Cowboy makes fine chocolates
November 30, 2016
Where his chef hat should be, his cowboy hat is firmly in place. Dubbed the "master of chocolate," Tim Kellogg is the Meeteetse Chocolatier, but before he made his mark in the chocolate world, he was marking out broncs.
Kellogg got his start making fine desserts at the urging of his mother. He had his eye on a new bronc riding saddle, but lacked the funds required to purchase one.
"My mom suggested I make and sell a bunch of truffles and brownies at the Cody Stampede over Fourth of July week. That was 13-and-a-half years ago," Kellogg said, "I made them in the past and made some stuff my grandmother did. She was a phenomenal cook and loved doing desserts and chocolates. I wasn't too thrilled to do it. It was the fourth of July, it was hot, and I wanted to be running around instead. I sold a lot of chocolates that weekend; that was the beginning of the business."
Growing the business from craft fairs and markets to a store front operated part-time, Kellogg started off as a self-taught baker with his grandmother recipes, watching a lot of Food Network and Googling techniques, he said.
"About six or seven years ago, I hit a wall where I really wasn't advancing. I was doing same thing over and over," Kellogg said. "I had no formal training, and there's only so much you can do. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I was making the style of chocolates more like what's happening in London and France. I was making chocolates how I like to eat them. I started taking classes in London seven years ago at a chocolate-based culinary school for working professionals. I don't have time to go back to school for two years and I don't need to learn to debone a fish, I just do chocolates."
Kellogg keeps his techniques current and continues his chocolate education with an annual trip overseas for two to three weeks.
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The main store and namesake of his company is in Meeteetse, Wyoming, though Kellogg also has what he calls a half-store in Jackson, Wyoming.
"I do a lot of dessert work in the [Jackson] Valley, a lot of weddings and conventions. I feature a lot of Wyoming flavors, like sage, prickly pear cactus, huckleberry, and Wyoming Whiskey. I have several chocolates flavored with beer from Snake River Brewery," Kellogg said. "I feature local and regional flavors and get a lot of business in the valley through that. I have a little show room open on weekends and to have a place in Jackson when I'm doing big events."
Kellogg's transition from full-time cowboy to full-time chocolatier was gradual.
"I was working full-time on a ranch and working part-time on the business. The family had taken over the ranch and was running it, and they needed me full-time," Kellogg said. "Over time, as the ranch stabilized and my business grew, the ranch needed me part-time and I went to the business full-time."
One final shift on the ranch allowed for Kellogg to focus only on chocolate-making.
"The family put the ranch up for sale, and another family bought it. They brought their own crew," he said. "I knew I always wanted to have more of a presence in Jackson, and I couldn't have three jobs. When I left the ranch, I decided that was the perfect time to jump into the market on a permanent basis and establish a small store in Jackson."
Kellogg said the two stores are very different, but both feature the same product, which is chocolate without added sugar, additives, or preservatives.
"The Meeteetse store is an old saloon. It's pretty cool and has lots of space. All of the chocolates are made by hand by me," he said. "There is no fancy machinery, no production, which is kind of unusual. It's all made using ultra premium chocolate, and the aftertaste is whatever I'm flavoring with. I make most of my own extracts for each batch, that way I can have a purer, better-tasting chocolate."
The Meeteetse Chocolatier's sweets vary from those you will find on the shelves of gas stations and grocery stores.
"It has a short shelf-life; it's not durable. It isn't your typical candy; you can't put it in cupboard and snack on it," Kellogg said. "It's just something unique and different and thankfully people have come to understand that and enjoy the chocolates when they buy them."
Kellogg's website http://www.MeeteetseChocolatier.com is emblazoned with orders currently being sent out Dec. 15 at the earliest. The opportunity to order for Christmas delivery is slipping away.
"With only one person in kitchen, there is only so much I can produce. Last December I did 19 all-nighters, and 22- to 24-hour days almost killed me," Kellogg said. "I have two very wonderful employees who box and bag everything I make. It took a toll, so I've decided with two stores and the internet, it's like having 3 stores, and I can't make and keep up that quality, so we're only taking so many orders per day."
Kellogg urges customers to consume their chocolates within days of receiving them and to not store them near pungent foods.
"The key things to know about the store is that everything is made by hand daily and I'm going for quality not quantity," he said. "I would rather have one case of exceptional chocolates than many cases of less-than-exceptional. I make the very best chocolate I can and I do a lot to support the customers that support us."
The Meeteetse Chocolatier website lists some of the organizations and groups that his business supports, many of which are agriculture-related.
"We do what we can to help out. Because of my background in ag, a lot of it tends to be local rodeos and groups that are unique to Wyoming and the West," he said.
Sticking to his roots, Kellogg jumps on every chance he gets to get fresh air and be around livestock.
"From time to time I help at friends' ranches, and I got to Denver Stock Show for a week-and-a-half for Angus Week," he said. "There's a ranch in Teton County where I go work one day a week. I need cattle in my life. I get crazy if I'm not outdoors or around animals. Usually once a week, I grab a horse and go riding for two to three hours."