For chocolatier, success is tied to risk-taking

Chief Chocolatier Mark Mackey at the Ethel M Chocolates facility.

You can thank Mark Mackey if you have recently enjoyed the 1932 Mars or 1936 Forever Yours chocolate bars. It was Mackey, who is research and development senior scientist and chief chocolatier at Ethel M Chocolates, who was responsible for relaunching them. Mackey, with a patent for white chocolate processing and another pending for “enhanced white chocolate,” is responsible for developing new products at Ethel M.

Why did you become a chocolatier and what are the qualifications needed to pursue a career in that profession?

My passion for food reaches back to when I was just 11 or 12 years old, watching Graham Kerr, Julia Child and Jacques Pépin on TV. I knew I wanted to be a chef when I got my first job at 15 at a local restaurant in my hometown of Kent, Wash., but it wasn’t until my formal education at the Culinary Institute of America that I discovered my interest in chocolate and confections.

What is the difference between making chocolate and being a chocolatier?

My role is actually a hybrid of a traditional research-and-development scientist and that of a chocolatier/chef. Chocolate can be an incredibly challenging and complex ingredient to work with, and in order to be successful, you need to be able to merge the creative elements of development and innovation with a fundamental understanding of food and chocolate science.

Describe your daily duties.

No two days are alike. Depending on the needs of the business or the time of year, I could be in my test kitchen developing prototypes for an upcoming new product launch, designing new packaging formats for a seasonal launch, researching and identifying new ingredients and trends, assisting my Mars Chocolate colleagues on their development efforts, or even writing quality standards and specifications for a new product line.

How does your team contribute to the holiday efforts at Ethel M?

Every year, we try to develop exciting products and packaging, and this year’s holiday portfolio is no exception. I am responsible for the development of all our holiday products, including the packaging. New items this year include a premium chocolate advent calendar, gift-able chocolate tins, shaved double chocolate hot cocoa mix, and white chocolate peppermint bark. I also help develop and improve the customer experience in the retail store.

Are you currently working with new flavors or creating new specialty treats?

I am developing a new line of chocolate toffees/brittles and barks using local, specialty ingredients, a line of spirit-infused caramels, and a few exciting things I can’t talk about just yet.

How do you resist eating the product while making it?

In my line of work, I am always tasting. It is crucial to keep your sense of taste sharpened, especially during the development phase of new pieces. But, yes, it is impossible to resist sneaking an extra or chocolate or two.

Besides chocolate, what is your favorite ingredient to work with?

Salt. The difference between the best and worst tasting food can often be defined by proper seasoning with salt.

What is the best and worst chocolate you’ve had?

Our Ethel M dark chocolate lemon satin crème is one of my favorites.

The memory that first comes to mind for worst was when I was very young. I had climbed on top of the counter in my parents’ kitchen and reached up into the cupboard to grab a piece of what I thought was a delicious chunk of chocolate. I will never forget the face I made as I shoved that big piece of 100 percent unsweetened baking chocolate into my mouth.

What is the best business advice you’ve received?

One piece of advice that has stuck with me through the years is, “Be comfortable feeling uncomfortable.” I attribute much of my success to taking risks when others wouldn’t. When it comes to developing unique products, you can’t be afraid to fail, because failure often is the prelude to a great success.

In what place are you happiest?

I am happiest when I am spending time with my family back in Seattle, and of course Disney World, because who isn’t happy at Disney World?

What’s your favorite place to have fun in Las Vegas?

I am a huge fan of sports and live music. I love attending concerts at Brooklyn Bowl or the Chelsea, or Golden Knights games at T-Mobile Arena.

What is your dream job outside of your current field?

If I had to choose another dream job, I would become a pilot. I love flying, and being able to just hop in a plane and fly all over the world is something I’ve thought a lot about.