The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


A Night at Dude, Sweet Chocolate

Visitors shopping and sampling at Dude, Sweet Chocolate in the Bishop Arts District.Photo credit: Megan Grosse.
Visitors shopping and sampling at Dude, Sweet Chocolate in the Bishop Arts District.Photo credit: Megan Grosse.
Dude, Sweet Chocolate
Where it all began: Dude, Sweet Chocolate’s box of artisan chocolates.Photo credit: Megan Grosse.

Light shines through the two large windows framing the red-painted mutton door. Etched into those welcoming windows is a familiar name amongst regulars of the Bishop Arts District: Dude, Sweet Chocolate.

Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” filters through the opening door, adding to the effect of Halloween decorations in the windows and throughout the shop. Within the small chocolate shop, customers mill about laughing and sampling the different creations—or concoctions, for that is what they truly are. Offerings of samples with names like the Flower Child Truffle and the Fungus Amongus Soft Butter Toffee are casually thrown about. A small taste from the Tub of Love hazelnut spread is encouraged, and questions like “Would you like to try our Albatross Fudge? It is dehydrated blue cheese and sea salt with dark chocolate,” fill the air, enticing any curious stranger.

“It’s unreal,” says a Dude, Sweet Chocolate regular as she finishes her purchase and heads out with her goodies in a simple brown bag. She is not exaggerating. The Albatross Fudge, one of the top sellers, truly is something else. Only one woman is known to successfully combine the strong flavor of blue cheese, the tang of sea salt and the deep richness of dark chocolate: Katherine Clapner, chef and owner of Dude, Sweet Chocolate.

With a desire to distinguish itself from other dessert shops and chocolate makers, Dude, Sweet Chocolate seeks to keep an acute focus on the products—the artisan chocolates, the fudges, the toffees, the truffles—and their natural flavors, rather than on the packaging and design. The interior of the shop, with its simplicity of metal shelves, an open and efficient test kitchen, a color scheme of red, beige and darkor, perhaps, chocolate— brown forces its visitors to discover the fantastic within the mix of flavors in each carefully handmade product. It is the taste within the brown on brown packages that Clapner and her employees wish to celebrate.

Take for example Dude, Sweet Chocolate’s “salami,” defined on its website as “not real salami at all, a combination of marzipan, dried fruits, cocoa nibs, chocolate and salt all rolled into one fabulous log that slices like a salami but tastes like heaven.” The original FDA Chocolate “Salami,” made with figs, medjool dates and almonds, is speckled and textured like salami, but has a sweet and savory taste. It simply is a soft flavor with a slight crunch to each bite from the crushed almonds.

“A complete accident,” commented Liz Gutierrez, a Dude, Sweet Chocolate employee. “From what I was told, Katherine was mixing stuff one day and it came out looking gross, but tasted pretty good. Some guy walked by and said it looks like salami, and that’s where it got its name.”

A graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, and later the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Clapner has over 20 years of experience as a pastry chef.Clapner’s culinary career began at Sam’s Café in Dallas.Later she expanded her training and moved overseas, gaining more experience, working first at The Savoy hotel in London, and then, a few years later, at the Hotel Cipriani in Venice.Upon returning to the states, Clapner worked and trained as a pastry chef at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and The Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, among others. She returned to Dallas as the executive pastry chef at Stephan Pyles Restaurant, located on Ross Avenue in Dallas, where she worked alongside chef and owner Stephan Pyles on dessert menu development.

Dude, Sweet Chocolate entered the scene in 2008, when Merrill Lynch, the financial services company, contacted Clapner in search of custom-made holiday gifts for employees and customers. Clapner went to work and created artisan chocolates, each hard chocolate shell hand painted and filled with a soft ganache. “I always wanted to do desserts, but chocolate was something else,” said Clapner. “I love the complexity. I didn’t set out to have a chocolate shop; it just happened in a wonderful way.”

Her chocolates were a big success, and other companies began approaching Clapner about stocking her chocolates in their restaurants and stores. From there, Dude, Sweet Chocolate was born. “It all started with these small boxes of artisan chocolates,” said Andy Edwards, a Dude, Sweet Chocolate employee, pulling out a box to reveal the delicately and colorfully hand-painted chocolates.

In November 2009, Dude, Sweet Chocolate opened in the Bishop Arts District and began selling its creations directly to consumers while maintaining relationships with many retailers, ranging from small boutique-like stores, such as the Crooked Tree, to Whole Foods and Central Market to winery and distillery operations. Additionally, Dude, Sweet Chocolate has expanded its business; it now works with restaurants and retailers on their dessert offerings, events, and other related projects.

With her store open, and a second now in Fort Worth, Clapner continues to work on new creations, using her expertise and passion to discover new products.

“Katherine likes to come up with new ideas,” said Edwards. “If it’s been done before she usually won’t make it,” hence Clapner’s creations of seemingly unusual combinations, and products like potions—a kind of chocolate sauce made with combinations of liquors or wine, agave syrup, honey, cane sugar, Valrhona cocoa powder and chocolate—and “salami,” or chocolates made with ingredients such as porcini mushroom and pumpkin seed and the One Night Stand Potion, made with 100 Años Tequila Reposado tequila and agave.

When Clapner sees something that she thinks can be bettered, she goes to work. The Tub of Love hazelnut spread is one such example. “Katherine didn’t think you could taste enough of the hazelnut’s true flavor in Nutella,” said Edwards. “So she went and made her own.” One tiny spoonful of Dude, Sweet Chocolate’s Tub of Love Spread and the difference is clear: Clapner’s hazelnut spread is sweet, but in a delicate way. There is no overwhelming wave of sugar on the tongue, but a soft flavor that keeps the hazelnuts and dark chocolate distinctly their own.

“I think it is wonderful chocolate,” said Sharron, a frequent visitor of Dude, Sweet Chocolate. “They are great at giving out samples, and letting you try the different flavors. I really don’t have more to say. I love the chocolate!”

Sharron is not the only one singing praises of Clapner’s concoctions and Dude, Sweet Chocolate. The chocolate shop and Clapner have received D Magazine’s Best of Dallas Awards yearly, both for Best Chocolate and Best Chocolatier, since opening in 2009.

With a taste bringing back memories of Fruity Pebbles from the final sample of the Flower Child Truffle, new customers and regulars alike leave dreaming of Dude, Sweet Chocolate’s creations until their next visit.

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