Edible Works of Art: Chef to manage La Jolla's Harvard Cookin’ Girl, and launch Nola Rose chocolates

Life is about being happy, and food makes me happy,” smiles chef Robin Katz, “especially chocolate.” After seven “grateful” years as the sous chef at The Marine Room, Katz will manage Harvard Cookin’ Girl as of Jan. 1, where she will make and sell her line of chocolates called Nola Rose. The sweets feature bon-bons and truffles that are almost too pretty to eat.

And Nola Rose is Katz’s baby in more ways than one.

“The company is named for my daughter, because she’s the sweetest thing in the world,” Katz said. And one-year-old Nola Rose had more to do with the launch of the company than just lend the name.

“When I got pregnant, like most pregnant women, I had chocolate cravings. I didn’t want just any chocolate, I wanted the best chocolate,” Katz said. Unable to find exactly what she was looking for, she said she went to chocolatiers across San Diego for “research” and expanded that search to chocolatiers in Los Angeles and the home of Ghirardelli itself: San Francisco. With some guidance at a Bay Area chocolate shop, she bought every book on chocolate-making she could find and studied technique so she could make her own.

Sprinkling in her culinary background and implementing the thinking she picked up while studying engineering, she created bon-bons and truffles with unique flavor combinations such as spicy honey, blueberry maple, and rosemary with sea salt and olive oil.

“I have a degree in mechanical engineering, and that thinking trained me to pay extreme attention to detail, and chocolate is a science. It’s not something you can throw together. When you bite into it, there needs to be a snap and then have it melt perfectly. You have to pay a lot of attention to get that,” she explained.

With the recipes and technique perfected, and following the birth of her daughter, she began to sell her chocolates eight months ago, online on Facebook and through word of mouth. And to make sure they are as good on the outside as they are on the inside, Katz hand-paints each one in vibrant and shiny colors and uses transfer sheets to add patterns or logos to the confections.

“All the flavors are chef-driven but also art. It’s about the beauty behind chocolate, it’s not just about flavor or technique. I love eating chocolates that you can tell a lot of love went into,” she said. Because they are handmade, Nola Rose chocolates can be made vegan and/or gluten free, and will be sold at Harvard Cookin’ Girl, where Katz will head day-to-day operations.

Changing of the guard

She assumes management from chef owner Bibi Kasrai, who has accepted a full-time consulting job, but will still own and participate in Harvard Cookin’ Girl operations. “It was a hard decision to step aside and let someone else run (Harvard Cookin’ Girl) because it is such as big part of me,” Kasrai said. “I knew it had to be the right person, with the right combination of being people-person that knows how to cook. A lot of chefs came and auditioned, and they were all good, but I couldn’t find the right person.

“When Robin contacted me, we talked and mid-way through the conversation I asked if she would do it. Thankfully, she said yes. I am still going to be there and help, but she will have a lot of freedom to make her mark and I have faith she can do it.”

At the helm, Katz said she would like to offer master classes with well-known chefs, knife skills curriculum and chocolate-and-wine-pairing nights.

Chef Robin Katz of Nola Rose Chocolate Courtesy

“I grew up in LA and my parents raised me on food and taught me how to cook,” she said. “You have everything at your fingertips in LA. I think being exposed to all the different food cultures blossomed my love for food. My first recipe was for thumbprint cookies and I was 5.

“I remember being trusted, alone in the kitchen, with the knives and the fire, for the first time. I don’t know what my parents were thinking, but I’m glad they did it! I look back on those thumbprint cookies and that is my happiest memory.”

Continuing on that culinary path, Katz graduated from Le Cordon Blue culinary school in Portland 10 years ago, and came back to San Diego to be near family.

Marine Room training

When it came to the internship required to get her culinary degree, she wanted to work in the best restaurant she could, and The Marine Room in La Jolla Shores was her first choice. “I worked for free for the first three months, hoping to get my first job at an amazing high-end restaurant. I worked my way up, station to station, and made it to sous chef within three years and I’ve been the sous there for seven years,” she explained.

When it came to developing her chocolates and flavor combinations, she often sought the advice of Marine Room chefs Bernard Guillas and Ron Oliver. “They were so supportive,” she said. “They taught me so much and with all the research I’ve done into creating Nola Rose chocolates, that’s what I want to do at Harvard Cookin’ Girl, take those techniques and make it accessible to the people in La Jolla.”

IF YOU GO: Harvard Cookin’ Girl, 7441 Girard Ave., will be open Tuesday-Sunday, with hours to be determined.

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