Inside a warehouse in Del Paso Heights, a machine rains down a curtain of milk chocolate into a tray of small, round molds while a slender young man carefully places a single decorative dot on the center of each to mark the flavor-in this case, green cardamom coffee. The man is Ramon Perez, a celebrated pastry chef who founded Puur Chocolat three years ago. Working alone, he creates exquisite chocolates that look like tiny works of art in unusual flavors borrowed from global cuisine.
At 35, Perez has an impressive culinary pedigree. When he was 12, he worked at Auberge du Soleil in Napa. Later, he joined his parents at their Nevada City restaurant, Citronée. When his father asked him to take on desserts, his interest was piqued. “I would stay up late into the night reading and trying out baking and pastry techniques,” Perez says. “I really appreciated the precision required in desserts.”
After high school, he attended the New England Culinary Institute, then landed at a series of Michelin-starred restaurants: David Myer’s Sona in Los Angeles, De Librije and Parkheuvel in the Netherlands, Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. Eventually he became executive pastry chef for the David Myers Group of restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Along the way, he earned a James Beard Award nomination, becoming a semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef.
But traveling between Los Angeles and Las Vegas began to take a toll. “It reached a point where I had lost track of the day of the week,” says Perez. “I had just returned to Los Angeles and was being called right back to Las Vegas.” It was time for a change. So in 2012, Perez returned to Sacramento and started Puur Chocolate a year later, selling his chocolates online. His reputation and word of mouth brought him customers in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Orders have grown so much that he will soon need to hire a couple of people to help with production. His wife, Nicole, helps with bookkeeping, processing and shipping.
Perez finds inspiration in travel. In May, he visited Ecuador to see where his chocolate is produced. In June, he went to Kansas City to visit another chocolatier. In August, he was in Mexico City. Soon, he’ll jet off to Singapore. While traveling, he meets with chefs, restaurateurs and cacao growers to expand his flavor palate and draw inspiration.
On his trips, Perez discovers interesting new flavors such as sudachi, an Asian citrus, and sake kasu, a derivative from sake making. He also collaborates with local companies, working with Temple Coffee, for instance, on an espresso flavored chocolate. All told, Perez estimates he’s come up with 200 flavors. Many are seasonal. His favorite is eucalyptus lemon, which was inspired by the aroma of eucalyptus as he was driving in Northern California. It can take him up to three days to make his intricate, airbrushed bonbons. He uses natural colorings: bright-green matcha tea, dried fruit or beet powder.
Why base an upscale chocolate company in Sacramento? The answer, says Perez, is twofold: the standard of living and the quality of produce. “There is no better produce than what is in the Sacramento region,” says Perez. “There were good farms in Southern California, but nothing like what we have here. I love places like Del Rio Botanical, where I get many items, including the honey we use. I’m thrilled to be in the midst of all this quality produce, and I want to be a part of promoting Sacramento.”
Locally, he sells his chocolates at Andy’s Candy Apothecary, Taylor’s Market and the Midtown Farmers Market. But he’d like to expand his focus beyond chocolate and return to his pastry roots. He’s in negotiations to open a small retail space downtown, with a dessert omakase bar and elevated soft-serve ice cream. Perez is thinking about renaming the company Puur Sacramento. “This city,” he explains, “is a huge part of what we do and why we do it.”