Under a sheet of glass at Adda Coffee and Tea House on Pittsburgh’s North Side, a chocolate bar from S.K. Frey Chocolates and Confections is broken into small squares, carefully arranged into a work of art on display at the counter. Under the register, one of the company’s wrapped bars sits among a row of other hip chocolates with clean and minimalistic labels lining a shelf. It’s a bit like the craft beer scene for desserts. Artisanal bean-to-bar chocolates, made from scratch with care, from the purchase of the cacao beans to the final product for consumption.
Sally Frey, a chocolatier, chef, and professor in food studies at Chatham University who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, had worked with chocolates for decades before formalizing it into a brand in 2016 when she founded S.K. Frey. She aims not just to delight people’s senses with her products, but also their minds, and she’s found chocolate is the perfect tool.
“Chocolate is a connector with people,” says Frey. “From an educator’s perspective, to get people interested in the food system or small business makers, the vehicle of chocolate has been a really fun one to work with.”
At $8 a bar, S.K. Frey chocolates are admittedly not for everyday consumption, but they are perfect gifts or, as Frey says, “great to share over a cup of coffee.” She puts an incredible amount of care into not just choosing her sources, but who she chooses to collaborate with on bringing the products to customers. She credits Pittsburgh artist Daniel Gurwin’s beautiful package design and branding with bringing more people to her bars. And she expresses gratitude to Adda’s two Pittsburgh coffee shops for selling the bars, the only places in town where you can purchase her chocolates.
Frey met the owner of Adda on the day the shop first opened, and they've developed such a strong connection that she says she has no desire to expand elsewhere. Each month, she creates a new bar for the shop, including a “travel series” featuring chocolates based on her global adventures and interests. One of the most popular so far has been her Tokyo bar, made with matcha, sesame seed brittle, and Pocky sticks.
“I’ve said in class a lot that I’m a nerdy chef,” says Frey. “I don’t want to not use my hands, but I also don’t want to not use my brain.”
In addition to teaching at Chatham, Frey also holds occasional chocolate workshops open to the public. At the end of her classes, Frey says she likes to give her students a gift . The day after we speak, a package arrives on my desk. Inside, a chocolate in the shape of a carrot sits in a carefully-arranged piece of plastic wrap, sealed shut with a beautifully designed branded sticker. Frey shares that it’s bean-to-bar chocolate, painted with orange and green dyes made from carrots and chlorophyll.
It’s the perfect way to describe her life’s work: a chef, an educator, and an entertainer, wrapped up in a thoughtfully prepared package. The carrot is so perfectly shaped and decorated, it feels shameful to destroy it with a bite, but I can’t resist. It tastes delightful.