Confidence and Creativity
Annie Rupani started making chocolates to relieve stress while studying for the LSATs. What she first thought of as a hobby soon became her calling. She enrolled in a chocolate class and there was no looking back. She opened Cacao &Cardamom in Houston, TX where she combines unexpected flavors to create amazing chocolates.
You were originally studying to become an attorney. When did you know that you wanted to be a chocolatier instead?
Chocolatiering began as a hobby during my time studying for the LSATs. After I decided not to pursue law, I found an internship making chocolates at the Houston Racquet Club. After a couple of months of chocolatiering, I got an opportunity to showcase my chocolates at a charity event. With rudimentary business cards and a banner that was made overnight, I set up a table of chocolates and the response was amazing. From that event, I got a call to be on the news two weeks later, which prompted me to start a website where I could sell my chocolate. When I saw continued interest in my chocolates, I realized that I could create a career path for myself in chocolatiering, and began creating the Cacao & Cardamom brand.
How did you decide to study culinary arts in Malaysia?
After graduating college, I decided to move to Pakistan to work on Early Childhood Development programs for our family foundation. During my time in Pakistan, I made the decision to not go forward with law school, but my passion for chocolate still remained, and I wanted to learn more about chocolatiering. I began Googling pastry schools nearby and found a pastry school in Malaysia that had a chocolate course coming up. I emailed the pastry school about details, booked my ticket and was on my way a couple of weeks later. It was only a 10-day course, but it was my first time learning in a professional kitchen and has set the standard for the Cacao & Cardamom kitchen.
In 2010, you were crowned Miss Pakistan World. What was the experience like and what did you take away from it that you feel helped you in your career?
The experience of becoming Miss Pakistan World was incredible. It was an honor to be able to learn more about my Pakistani heritage and be able to represent a country that is often misrepresented in the media. I was often placed in front of cameras with someone shooting questions at me. I had to grow confidence within myself to stay strong to my beliefs and values, and that's been beneficial to being a woman entrepreneur. I'm often put in challenging or uncomfortable positions, but I've grown a level of comfort in handling them now.
What has been the easiest part of opening Cacao & Cardamom? And the hardest?
The easiest part is making the chocolates--my love for chocolatiering is still strong and I really enjoy testing and creating new flavors, but everything else proves to be a bit more difficult. From marketing to accounting, all the processes necessary to run a business are aspects of entrepreneurship, that aren't as enjoyable as being in the kitchen but inevitable to the growth of my business.
What is your typical day like?
I start out every day at the gym, then onto my emails. When I get to the shop in the morning, I usually inspect all the chocolates in the front because presentation is key. Then my day is split between meetings, marketing, production, and accounting. Every day is a little different, with certain projects prioritized during different times of the year.
Garam masala pistachio, cardamom rose, and black sesame ginger are a few of the amazing flavors you've created for your chocolates. How do you come up with your flavor combinations?
I come from a South Asian background, so I inherently grew up with a lot of spices in my food. Cardamom is commonly added to desserts, chai, or to flavor rice, and ginger is the base of many curries. Cardamom Rose was my first chocolate experiment, and when it worked, I realized I could try other spices that weren't typical to chocolate. Chocolate is a great medium for holding interesting flavors. Even when I'm dining out, I often think, "I wonder how that would taste in a ganache?"
What advice do you wish you had before you started your business?
I don't think any bit of advice can prepare you for the journey of entrepreneurship, but I wish I had known that it was a never-ending process of growth. You have to commit to creating action steps to develop a strong team and product to help move your company forward, and when you hit your goals, you encounter a new set of challenges but ultimately it's what keeps you driven and passionate about your business.
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