Sweet science: Meet the man behind Patisserie 46’s chocolate-inspired masterpieces

Joshua Werner (top), head chocolatier at Patisserie 46, poses in front of the Minneapolis bakery’s dessert and pastry-filled display case.
Photo By: Staff
"I couldn’t believe some of the stuff they did with the chocolate. It was beautiful and amazing, and for me it started the lifetime of being around food." -- Joshua Werner

How’s this for a fun job title? Head Chocolatier.

For Joshua Werner of Patisserie 46 in Minneapolis, it’s a delicious reality.

Werner, 27, has spent nearly his entire life in the culinary arts, specifically with pastries and chocolate. His love affair with food started while on family vacations in West Virginia, where—like most kids with a sweet tooth—he became enamored with a local candy shop.

“When it started out, I would just look at the window to see what they were making. And eventually they would let me come in and work,” Werner said. “So, it got to the point where I would run out of the car to get in there, and I would spend around two days of my vacation just working.”

Werner’s early inspiration set him on a path for culinary excellence while at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago. As he visited various booths, candy caught his eye once again.

“I saw the French Pastry School, and they had beautiful showpieces, chocolate and confections. I couldn’t believe some of the stuff they did with the chocolate. It was beautiful and amazing, and for me it started the lifetime of being around food,” Werner said.

After graduating high school, Werner enrolled in the French Pastry School’s six-month program, where he gained extensive experience with pastries and chocolate. At the French school, a typical day would consist of having a demonstration in the morning—then looking at recipes and making desserts over the next 7 to 8 hours.

After working as a pastry chef/chocolatier at a Las Vegas hotel for five years, Werner received a call from John Kraus, his former French school instructor. Kraus was opening his own European-style bakery/restaurant—Patisserie 46—and needed a head chocolatier.

“Chef John called me one day and asked if I wanted to move to Minneapolis,” Werner recalled. “And I said, ‘What’s in Minneapolis?’ And he said, “I am.”

The rest is history. Werner arrived in Minneapolis, willing to take a chance on an empty space that would eventually transform into one of the Twin Cities’ most highly regarded eateries.

Walking into Patisserie 46, the first thing that grabs your attention is the glass case filled with an artistic assortment of pastries. They almost seem too pretty to be purchasable.

Werner’s unique craft can’t be fully appreciated by seeing the final product, though. To have earned the title of “art” from loyal Patisserie patrons means employing a painstaking creation process. Even something as seemingly simple as making a chocolate plaque to put atop a dessert requires practiced precision. It becomes evident inside Werner’s workroom as he skillfully maneuvers pools of chocolate on the cool granite, his movements so meticulous and fluid that it looks effortless.

Then again, why are chocolate plaques necessary in the first place?

“It changes (the dessert) from something that looks good and tastes great to something extraordinary,” Werner said.

A big misconception is that Werner gets to “play with chocolate” all day. In reality, the process of making chocolate is incredibly scientific, with little room for error.

“To make good chocolate, you have to make sure it’s safe, stable and has a good shelf life. A lot of science is involved, and also math to calculate how much water is in a recipe, the sugars that you use, just to make sure it’s right. It’s all about precision,” Werner said.

If the chocolate isn’t a specific temperature—whether dark, milk or white—the entire batch has to be re-done, Werner said. With all the specifics and patience needed, a career as a chocolatier definitely isn’t a cakewalk.

“You have to have the passion for it,” Werner said. “It has to be within you, that this is what you want to go into 110 percent.”

The long hours required of his craft are also paying off in other ways. Patisserie 46 was recently named to Dessert Professional’s Top Ten list of chocolatiers in North America. It’s one of many “surreal” accolades Werner has received for his desserts.

Fueled by an “absolute love” of chocolate, Werner couldn’t imagine working anywhere but Patisserie. Through it all, he’s never forgotten the place that piqued his interest in the first place.

“I actually went back (to West Virginia) about a year ago to visit one of the candy makers that’s still there. I saw her and brought a box of my chocolates,” Werner said.

“She was so happy that I was doing this.”

CAREER ADVICE

This is the second installment of “The Way I Work,” a regular ThreeSixty feature aimed at providing insight into unique and interesting career fields. Intrigued by this career path? Chocolatier Joshua Werner offers the following advice to teenagers:

“Research a lot. Look at magazines, look at websites for chefs, and find a local chef who’s around. See if you can ask some questions, shadow around for a few hours,” he said. “You have to be able to have that understanding of what goes on with this job.”

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