If you’re looking for delectable edible works of art, you don’t have to fly to far off European destinations like France or Switzerland. Simply take a walk through the ByWard Market neighbourhood to visit locally-owned Stubbe Chocolates, which received the ‘Top Choice Award’ for Top Chocolate Boutique in Ottawa in 2014!
Operating in the ByWard Market since 1989, Stubbe offers ornately decorated solid and hollow chocolate figurines, 45 different types of truffles, beautiful German-inspired cakes, pure chocolate bars from 18 different countries and of course, hot chocolate and coffee.
Walking into the small shop and café on Dalhousie Street, you’re subjected to an array of intricate, artistic chocolate creations that though definitely delicious, are a shame to destroy and eat.
Pilar Arjona, Stubbe’s Cocoa Specialist or resident ‘Chocolate Sommelier,’ says the ‘Top Choice Award’ came as a surprise to the small chocolatier, as it beat out much bigger corporate players such as Canadian favourite Laura Secord and Godiva Chocolatier.
“We were the only small chocolatier in this competition,” Arjona said, adding the company’s size and close customer relationships helped to secure the victory. She noted that customers, staff, friends and family were so excited about the award nomination that they made voting a top priority.
Stubbe is owned by Arjona’s husband, Heinrich Stubbe –a Certified Master Pastry Chef whose family started serving chocolate in a small café in Northern Germany just after the Second World War.
Starting out as a bakery in 1845, the popular local spot turned into a café and then into a well-known chocolate shop. When Chef Stubbe eventually moved to Canada, he continued the art of chocolate-making and the warm German café tradition in his cozy Ottawa shop.
Arjona says this tradition is what makes Stubbe Chocolates popular with Ottawa’s European community. “[The shop] is the result of good memories Heinrich has from the café,” she said. “Because the café is still here.”
Arjona says Stubbe is a “cozy and secret place” downtown where coffee and/or hot chocolate is served in a “European-style,” meaning the beverage is made slowly, from scratch, and served in a proper china teacup. And what better to accompany a gourmet beverage than a piece of cake or chocolate that is reminiscent of your childhood?
“The whole store can be the menu and obviously, all the sweets here are done in a German tradition somehow,” Arjona said. “So all the Germans and all the Austrians [in Ottawa], they have the chance here to bring memories back from back home.”
And you can bet that if you can’t find what you want in the store, Chef Heinrich Stubbe is up to the challenge of making it!
Arjona noted that special customer requests to Stubbe have included a divorce cake, where both halves were decorated differently and tailored to the former bride and groom’s tastes, a detailed “green chair” cake for the Parliament’s House of Commons and an intricately decorated chocolate sceptre-themed cake in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
“Every cake we make is supposed to be special, because each one of my customers are special,” Chef Stubbe says.
Chef Stubbe noted that a particularly memorable request for him was for 60 chocolate boxes for a Health Ministers’ conference in Paris, France. “This was quite an event and the chocolates for this event actually came from Canada,” he said. “It was quite an honour to do that.”
Both Arjona and Chef Stubbe agree that if you visit the shop and you only have time to try one thing, it has to be a truffle!
Arjona says the truffles, which are done in a German-style echoing her husband’s background, are what the shop is known for.
Adding that the truffle is his “brainchild,” Chef Stubbe says many flavour components need to come together to make an excellent truffle.
“So you have the cream and the butter, and one, two or three different kinds of chocolate. They all have to match together,” he said. “And it comes [down] to the knowledge of a pastry chef to bring these flavours to an explosion as soon as you eat it.”
Arjona noted that Stubbe is also becoming increasingly well-known for its “Pure Origin” chocolate bars that come from 18 different countries.
She said that more and more customers are coming in to try these exotic, pure chocolates, wanting to know how they can be used or paired with a specific liquor. “We’re getting more and more knowledge about that,” Arjona said.
Chef Stubbe added that the Pure Origin chocolate is part of the shop’s social commitment, as it works closely with cocoa bean growers in South America and Colombia. Through online Skype chats, in-person visits and technical support, Arjona and Chef Stubbe help local farmers perfect their products.
“For us, this is a constant involvement,” Chef Stubbe said. “They send us the raw chocolate and we test it here to see what we can do with it.”
But though the Pure Origin chocolate is gaining in popularity, Arjona says that it is not used in the making of truffles, unless all the truffle ingredients come from the same region. “If we do, we use in the whole process, the same chocolate,” she said. “Sometimes we do Santo Domingo truffles or Tanzania truffles. We respect the pure chocolate.”
Chef Stubbe said that for example, he created a special truffle from a 70 per cent cocoa chocolate from Colombia. He noted that flavours such as guava and a local Colombian liquor were used.
“We brought these flavours together with the 70 per cent chocolate,” he said. “Then because South America and Middle America are the birth countries of cocoa, we had then a kind of sign on top as a decoration –like from the Mayans, to make this really typical.”
Arjona and Chef Stubbe run the downtown shop with three or four full-time staff members during the year and up to 12 staff during the busy holiday seasons. They have also recently opened a Stubbe Kanata store, located just 20-minutes west of Ottawa’s downtown core.
Visit Stubbe’s ByWard Market location on your own to relax with a cozy beverage and a sweet treat. Or opt to stop by on a C’est Bon Epicurean Adventures walking tour!
“What I like about Stubbe is that the store boasts a combination of excellent craftsmanship, great taste and service to the ninth degree!” said Chef Andrée Riffou, owner and operator of C’est Bon Epicurean Adventures.
C’est Bon offers three-hour walking tours of Ottawa’s trendy gourmet neighbourhoods, including the ByWard Market year-round.
These culinary tours are based on the belief that one of the best ways to understand a people and its culture is to explore local food markets, experience local specialties and meet with local chefs.
And the best part? Samples of local delicacies are provided all along the way!