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Real Live Willy Wonka!

Chocolatier Phillip Ashley Rix

Chef Phillip Ashley Rix with his box of 48 Piece Signature Collection Box
Chef Phillip Ashley Rix

It was one of those things that probably was so common that it did not stick out at the time, until he opened Phillip Ashley Chocolates. Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Chef Phillip Ashley Rix was not only influenced by the city’s rich culture and diverse culinary scene, but he was also exposed to art, music, sports and of course food, thanks to his parents’ support.

As a child, he loved hanging out with her grandmother Jean – despite it was taking him away from his friends – who was a great gardener as well as a skilled chef. He learned how to process what they grew, how to use the kitchen tools and create dishes with love.

Despite always having a sweet tooth, his culinary career only began after his education in chemistry and work in the marketing and sales field. And it literally came from a weird dream in 2007; in which he visited a Godiva chocolate store with his mom. “When I woke up, I knew that I would make chocolate for the rest of my life,” he says.

Chef Rix started doing research and learned that comfort food – especially sweets – is fairly insulated from tough economic times, as people always want to sooth themselves and a great dessert or confection is often the chosen remedy.

After teaching himself how to make chocolates and run a confectionary business, he started to experiment with different flavors and combinations. Ingredients that do not appear to be a good match, like blue cheese and white chocolate, would often find themselves paired together in his work.

These ideas often come from his keen sense of observation. “I am always looking, listening, smelling, and tasting, so I can learn and discover what is out there in the world that I can translate into chocolate,” he says. “The way different cultures eat and live often gives him the next vision.

He says his travels have played a major role in his works because the world is filled with nuance and traveling allows him to seek out and uncover inspiration through the food, art, and especially the people of a particular place or region.

Chocolates created by Chocolatier Phillip Ashley Rix
Chocolates by Chef Rix

For example, he created a collection called Taste of America, which consisted of 50-piece red- and white-striped limited-edition boxes of chocolates; each representing a state and its flavor. For example, there was the iconic Peaches and Cream for Georgia. Old Bay was made for Maryland. Virginia had PB&J while Iowa’s Sweet Corn Basil paid homage to the local maize production.

That collection was but one of the many steps in his desire to be an encyclopedia of flavor – to understand food, beverage, ingredients, spices, herbs and oils. Knowing their growth, regional impact and all other aspects would allow him to tell expansive stories with chocolate.

Image with text 'The Real Life Willy Wonka of Chocolate'
Chocolates from series Uncle Nearest x Phillip Ashley
Uncle Nearest x Phillip Ashley Chocolates

It should be clear as he was granted the title “The Real-Life Willy Wonka ” by Forbes, that his inspirations are not limited only from the culinary world. He also loves translating other sensory experiences into edible form. An example is his partnership with Cadillac to create a collection for the brand’s first ultra-luxury electric car CELESTIQ; as well as chocolates for the launch events tied to the 2023 Lyriq and Escalade V-Series. They allow his imagination to run wild. He can imagine what a specific car of a luxury brand would taste like and create chocolates that are tailored specifically to that. 

The value he brings to the table led to these successful partnerships. And for Chef Rix, creating a balance between client expectations and his deliverables is key to building great relationships.

He is currently working on numerous objectives at the same time, such as creating a 7 course fine dining meal into a chocolate-and-wine-tasting series and playing with the idea of making a chocolate mix-tape that takes inspiration from different musical genres and artists: what would a Prince song taste like? Or how complex would a chocolate born from a Kendrick Lamar verse be? 

On top of those projects, he will go on an eight-city chocolate tasting tour this spring, write his first cookbook while developing new collections and refreshing the brand. To top them all off, he is also a proud new dad – how is that for a list of to-dos!

“I spent a lot of time looking at what the industry and other chocolatiers were doing and I decided I wanted to do the opposite,” he says.

He is a relentless taste tester whose inspiration often came from dreams yet is still trying to find that elusive ultimate creation.

In addition to making magic happen in his own kitchen, he also competed on Food Network’s Chopped Sweets TV challenge. It was a nerve-wracking experience as the results were unknown and the time pressure was constant.

With so many ingredients, options and tools available, he confirmed his ability to be agile and nimble in a high-stress environment. He enjoyed the challenge and also learned a lot from it.

24 Exquisite Signature flavors by Chef Rix
24 Exquisite Signature flavors
The Signature 12 piece Collection Box by Chocolatier Rix
The Signature 12 piece Collection Box

On the business side, it is often challenging for Black owners to raise capital and get buy-ins during the early stages. He thinks that it is essential to have a clear vision of their businesses and not wait for the perfect moment to launch. “There’s never a perfect time other than now,” he says. “Just get started, you’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay. Learn from your mistakes, put the right people around you, and make sure that you’re really paying attention to the business side.”

In order to stand out, it is important to do the research, know the industry as well as the customer. With all that said, one has to be nimble enough to know when and how to pivot to enhance your business.

“Set goals and then 10 or 20X them,” he says. “Most importantly, your product or service has to be impeccable.”

Speaking for himself, Chef Rix thinks that his past marketing and sales experience was the edge that helped him thrive early on. In his mind, it is imperative to spend the money on marketing. To be successful, this is one area that cannot be skimped on. All aspects of the business – whether it is production, creative, strategy or tactical – have to tell a cohesive story to the public to truly succeed in today’s competitive environment.

He reminds us, however, the most important aspect for any business is to have a great product or service that people would want. It is the most crucial part of starting up a new business.

Headshot of The real life Willy Wonka, Chef Phillip Ashley Rix
Chef Phillip Ashley Rix

“At the end of the day, the product or service has to be great. And then it’s about finding the right people who can support it, sell it, and scale it. Before going to market, make sure that the product is excellent and it’s the best version at that time,” he says.

Phillip Ashley Chocolates is one-of-a-kind and could not be compared to any other product in the market.

“That’s been my whole goal: to create things that no one else would have thought of, that no one else would have dared to put into chocolate.”


TROORA MAGAZINE | MARCH 2023
WRITTEN BY CARY WONG

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