• Wait until you sink your teeth into these unconventional flavours. (Meltdown Artisan)Source: Meltdown Artisan
From Face Bark to pandan coconut bonbons, we talk to the chocolatier behind Bakedown Cakery's brand-new Sydney outpost.
Lee Tran Lam

10 Oct 2019 - 11:17 AM  UPDATED 17 Oct 2019 - 2:27 PM

Single-origin Vietnamese caramel ganache bites. Warm Your Bones hot chocolate made of cocoa skeletons. Yuzu whisky, durian coffee and pandan coconut bonbons. Easy-snap blocks of chilli pineapple cashew and genmaicha Oreo strawberry flavours. "Face Pops" that are lollipops featuring your dad or dog (or much-loved face of choice). Edible chopsticks that evoke sushi-train flavours.

These are some of the highly delightful morsels you'll find at Meltdown Artisan, Jen Lo's new chocolate shop in Sydney's Darlinghurst.

The chocolatier first built a following for her inventive confections with Bakedown Cakery, which she started by unmoulding chocolates and cakes from home in 2015, until huge demand for orders took over her apartment and she launched her bricks-and-mortar Bakedown Cakery store two years later in Artarmon, filling it with an Asian-inspired range (think passionfruit mango and sesame chocolate, or blocks flavoured with pandan, coconut and lychee, taro or matcha).

It's where she debuted her Face Bark, which allowed customers to custom-print images on slabs of white chocolate. One person had portraits of themselves of various ages – from their baby days to their present adult self – printed on Face Bark to celebrate their 30th birthday. An author celebrated her book launch by getting her pages illustrated on chocolate bark.

Even though Lo decided to change tune from Bakedown Cakery in August, she knew she couldn't fully abandon her previous range at the new chocolate shop, Meltdown Artisan, which is now open.

"The Face Bark has to stay around. I think there'd be outrage if I tried to remove it," she says. "There are a few iterations of Face Bark coming: like Face Pops, where you can print your face on a chocolate pop, and I'm hoping to introduce workshops where you can actually make them yourself." (As a test run, she's had her dad appear on a Face pop.)

A 'Pop Pop', if you will.

So why switch from Bakedown Cakery to Meltdown? Well, Lo wanted a new space, which she spent six months seeking ("When I walked into this one, I was like, yeah!" she says about the Darlinghurst location) and has enough room for her to run chocolate-making workshops.

The new business is solely about chocolates - she won't be icing pandan and coconut raspberry cakes or mixing black sesame into batter anymore. And she's pivoting from artificial flavours to natural and sustainable ingredients. This means ditching nuclear-bright pandan paste for freeze-dried pandan grown in Malaysia by single mothers.

So why switch from Bakedown Cakery to Meltdown? Well, Lo wanted a new space, which she spent six months seeking

Lo also sources from Cocoa Horizons and Cacao Forest, which both promote ethically made, sustainable chocolate that ensures cocoa farmers have viable livelihoods.

What's staying from her old chocolate shop? Her commitment to producing "no boring flavours", and that includes Bakedown favourites, such as genmaicha Oreo strawberry and yuzu ginger apple blocks.

Meltdown Artisan's core range, though, will feature new creations (think saffron barberry and wakame sake sea salt) and limited-edition specials (such as sakura matcha, durian cocoa nib and caramelised coffee).

The famous edible chopsticks.

Don't miss the vegan trio of raspberry coconut cherry, almond strawberry and yuzu lychee flavours: unlike dairy-free options which taste like overgenerous slabs of coconut oil, Lo has used French fruit couverture instead of milk powder, and she's amped up the flavour with pure natural effects: the crunch of desiccated coconut, the sweet citrus hit of yuzu juice or the buttery note of ground almonds to take these dairy-free chocolates to the next level (the yuzu lychee block is insanely good, if you need a starting point).

"It's quite a rare tea and it's nothing like any Japanese tea that I've actually tried.”

