Photos by Alekz Pacheco, courtesy of Emily Kellogg
In Woodstock, two chefs with Michelin-star training craft colorful chocolate bonbons with exotic flavors, along with a host of other sweets.
Could the Hudson Valley be the sweet tooth capital of the world?
Dairy farm-to-cone ice creameries? Check. Cheesecakes, pies, and cookies galore? Check, check, and check. Don’t even get us started on the region’s strong gourmet donut game, ranging from vegan twists and cosmic-themed varieties to fall-favorite apple cider donuts.
Of course, chocolate lovers have plenty from which to choose. Botanical bean-to-bar operations and speakeasy-style bonbon lounges have taken region by storm. In Ulster County, EJ Bonbons and Confections brings both technical expertise and nostalgic flavors to Woodstock.
Two Michelin star-trained chefs run this delightful chocolate destination. Emily Kellogg and Pierre Pouplard met while working at Per Se, a world-famous French restaurant at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Kellogg is a native New Yorker, born in Woodstock and educated at the CIA, while Pouplard is a western French transplant.
“We enjoyed our experience there and learned a lot. Because, [Per Se] is a great place to learn really about discipline and the fundamentals and doing the right thing. Now, we decided to do our own thing and open our own business, and we’re very happy about it,” Pouplard says. He grew up in a very small town before moving to Paris when he was 18 to work in restaurants, such as prestigious establishments like Le Meurice Paris and La Tour d’Argent. At Per Se, he worked his way up the ladder to sous chef.
Kellogg, however, had a different journey.
Her first job was at 14 in a bakery. Kellogg went to the Culinary Institute of America straight from high school, and then moved to NYC. She started at one of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants, and then moved on to Terra in Tribeca. The chef’s favorite restaurant was Per Se since, once she joined the team, she “fell in love” with it. Though chocolate station was a much-coveted position, it was a job she avoided since culinary school. It’s pretty surprising now, considering she’s the head chocolatier and owner of EJ Bonbons.
“I kind of decided that chocolate was messy and it was dirty and it stressed me out. It’s a very scientific, finicky ingredient. And, after being on every station at Per Se, [my chef] pretty much looked at me and she said, ‘Okay, it’s your turn, you need to work chocolate. It’s the only station you haven’t worked. It’s time to learn.’ I think I was probably the only person there that had zero desire to do it,” Kellogg recalls. “I think I had like five mental breakdowns in the first month of working it. Chocolate was so stressful and I didn’t understand it, and I couldn’t quite get the swing of it. Finally, I decided, ‘I want to be good at this, I want to do well. It’s a challenge, and it’s something that I can improve on.’ Well, I was so determined to not give up that I actually fell in love with chocolate.”
Fast forward to the beginning of the pandemic. Working in a three-Michelin-starred restaurant environment, Kellogg and Pouplard’s routine was very much “work, sleep, repeat.” When COVID-19 slowed things down, the couple reflected on their lives and their future. They suddenly had more time together than ever before. Then, while visiting Kellogg’s mother upstate, Pouplard suggested a quick walk around Woodstock.
It was a brisk winter day, and something unexpected caught their eye: a “for rent” sign. The moment had a lightbulb effect for the duo. In January 2021, they closed on a space just off the main drag. Kellogg’s carpenter uncle and Pouplard handled most of the renovations, and the pair were able to open EJ Bonbons by Memorial Day weekend.
EJ Bonbons started with a dozen flavors of bonbons, all with ornately decorated chocolate shells. These colorful confections are part of a rotating list of flavors, and past offerings include wildly inventive flavors like mojito and black forest cake. Kellogg and Pouplard take an “eating by the season” approach to their chocolate bonbons.
Summery flavors like strawberry cheesecake or blueberry-lemon give way to autumnal options like bourbon-maple-pecan or the apple cider-caramel with real apple butter. Currently, their most exotic treat is a matcha-yuzu bonbon. But don’t fret, picky eaters! Classics like salted caramel and raspberry dark chocolate are here to stay.
“My mom has an amazing garden at her house, which has been nice for the summer time. So, we use blueberries from her garden, as well as grapes, raspberries, and other ingredients. Next, we turn those into purees and incorporate that into the chocolates,” Kellogg explains.
As for the chocolate itself, EJ Bonbons sources that from Amadei, a bean-to-bar company from Tuscany, Italy. Amadei does not use any emulsifiers or preservatives in its chocolate, so the ingredients are simply cocoa nibs and sugar. Kellogg strives to keep her chocolates as clean and pure as possible. She uses fresh cream from a dairy farm in the Northeast, resulting in beautiful chocolate, inside and out. The shop’s maple-pecan bonbon uses Hudson Valley maple syrup, and EJ Bonbons are always looking to incorporate more local ingredients.
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Above all, Kellogg and Pouplard want to infuse nostalgia into EJ Bonbons.
“I think a lot of the flavor profiles are things that are kind of classic and nostalgic. Food memories are what people talk about, right? When you eat something, and it brings you back to a specific moment in time? I think that’s one of the beautiful things about bonbons, they can be an entire flavor profile in one bite,” Kellogg says.
According to Pouplard, this is why salted caramel always sells out at EJ Bonbons.
“It’s a classic. People go for it because it’s familiar,” he says. In a similar vein, his fondest childhood memories inspired the pâte de fruit. This chewy, fruity French candy instantly transports him back to his youth. Of course, he wanted to share this experience with others who missed the old-school-cool confection, which happens to be completely vegan. The duo also serves up chocolate-covered nuts, nougat, caramels, and, come next summer, house-made ice cream.
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Bonbons themselves are a bit of a relic. For many years, truffles dominated mainstream awareness. Kellogg and Pouplard have witnessed many customers sampling the sweet treat for their very first time at EJ Bonbons. Encouraging visitors to eat with their eyes first, they ensure that the dazzling marble-like chocolates captivate.
Kellogg tempers colored cocoa butter to achieve the gorgeous sheen of confections from EJ Bonbons. She uses paint brushes, Q-tips, sponges, and a small spray gun to inflict an array of Jackson Pollock-esque designs on her chocolates.
“Ultimately, you don’t know how it’s going to look until it comes out of the mold. We paint them in reverse, [painting the mold before the chocolate is cast.] First, you want [to come up with] a concept and a design you can actually execute. Second, you want it to have an effect on the customers. It should evoke the essence of the flavors inside,” Kellogg says.
EJ Bonbons and Confections
2 Old Forge Rd, Woodstock