Fereidoon Golchin possesses everything necessary to make his gourmet chocolate treat, French Nugget, into a raging success: a well-equipped professional kitchen, an original and simple recipe, and a new national distribution deal. Now, he just needs to figure out how to define what he’s making.
“That’s the thing,” he says, with a laugh. “You can’t call it a brownie, because it doesn’t have flour. It’s not a cookie, because it’s not cooked. I guess you could say it’s like an energy bar. For dessert.”
Arrayed in front of him are the desserts in question — wedges of dark chocolate studded with ingredients like raisins, almonds, oatmeal, and sea salt. Golchin points outside to his yard, where snow-covered lavender plants stretch across the small suburban landscape. “That’s the most distinctive flavor,” he says. “People either love it or hate it, there’s no in between.”
So far, it appears that love is winning over hate. After only four years of making the product, Golchin just inked a distribution agreement with Chicago-based European Imports, taking French Nugget from local-farmers-market status to national company. “I’m not going to sacrifice quality just because I have to increase production, though,” Golchin insists. “My product doesn’t have to be everywhere.” He pauses, then adds cheerily, “But it would be nice!”
Certainly, French Nugget is distinctive enough to find a huge fan base. Gluten-free, and with a chewy, dense consistency, the main product is “Almond Heaven,” a combination of 100 percent dark chocolate, almonds, raisins, and honey. Another version folds lavender into that blend, and Golchin also offers oatmeal and walnut, and a roasted peanut version.
When he begins to talk about pairing slices of Almond Heaven with cheese, he practically swoons. “Think about the lavender and sea salt with a bleu cheese, or the oatmeal with a cheddar,” he says. “In Greece, and in Spain, this is what they do, they bring together what they have on hand, and putting together chocolate and cheese is very common. We need to play with those kind of pairings more often. Then, if you add some red wine? Amazing.”
Golchin wasn’t always a chocolate entrepreneur, although he’s always had that independent business edge, he notes. Before building his foodie empire, he took a spin through dentistry, working as a lab technician, before switching to a career as a hair stylist.
In the early 1980s, while taking classes in France, he met Laurie, a Minnesotan who would become his wife, and the pair lived for a few years in Nice. Being on the French Riviera, near the lavender fields of Provence, it’s not hard to develop a love for the flavors of the region, and the pair fell hard for French cuisine and culture. In their Burnsville home, that influence suffuses the decor, including large posters that would look perfect in a Parisian metro station. Although the Twin Cities area serves as home base for flight attendant Laurie, the pair bought a home in Villefranche-sur-Mer, near Nice, and Golchin happily shows off little kitchen items — most notably, a grinder for herbes de provence — that can only be described as “parfait.”
Golchin’s passion for French living led to his interest in culinary exploration as well. Wanting to start a new business, and enthusiastic about food, he began looking for a way to create a healthy, simple snack that was easy to make and would appeal to a wide audience. Since he’d had a part-time job working with a chocolatier while he went to dentistry school, Golchin decided to focus on chocolate as his main ingredient. And let’s face it: When talking about finding a product with broad appeal, chocolate is tough to match.
Having issues with gluten, Golchin wanted the treat to be gluten-free, and also to combine as few ingredients as possible. On his many French trips, he sampled different types of nougat, and was drawn to the type in Southern France, where they combined honey and almonds.
It took seven months to develop the recipe for the first French Nugget, he says, and his hair salon clients weren’t exactly heartbroken about the lengthy process: “If someone came to get their hair done, they knew they’d have to sample whatever I’d created and give an opinion.”
When he finally hit on the Almond Heaven combination, he and Laurie called it their “first baby,” and the business was born. For the past few years, the pair has brought the dessert to farmers markets like Mill City Market, and when they stand at their small table, beaming with pride, they tend to spend most of their time handing out samples and encouraging people to just take a single taste. The lack of definition can get in the way, as customers ask, “Now, what is this?” but the taste tends to make terms irrelevant. “Just try it,” Golchin will say. “Tell me what you think.”
As the product is poised to go national, Golchin still talks like a chef surveying a bevy of potential flavors. Next year is likely to bring a version with hazelnut, he notes, and there are other ideas that could strike him as he stays busy making the next batches. “There are so many combinations that could really work with this,” he says. “It’s a creative endeavor, definitely.”