Some flavours have international origins: a bonbon made with salted coconut and gula Melaka ("a caramelised sugar, quite molasses-y in flavour, from Malacca," explains Lo) is a throwback to her childhood days eating sweets in Malaysia. The wakoucha chocolate draws on a tea-growing tradition that dates back 150 years and connects the chocolatier to growers she met on a past visit to Kyoto.

"I think there are only 300 farmers in Japan that actually grow wakoucha," she says. "It's quite a rare tea and it’s nothing like any Japanese tea that I've actually tried." For her, it has a lychee taste, while her husband detects red fruit notes – the wakoucha's wide-ranging flavour profile is part of its appeal. As a black tea, it also has a bitter, lingering depth that contrasts nicely with the chocolate's sweetness.

Lo will also revisit the sushi-train flavours she featured at Bakedown Cakery– but this time, they'll be presented as chocolate chopsticks. "There's pickled ginger, sencha, soy sauce and wasabi," she says.

Creating slender sticks out of soy sauce flakes crumbled into white chocolate or dark chocolate laced with wasabi oil is a delicate, laborious affair – so these might just be a limited-edition set, available from the physical store only and worth getting in early for. The other chocolates are sold online, so you can still get your caramel ganache or Face Bark hit, even if you don't live near the shop.

"It [was] actually my first proposal job," says the chocolatier. "[I'd] been waiting for something like this."

While Meltdown Artisan is a new chapter for Lo, there are great memories from her Bakedown days that she savours. Like the explosive popularity of her Census-inspired Not A Single Origin chocolates, which got longlisted for a design award and still sparked many customer queries – even six months after it sold out. Or the time someone used her chocolate to ask his girlfriend to marry him.

"He wanted to propose to his girlfriend of 10 years," she says. "He had a ring and wanted to put it into something hollow – so that when she opened it, it was there."

So Lo created a chocolate heart, designed to hide the ring. "We used the Face Bark, and we broke it up and put it into the heart. It said: 'Will you marry me?'," she says.

Lo's chocolate-making skills did the trick: the girlfriend said yes.

"It [was] actually my first proposal job," says the chocolatier. "[I'd] been waiting for something like this."

This was Lo's first proposal job, and she's hoping it's not her last.

While Lo has received accolades and acclaim for her chocolate-making (and has a big following on Instagram), she chooses not to present a scrubbed-clean, one-sided view of her work. In fact, she's been upfront about her dealings with mental health, and at one point, reduced her previous store's opening hours to just one day a week, to help herself regroup.

"For me, being genuine is really important. Especially on a platform like Instagram, where it's very easy to gloss over things," she says. "I've suffered with depression since I was a teenager. So talking about mental health issues, to me, is a really important thing. The less stigma we have around it, the better."

 "I've suffered with depression since I was a teenager. So talking about mental health issues, to me, is a really important thing. The less stigma we have around it, the better."

Closing for most of the week, going for a walk, taking the dog out, even having enough time to just get a haircut ("such a treat!") helped her recharge and focus.

"I think it helped me to see the bigger picture about what I wanted to achieve." It's what inspired her to shut the old store and open Meltdown Artisan in a new space.

The sunshine that streams through the new Darlinghurst location is definitely a great mood-setter, as is the proximity to good neighbours. "Next door is an architect company," she says. "We're hoping for Christmas, we might try and make some houses out of chocolate."

On the other side is a celebrant – perhaps someone Lo can collaborate with, if she receives any more wedding proposals.

Lo is also looking forward to entering the Sydney Chocolate Show again next year after scoring silver for her genmaicha strawberry Oreo block and bronze for two other flavours in 2018, "because I feel like I'm sitting on some pretty big gold nuggets", she says.

So when you step into her new store, you might see Lo tempering and moulding chocolate, dipping truffles, packaging products and feeling good about the future.

Meltdown Artisan

32 Kings Lane, Darlinghurst NSW
Tuesday – Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday – Sunday (by appointment only, with Saturday workshops planned in the future)


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