Like most artists who find themselves among the soft pink cherry blossoms of a Door County spring, Lauren Estay was inspired to capture the scenery in her own creative way: with colored cocoa butters as paint and chocolate as canvas.
What came of this endeavor was the Door County Cherry, a cherry-infused, dark chocolate bonbon decorated with cherry blossoms against a bright blue sky, honoring the signature product of the peninsula that Estay, her family and her business, Seven Confections, now call home.
A native of Driggs, Idaho, nestled in the picturesque Teton Valley, Estay has always been inspired by the process of creating beautiful things, be they artistic or edible. It’s the reason she set her sights on culinary school, specifically the baking and pastry program at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in California’s awe-inspiring Napa Valley. She graduated from the eight-month program in 2009 with a newfound love for “everything pastry and chocolate,” and after returning to Teton Valley, experienced a life-changing visit to the edible workshop of world-renowned chocolatier Oscar Ortega.
“There was a presence in the store, the smell of chocolate in the air,” she said. “There was a passion you could feel in that place. You could tell Oscar had that passion for what he did and I admired that greatly.”
She remembers the displays of sculptural chocolate showpieces, the cases of elaborately decorated Petit Gâteau (French for small cake), and the assortment of artisan chocolates and fine confections. That year, she became his apprentice and, within a couple of years, his assistant and head chocolatier at Atelier Ortega.
The experience steeped her in the deepest realms of edible artistry, taking her beyond Ortega’s Wyoming workshop and into some of the world’s most revered culinary centers. As his right-hand woman, Estay traveled with Chef Ortega and his culinary teams to international pastry competitions in Mexico, Italy and France.
“That’s another way I was able to be artistic,” Estay said. “They are set up to be competitions where you present a plated dessert, then a Petit Gâteau, then three different bonbons of your choice and, with your teammate, you also make a sugar showpiece and a chocolate showpiece. That was something that was super fun.”
The skills and experience gained at these international competitions and Atelier Ortega inspired Estay to branch out on her own. In May of 2016, she started Seven Confections in Teton Valley, specializing in chocolates, cookies and cakes, and moved the business to Door County this spring when her fiancé, Curt Langer, took a job with Horseshoe Bay Golf Club.
The Door County Cherry she was inspired to create this spring is just one of 24 bonbon flavors in Seven Confection’s portfolio, a collection of original creations that are equal parts beauty and taste.
Working out of the commercial kitchen of the NWTC-Sturgeon Bay campus, Estay transforms 60 percent dark chocolate into artistic, bite-size confections using polycarbonate molds, colored cocoa butters, an airbrush and on occasion, a small paintbrush.
“The designs come from air pressure and color movement, the combination of the two,” she said. “Some are hand-painted and some have caramelized nuts on top or sea salt or toasted coconut.”
Bonbons are filled with an assortment of flavors, from caramel to fruit jellies to infused ganache, and range from the standard peanut butter to more exotic offerings, such as Caramelized Banana Walnut Praline, Earl Grey Tea and Citrus, and Jalapeno Tequila Lime.
“What I’d really like is to have that initial flavor hit you right away on the palate,” she said. “That’s the goal. And then the chocolate comes last because obviously it is a chocolate but you want that vibrant flavor to come up in the front so you know what it is, so without even looking at the chocolate guide, someone can say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is this flavor.’ Like they know right away. I hope people will sense that.”
Her flavorful inventions are influenced by personal experiences and her interactions with others in the chocolate industry. She recalls her “all-time favorite” spinach salad made by her former employer, Chef Ortega, that incorporated fresh berries and balsamic dressing. It left a lasting impression on Estay and now lives in chocolate form as Seven Confection’s Berries and Balsamic bonbon.
“Along the way you pick up little things and you just make it your own,” she said. “Honestly it’s inspiration from everyone I see. I’m just really passionate about flavor…there’s a constant evolution about it, and that’s what I really am about.”
Seven Confections can be found at Discourse coffee shop in Sister Bay and Waseda Farm Market. For more information, email Estay at [email protected] or find Seven Confections on Facebook.