10,000 Hours: Brandon Olsen

Written By:
Amanda Schroeder

Growing up watching Willy Wonka and all the crazy creations made our mouths water, and imagination run wild. Brandon Olsen acts as the replacement for the adult child in us all, creating flavour combinations that leave you wanting more. Chocolate tends to be a fairly standard commodity these days; known as something we all know and love, something dependable. Then you taste one of CXBO’s creations and everything you thought you knew about chocolate changes. Flavours you would have never paired together become fast favourites and you begin to wonder how a simple milk chocolate ever satisfied your craving. The chocolates made at CXBO mirror the unique personalities of the owners, Brandon Olsen and his partner in business and life Sarah Keenlyside. We stopped by the chocolate shop to see Willy Wonka in action and taste a few of the new flavours; we recommend having a box with you while reading.

Tell us about yourselves, and how you ended up where you are today?

CXBO is a creation of both Sarah and myself; I always wanted to have my restaurant and my chocolate company. Sarah comes from an art background she’s a documentary film maker, an installation artist, having done three Nuit Blanche installations, and other smaller ones around the city. I come from a process background of flavours having worked as a head chef. She’s the box and I’m what’s inside of the box. Its crazy within a year where this company has taken and gone the local, national, and international press its gotten, we’re just a chocolate shop on college.

Where did you train to become such an accomplished chef/chocolatier?

I’ve been cooking for the past 18 years, I was the head chef at the black hoof and I opened up bar Isabel as a head chef and now I’m opening up my restaurant. I want to be the chocolate company that would do interesting flavours; I want to go against the grain. If you want a coffee chocolate don’t come here but if you want something exciting, come here. Our philosophy is the Willy Wonka of the chocolate world; your world is your imagination.

"Our philosophy is the Willy Wonka of the chocolate world; your world is your imagination."

Have you always known you wanted to work as a chef/chocolatier?

No, this is a passion, I love chocolate and this has been purely self-taught, absolutely no training in chocolate. So it’s been a lot of failures, three steps forward and eight steps back. I knew I didn’t want to be a chef at a restaurant that wasn’t mine so I thought about what I could do in the meantime. So I did this. I’m not a businessman and I’m totally the non-traditional sense, I went against the grain, which is interesting and exciting. I don’t always know how we’re going to make it work but we’re going to make it work. 

How would you describe your style?

Everything is traditional in the sense of technique but the presentation is out of this world with its creativity. There’s no stopping us in what we can do and the way we can do things. We tell our staff, this is the box of creativity do whatever you want just go have fun. You got an idea? Lets work it. My whole goal with this was to be the non-traditional, I don’t want to be traditional, I want to be different. I am different, chocolates are different, Sarah and I are different, but it works.

Each chocolate has such a unique flavour with such interesting combinations, how do you create a new flavour?

There is no process, its like hey what do you guys want to do today? Throw out ideas. How we came up with the Uzu Sake one was we were driving and we needed a new one, so Sarah says what about Sake? Her friend is a Sake distributor and I thought, Uzu. That’s how that one was born, just like that. Some of them are just random it just comes to us. I’m going tell you right now there are a lot of failures. All these are diamonds in the rough. I did a black garlic and miso for this garlic festival and it was one of the most vile things I’ve ever made. We’re always constantly talking about what we want to reference; colours, textures, flavours, we just don’t put flavours in a box without thinking, there is always a purpose for it.

How did you come up with your signature chocolate design and what is the process in its creation? 

The geodomes? That’s a stock mould off the shelf that no one uses. The thing with chocolate is its fashion; I don’t want to be known for using the trendy moulds. When you’re walking down the street without even registering a brand or logo you just know that design; that’s CXBO. I wanted to build brand recognition, you could be anywhere and without tasting you know what it is.

"I don’t always know how we’re going to make it work but we’re going to make it work."

What’s next for chocolatesxbrandon?

Just getting through this Christmas rush- ha. We’re launching a vegan line, which is very exciting. I wanted to do a collection for vegan and lactose intolerance because I get a lot of sad faces when we tell them they cant eat them. So we finally developed a recipe that accommodates that demographic. If I walk in and I say I don’t want this anymore and we want to come up with a new 9 that’s what we’ll do. There are no set rules, I wanted a place where there is no, no. What do you want to do - lets do it and make it happen.

What does the concept of chasing your passion mean to you?

Chasing your passion means that you’re willing to give up everything in your life to succeed on that one thing. I’m willing to gamble everything from my relationship to my personal finances, anything to make this a success. If you’re going to do it dive in and put it all on the line. When it’s all on the line there is accountability for your actions. If you believe in yourself, just dive in and go for it. For people who are passionate just do it, you’ll figure out a way to make it work. Its not going be tomorrow but you’ll roll with it and one day it will just click. 

When you have the talent and passion for something it’s not surprising to stumble upon success. Sarah’s impressive career in the arts and Brandon’s extensive flavour knowledge has created the perfect pairing for a unique culinary experience. They both search for new ways to innovate their creations including personalized hand painted boxes and against the grain chocolate filling. Their meticulous approach parallels creativity only found in the world of fantasy, manifesting chocolate excellence. With the mindset that different is always better, after biting into one of the signature geodomes, we couldn’t agree more.

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