?
I’m a wearer of many hats, one of which includes teaching people how and why to taste chocolate. If you’ve ever been to a tasting (wine, beer, cheese, whatever), think of that but substitute chocolate. I talk about where chocolate comes from, how it’s processed from a bean in a wacky-looking pod into the stuff of dreams, and how to taste it. Along the way, we touch on a number of topics, including sourcing and sustainability, agriculture and politics, science and sensory analysis. And people always get a kick out of hearing the back stories of many chocolate makers, whether it’s a third-generation chocolate maker from France or a high-flying-attorney-turned-chocolate maker.
I should mention that chocolate tasting doesn’t pay my bills. My “proper” job is in corporate communications and digital marketing strategy. Off the side of that desk, I’m also the senior editor of Edible Vancouver & Wine Country, a columnist with the Vancouver Courier and a frequent contributor to the travel section of the Washington Post. And somewhere in there, I wrote The Chocolate Tasting Kit, which came out with Chronicle Books in 2014.
Did you have to give anything up to get here?
Not really. I tried a number of things before getting here, including a stint in academic research (I have a master’s degree in chemistry), a few years as a pastry chef and a few stints as an event and conference planner. I’ve been fortunate in having a supportive family who let me figure things out, and while I was always financially self-sufficient, it’s nice to know that if the bottom fell out I could always move back into their basement.
Who or what has been your mentor/inspiration along the way?
In chocolate, there have been so many people who tread a path before me, and I’m grateful to them. Alice Medrich has (and continues to) educate the public about how to use fine chocolate in baking, and I love her recipes. They always work, which is pretty rare in cookbooks these days. In the chocolate tasting world, Maricel Presilla wrote what I consider the bible of chocolate (The New Taste of Chocolate) and I refer to it all the time. Closer to home, Pam Williams runs Ecole Chocolat and she has been a regular source of support and inspiration as I figure out my next steps.
In terms of running a business–which took me a long time to wrap my head around, this idea that as a freelancer I run a business–I learned a ton from Andy Schloss. We met at a writing conference years ago, and every time we run into each other he always has time to chat, answer a question, whatever. He also happens to have written more cookbooks than I can list, and be an excellent writer.
I don’t have as much formal support for my writing or corporate work as I would like. That’s been an issue for a few years now and it’s something I have to buckle down and address, whether that’s a writer’s group, a coach, or whatever. I had a writing coach a few years back when I was working on my book proposal, but nothing since.
In three words or less, what’s the best part of your job?
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.
In three words or less, what’s the worst part of your job?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I don’t know, actually. I wanted to be a doctor but realized I’m afraid of blood. I played classical piano for 20 years but realized I hate performing. I always wanted to open a bakery but realized the kitchen life is not for me. But I was always writing and never considered it a profession or a skill — and here I am. But I don’t think that was a conscious decision, at least not in the way that many people can draw a line from childhood intention to adult fruition.
What is your drink of choice?
Coffee, full-strength. Which I can’t have anymore because caffeine and I don’t get along. But I miss it dearly.
Where was the last place you travelled?
Tasmania, where my husband is from and his family still lives. It’s a gorgeous spot and it takes my breath away every time we visit.
What’s on your playlist right now?
New Order, Substance. It’s an oldie but a goodie and it gets me through writing binges. I like to say that it distracts the demons who would otherwise plague me.
What are your top three reads vis a vis your career (books, magazines, manuals, podcasts)?
I read Stephen King’s On Writing once a year and get something new out of it every time. Mort Rosenblum’s Chocolate really opened my eyes to the diversity of research and exploration available in chocolate. And Why We Write (edited by Meredith Maran) is a good one for days when the words won’t come — it reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Any advice for someone who’s looking to lock down their f*#king awesome job?
I’m a big fan of the day job, to be honest. I tried being a full-time freelancer and chocolate educator a few years ago and realized that the financial insecurity made my creative brain shrivel up. I struggled with it for a while, feeling like I wasn’t as committed to the cause as the full-time freelancers I knew, but I finally learned to accept that in order for me to be creative, I have to have some boring structure underpinning it. Sometimes that’s limiting–I can’t write every story that I want to or take on every project that’s offered to me, because I don’t have the time, so I have to be pretty selective in how I spend my time. But it also means I can take the projects that don’t pay as well or that are research-intensive, because I don’t need the money immediately.
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m settling, but I’m all about taking calculated risks. Take the risk that’s two steps outside your comfort zone, not five. I think many of the most awesome jobs don’t yet exist in your brain, or there isn’t a clear road to how to get there. The truth is, no one’s going to be able to tell you how to get there, so you kind of have to make educated guesses and try a bunch of things to see what sticks.
And there are the fundamentals. Do the work. Don’t be an asshole. It’s not enough to have passion for something; you also have to have the skills and integrity to back it up. Nobody else cares about your passion if you are a pain in the ass, a flake or an arrogant know-it-all. Say please and thank you. Send thank you cards (actual hand-written cards). That last one has gotten me further than I ever could have expected.
What does the future hold for your f*#king awesome job?
I’m working on another book proposal, but we’ll see where that lands. I’m learning to take more time with proposals and see if the project is actually one I want to take, rather than rushing through the proposal in pursuit of the book deal.
There’s growing interest in fine chocolate, and I look forward to introducing more people to the hows and whys of it. And you know, I also have this backlog of chocolate in my office that needs to be tasted and documented. That’s a high-quality problem, if you ask me.
Speaking of chocolate, what do you love receiving for Valentine’s Day? Read my fantasy list here, including a sweet GIVEAWAY involving a truly west coast cookbook: A Taste of Haida Gwaii.