“What does your business taste like?” That’s one of the first questions Chef Phillip Ashley Rix asks when company leaders commission his signature chocolates to represent their brands. It’s an unusual way to start a business conversation, and it usually jolts people into thinking outside the box, he says.
According to the Memphis chocolatier, most business owners do discover a new dimension to their companies once they start thinking about it. Some may decide their brands have a sweet or tropical flair; others might consider their companies to be spicy and surprising.
Regardless of their answers, Rix is ready to embrace any palatable challenge. The 34-year-old owner of Phillip Ashley Chocolates has won national awards for his ability to transform distinctive ingredients into intriguing flavor combinations.
Part of his knack for capturing a company’s essence in a piece of chocolate comes from his own background in the corporate world and branding, Rix said. He started his career working in marketing and sales for companies like Apple, UPS and FedEx.
“I was good at it, but after 10 years of doing it, I started to think about what else I could do with my life,” Rix said. “I wanted something outside of normal corporate America.”
While he had always enjoyed cooking, he never planned on pursuing it as a career. But one day he was watching a TV show about chocolate and it hit him: he wanted to learn how to make it.
“I wanted to do something really different in the culinary industry, and it doesn’t get much harder than pastries and specialized chocolates,” he said. “Making chocolate is one of the most temperamental tasks in cooking.”
He spent two years immersing himself in the world of chocolate before he ever tried to make one. He studied the molecular makeup, the “deep science of it,” the types of cocoa beans and their different regions. He also studied spices and how to use them and combine them. Finally, without using a recipe, he made an ordinary truffle. It was good, but not good enough.
“I spent a lot of time finding out what everyone wasn’t doing. I didn’t see anyone putting bleu cheese in chocolate. I thought, ‘I bet I could make that work.’ It does.”
His list of experimental ingredients kept growing as he tried to see how many different flavor combinations he could make. Sweet corn, basil, barbecue sauce, cherry blossom, bacon, bourbon and Spanish saffron all found new life in his chocolates.
His first successful infused chocolate was made with sweet potato.
“The Mama Jean chocolate was named after my grandmother and her sweet potato pie, and it embodies the biggest thing I set out to do with chocolates,” Rix said. “All the names, shapes, ingredients, the way they’re painted – there’s a reason and an emotion behind all of it. I want to tell stories with chocolate so when people are eating it, they’re experiencing things. There’s a backstory to each one.”
Chef Phillip Ashley Rix created a flavor called Mademoiselle, a blend of floral essences and tropical flavors, to represent Gould’s spa brand.
(Photo: Donny Granger, Creation Studios)
Even the packaging has something to say. The henna-inspired box wrap reflects Rix’s love for tattoos. The signature satin bag that envelopes each box reflects his appreciation for luxury.
“I’ve always been a big fan of things that come in cool bags. There are a lot of creative chocolate boxes out there, but I really wanted to do something to set mine apart. I want to be the Christian Louboutin of chocolates,” said Rix, referencing the famous luxury shoe brand.
Last year, Rix took a leap and decided to leave his corporate career altogether for a new Willy Wonka-inspired life. He began selling his artisan chocolates at events and on his website, phillipashley.com. And once he started telling his own stories through chocolate, he decided he wanted to help other companies do the same thing.
“I didn’t want to be just some chocolate maker making chocolates,” Rix said. “I wanted it to be a little more sexy. I was always asking, ‘How can I incorporate these abilities and this passion into a flavor?’ and I knew I could be a business consultant and help companies discover their own flavors as well.”
He has worked with Lipscomb & Pitts and Gould’s, for example, creating chocolates customized in flavor and design for their business partners and clients. He reads company information, tours the facilities, watches employees in action and offers flavor recommendations. When he worked with Gould’s, he was inspired by the tropical and floral elements in the award-winning day spa. The chocolate he eventually created incorporated a blend of mandarin, tangerine and coconut. Gould’s Managing Director Chris Blancett proclaimed the chocolates delicious in a recommendation for Rix’s website.
Businesses aside, Rix also wanted to find a distinctive way to connect with the public. He coined the term “chocistry” – the chemistry behind the chocolate – and the second Thursday of every month he partners with local businesses to host The Chocistry Experience, a chocolate-tasting mixer that usually pairs chocolates with spirits, wine and beers. Tickets and more information are available on his website.
“I didn’t just want to create a platform for the product. I also wanted to create something new and unique to do here in Memphis,” he said. “We do a lot of learning and discovery at these events.”
He plans on launching the events in other cities, but he has even bigger plans for Memphis. Rix hopes to expand his company of one in the near future.
“My goal is definitely to create jobs. I want to create a growing business,” he said. “I want to contribute to the economy as a business owner and add to the stability of the Memphis area.”