Truffles and other sweet treats are available at the Wale Street Café in Cape Town.
Toby Newsome’s Pirate Boat, used for the Kalahari Salt wrapper, adds whimsy to the Production Kitchen’s tea station.
Artists on Chocolate
After a tour of the HONEST Production Kitchen, HOMEY meets co-founder Anthony Gird to reminisce about almost a decade of artist collaborations.
 BULLETIN / 26.04.23
Read time / 5 mins
This shipment of organic beans from Venezuela will last the Production Kitchen approximately 12 months.
Every slab is hand tempered, wrapped, and boxed for distribution at HONEST’s Woodstock Production Kitchen.
A archive of wrapper artworks hangs next to the Bean to Bar room. Clockwise from top left: for Maca Heart, a custom HONEST chocolate stamp; for 72% Mint, Trees at Night by Maya Marshak; for Peppercorn, Grains of Paradise (Tree) by Carmen Ziervogel; for coffee, Cute Nagapie by Marsi van de Heuvel; for 88% Dark, Vampire by Michael Taylor; for 72% with Nibs, Trippy Collage of the Forest by Jean de Wet; for Onyx Kalahari Salt, Pirate Boat by Toby Newsome; for Orange, Orange Man by Georgina Gratrix.
Inside the Production Kitchen’s Bean to Bar room, a chocolate stone grinder converts beans and unrefined cane sugar into a molten substance over two to three days.
“There are so many flavours we still want to do,” says Anthony. The next artist collaboration is in the works as you read this; it may materialise in the same way as Amy-Lee’s, or slightly differently. Anthony and Michael’s organic working process allows room for creative ventures that translate into engaging and varying brand stories. For the 2014 and 2019 national elections, the café sold a range of chess piece-size solid chocolate busts of Jacob Zuma, Helen Zille, Cyril Ramaphosa, Mmusi Maimane, and Julius Malema. The sculptor, Margaret Young, was a surprise discovery, working in the Production Kitchen during a study break from UCT.
“We said we wanted to do little sculptures. She said, ‘Well, I can kinda sculpt,’” Anthony remembers. “We didn’t know what she could do until she brought it back and we were like, ‘Who are you?! Like, this is perfect!’” Anthony would love to do another round of busts, though not of political figures. “We’ve done people you love and hate, but now let’s do people like RuPaul, Beyoncé, and some really inspiring South Africans as well. Yeah, I must get a hold a Margaret. Let me make a reminder right now.”
Customers have been known to repurpose wrappers for a variety of crafty creations, most notably light switch covers, decoupage trays and origami earrings. As the business grew, gaining mainstream grocer stockists across the country, the artist wrappers began to feel overly momentous for an everyday treat shelved alongside mass-produced slabs with mainstream packaging. In 2018, a brand refresh introduced simpler colour-block packaging for the core slab offering, thereby freeing up the artist wrappers for more experimental flavours like Vegan Dark Mylk (Sinenhlanhla Chauke), 70% with Buchu and Dried Pineapple (Kirsten Sims) and 54% Dark Mylk with Peruvian Maca (Amy-Lee Tak). "We wanted to do this thing," confides Anthony. "One day we’ll do it: Whoever can bring us the most wrappers will win a huge hamper.”
The collaboration gives artists the opportunity to break through the art world’s traditional exhibition bubble and align with a company that, in its own way, champions the value of handwork and mindful production. “I think it’s rewarding for any artist to see their work presented in a different context, especially in connection with such a unique and lovingly created brand,” says Amy-Lee Tak.
Attuned to HONEST’s company values, the collaboration supports artists beyond their wrappers’ inherent exposure and the bio printed inside. Artists receive an upfront fee, sweetened with royalty payouts for every slab sold. The café and website sell signed prints of recent wrapper works, and as of their 2022 collaboration with Amy-Lee, NFTs. The brainchild of Nevol Hadas, an HONEST shareholder, NFT sales and resales benefit Amy-Lee and her selected charity, the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.
“Everything we do is super organic,” says Anthony Gird, not directly referring to the chocolate he’s been making for almost a decade with HONEST cofounder Michael de Klerk. We’re discussing the legacy of their brand’s revered unofficial collectibles: the artist range. Birthed to house their debut slab offering in 2014, the range has developed into the boutique chocolatier’s most innovative flavour offering and an unparalleled, modestly priced gifting solution for dinner parties and foreign friends alike. (The beans, for the record, are in fact sourced from an organic, fair trade cocoa farm in Tanzania that also supplies to craft chocolatiers across Europe and the US.)
The starting point for each collaboration is flavour. Initially, Anthony and Michael tapped into their real-life social network, requesting works from Georgina Gratrix and Michael Taylor, inspired by Orange and 88% Dark slabs respectively. Today, the collaboration acts partially as a platform to introduce up-and-coming local talent to the network of loyal locals and tourists who visit HONEST’s Wale Street Chocolate Café (and the gin bar hidden behind it) in Cape Town. “It sounds trite, I guess, but it’s been such a privilege collaborating with artists,” says Anthony on a sunny afternoon in the café courtyard. “They’re so keen to work with us, which always blows my mind.”
“It’s rewarding for any artist to see their work presented in a different context,” says Amy-Lee.
 Stacks of Amy-Lee Tak’s 54% Dark Mylk with Peruvian Maca, boxed and ready to ship.