Hidden Gems of Napa Valley: Kollar Chocolates
May 18, 2020
Watch Kollar Chocolates on the Hidden Gems of Napa Valley IGTV series.
Napa Valley’s most famous chocolatier brings a fine-dining sensibility to the chocolate business for sweet treats with flavors such as fennel pollen, poppy saffron, miso chili and more.
And, yes, the goodies are as delicious as they sound.
The man, Chris Kollar, was named Chopped Champion on the Food Network’s “Chopped” television show in early 2020. His tiny laboratory, which doubles as a retail store, sits inside the V Marketplace in downtown Yountville and is open to the public. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the entire Valley.
A visit to Kollar’s space is like a trip to a modern-day Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. The sweet smell of chocolate greets you as soon as you enter. From the queue, you can peer over a glass partition and watch as a team of chefs fill chocolate shells with ganache and other goodness. In the back of the kitchen, a giant machine tempers or mixes milk chocolate by stirring it constantly.
Of course, the main attraction is the case of chocolates—tiny bonbons exploding with color. Kollar’s signature chocolate—fennel pollen—is dusted gold and green; lavender is bright purple, orange Grand Marnier is, well, neon orange.
Other favorite flavors include matcha yuzu, coffee Kahlua, and vanilla rum.
According to Kollar himself, each tiny truffle is a representation of the freshest ingredients the Napa Valley has to offer—a sweet-tooth spin on the concept of farm-to-table dining.
“Just as chefs like using materials that grow locally, so too am I getting local fennel pollen or local fruits and spices to work into my chocolates,” says Kollar, 47. “People ask me what inspires me to make certain chocolates, and it’s really just being in nature and seeing all of the wonderful things that are growing right here all around us.”
Kollar’s experience with farm-to-table comes from years of seasoning in savory cooking. A native of Atlanta, he worked in kitchens across the United States and in the Cayman Islands for 19 years before moving to Napa Valley in 2001. He dreamed of working at The French Laundry but never got a job there. Instead, here in Wine Country, he worked at Domaine Chandon, Tra Vigne, Pinot Blanc, and Go Fish and Peter Michael Winery in Calistoga before opening Kollar Chocolates in 2012.
In 2015, Kollar was selected as one of the Top 10 Chocolatiers of North America by Dessert Professional Magazine.
Since then, the chocolate master has been sharpening his craft, getting more creative by the month. Today some of his products include a chocolate cocoa pod “maraca” with chocolate beans inside and an “Anti-Dental Kit” that comprises a chocolate toothbrush with chocolate “toothpaste” you can squeeze onto the brush.
He also makes several different kinds of chocolate bark—one is flavored with real strawberries and has pop rocks inside, while another mixes white chocolate with buttered popcorn and tastes like a trip to the movies.
“We’re always pushing the envelope,” Kollar quips. “We want it to be delicious, but also to be fun.”
Always the showman, Kollar doesn’t trade exclusively in fancy chocolate—he also offers first-hand experiences in the form of chocolate classes for corporate clients and immersions for the general public. The latter experiences, available by reservation only, run 90 minutes and include a tutorial in the history of chocolate, a demonstration of how Kollar’s chocolates are made, and a tasting of different bonbons.
These tours are limited to small groups, giving participants ample space to spread out in the shop. Everyone who participates also gets goodies to take home.
As Kollar looks to the future, he says he fantasizes about moving into a larger space—something he might be able to do in a few years. For now, however, he’ll continue to crank out five tons of chocolate each year from the laboratory at V Marketplace, a fun addition to any visit through Yountville.
If you go, go hungry. And make sure to bring your sweet tooth.
Bonus: You can order Kollar's delightful chocolate creations online for a taste of Napa Valley anytime!