Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Emily Kellogg, a 2012 graduate from the Onteora Central School District, it meant a friendly, supportive environment that not only nurtured her interest in the culinary industry, but gave her realistic expectations, and ultimately, led to significant success.
“I loved BOCES. I used to stay after school just to chat with the great chefs,” said Kellogg, who recently opened up her first independent business, a boutique chocolate shop located in her hometown of Woodstock. “They made it fun, but nobody sugar-coated anything. I knew when I ventured into the real world, I would have to work really hard to succeed.”
And succeed she did. Her new shop, EJ Bonbons & Confections—named for her initials “Emily Jane”— is already a huge hit with locals and tourists alike. A visit to the store is a wonderful experience from start to finish—beginning with its tasteful decor of chic-looking shelves housing tins of nougats, caramels, and specialty nut confections, and an eye-catching display of bonbons, each a glossy, hand-painted work of art—to a delicious end, when a customer leaves with a beautifully-wrapped purchase.
In fact, EJ Bonbons & Confections is bustling with so much interest, that Kellogg hasn’t had a day off since its opening on Memorial Day Weekend!
But Kellogg thinks the long hours are worth it. “Working a lot of hours for someone else is very different from working a lot of hours for ourselves,” she said. “Knowing that our success is the direct result of all of our efforts is a whole other level of reward.”
Kellogg enjoyed baking since she was six years old. She progressed quickly from making cupcakes for her family, to getting a job at age 14 with a local bakery, where she even made wedding cakes, and then to the BOCES Culinary Arts program at the Career & Technical Center in Port Ewen. “BOCES was a clear choice,” she said. “I was less fond of traditional schooling and I knew the culinary trade was something I wanted to pursue.”
Kellogg went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, where she said that solid foundation from BOCES was an advantage.
“One of the first classes you take at CIA is Fundamentals, and a lot of this was taught at BOCES, so I felt like I wasn't going into class completely flying blind.” After graduation, Kellogg moved to New York City, where she hoped to find highly-rated restaurants to work and learn at, and she was right.
At first, she said, she was not a huge fan of working with chocolate, due to its temperamental nature, but that soon changed as she learned at some of the city’s most exclusive establishments, like Atera—rated two-star by the Michelin Guide, the renowned French tire company that gives restaurants up to three stars for excellence—and Gotham Chocolates, a one-Michelin star restaurant known for both excellent food and handmade chocolates.
When Kellogg landed a job at Per Se, one of NYC’s five Three-Star Michelin restaurants headed by the award-winning Chef Thomas Keller, two very important things happened—she became head chocolatier, and she met her boyfriend and future business partner, Pierre Pouplard.
The now Michelin-star trained chefs were already thinking about opening up their own shop, where they could share their passion for high-end culinary experiences, but were not exactly sure where or when. Then, during a serendipitous visit to her family, Kellogg heard a new commercial space right in town was available.
“It all just kind of fell into place,” she reflected. The lease was signed on May 10, renovations began, and by the end of May, their stylish shop was ready. Kellogg and Pouplard’s shop has many personal touches too, such as the display counter —a special showpiece handmade by her uncle with reclaimed barnwood from her family’s farm in Vermont—their flavorings, and their packaging designs.
Their confections reflect both their tastes, as well as current trends. The bonbons have classic combinations like chocolate and raspberry; childhood favorites of Kellogg’s like peanut butter and jelly; hazelnut fillings, which is typical of Pouplard’s French roots; and even some exotic new pairings like Japanese yuzu and matcha. It is a kind of Japanese green tea. No caps
“We wanted to create chocolates that are not only beautiful, but provide an experience that is full of flavor and texture,” Kellogg said. “I just love seeing the look on a customer’s face when they bite into one of our creations.”
It is certainly true here that, much like the sign in their shop window says, “Art never tasted so good.”