Every day chocolatier Davey Wendt is at his rented workstation in Eugene’s Reality Kitchen, performing a ballet of mixing, stirring, melting, testing temperatures, and moving pans of chocolate on and off the heat. “A lot of chocolate making is waiting for things to come to the right temperature,” Wendt says.
Chocolate must be tempered, meaning it’s heated to precise temperatures and cooled properly so it becomes firm and glossy, not grainy and dull. Wendt takes his well-tempered, organic chocolates and provides them wholesale to a handful of lucky Eugene restaurants.
As a kid, Wendt built models and loved his chemistry set. “Chocolate is those things,” he says, “It’s architectural, it’s engineering, it’s chemistry.” Wendt is curious and inventive in the kitchen, and credits his mother with inspiring him. “She was a scratch cook, and being the middle child I was the one in the kitchen, helping her cook and asking questions about what she was doing and why.”
Wendt, 51, was born and raised in Los Angeles, where he and his wife, Eugene city councilwoman Claire Syrett, met 23 years ago doing professional theater work. They moved to Eugene 21 years ago because they desired more outdoor activities. “We picked Eugene, Oregon, out of a hat, not knowing anyone here,” he says.
Wendt was working quality assurance at Sony Disc Manufacturing roughly 15 years ago, when one of his coworkers brought in homemade peanut butter cups. “I never even considered that you could hand-make peanut butter cups, and I thought that was fascinating,” Wendt recalls. “I remember thinking that if I start making chocolate it’s going to take over my life.”
It took a few more years, but take over it did. Five years after the peanut butter cups, he was again given a homemade chocolate—this time a coconut haystack, which he went home and replicated. Soon, Wendt began making chocolates as a hobby while working at Hynix. After leaving there, Wendt worked under the tutelage of Eugene chef Adam Bernstein, who owned Luna Jazz Club, Adam’s Place, and Café Maroc. Wendt built Luna’s stage and served the last dish of food the night Café Maroc closed.
Three and a half years ago, one of Rye’s owners approached Wendt about adding his chocolates to the menu. Rye’s menu pairs chocolates with different whiskeys, such as matching his Mars bar—almond nougat with chilies and smoked salt—with a smoky Monkey Shoulder Scotch. “It’s everything you want at the end of a meal,” Wendt says. At Elk Horn Brewery, Wendt’s chocolates go well with beer. For them, he makes a beer nut butter sandwiched between two pretzel chips dipped in chocolate, along with a macadamia banana cluster and mango pineapple chili nugget. Bites at The Broadway pair well with wines.
Early on, Wendt came to appreciate the balance that a sprinkling of salt brings. He has about 20 salts, such as Maldon, salt mixed with cocoa nibs, and Kiawe Smoked Sea Salt from Mountain Rose Herbs, which imparts a sweet, fruity, tropical essence to Wendt’s chocolates filled with Brazil nut butter.
Wendt has considered opening a retail store or packaging his confections for online sales, but that’s not likely to happen. “I’m not set up for that since it’s just me—I’m a one-man chocolate show,” he says.
Wendt follows inspiration wherever he finds it and experiments frequently, keeping notes about what works. Some successes have eluded him, though. He hasn’t yet found the right application for cashews, which are easily overpowered by chocolate. A first attempt at a red curry maple cream chocolate was deemed a “mushy mess” until he reformulated it with white chocolate and coconut oil to make it work.
He also thinks about beginning to work with chocolate sculptures, to reclaim his love of model making as a kid. “Doing things with my hands is what I like,” he says. “And I’m not pushing broccoli or kale, so everyone’s always happy to see me! Everyone likes chocolate, it just feels good.”
Sample Wendt’s chocolates at Rye (44 E 3rd Ave.), Elk Horn Brewery (686 E Broadway), and The Broadway (17 Oakway Center).