Memphis Chocolatier Has Turned Candy-Making Into An Art Form

Photo:  Phillip Ashley Rix
Photo: Phillip Ashley Rix

When it comes to luxury chocolates, Phillip Ashley Rix has the game on lock. His Phillip Ashley Chocolates have earned him celebrity fans including Stevie Wonder as well as a place on Oprah’s coveted Favorite Things list.

Just one glance at his menu will leave your mouth watering. He’s got lots of creative ways to satisfy your sweet tooth, including handcrafted caramels infused with Kentucky Straight Bourbon in a dark chocolate shell. And if you’re looking for something savory, his Soul Food collection includes flavors like Memphis-style BBQ sauce blended with dark chocolate and deep-frying chicken skins blended with blond chocolate and smoked sea salt.

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But the guy Forbes calls “The Real-Life Willy Wonka” never imagined he’d have a career in candy-making. The Root had a chance to speak with Phillip Ashley Rix about how he’s managed to make a living making chocolate.

Growing up in Memphis, Rix said he was a kid with a vivid imagination and says Fraggle Rock, Reading Rainbow and LEGO were among his favorite things.

Although he’s always loved cooking and grew up in the kitchen with his grandmother, Rix said he never thought about a career in the food industry. “I went to school for chemistry and originally planned to go to medical school,” he said. “I ended up in the business world in the logistics supply chain with consumer packaged goods.”

But in 2007, Rix, who has always been a fan of the Willy Wonka story, decided he wanted to do something different. “I woke up at 3:00 one morning and decided I wanted to be a chocolatier and make chocolate for the rest of my life,” he said.

Using his background in chemistry, Rix spent the next three years teaching himself to make chocolate. “I learned the history of chocolate, its West African origins and how nearly 70 percent of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa,” he said.

But he also wanted to incorporate his love of art to make something beautiful. “My uncle is a professional painter, and he used to take me to art galleries. He exposed me to Basquiat and Monet at a young age. And now, I try to implement that into what we do visually and how we present our chocolate,” he said.

When asked to name his favorite chocolate, Rix says he hasn’t made it yet, and he doesn’t want to. “When I set on this path, I wanted to be able to make chocolate 365 days a year and be able to sell it. My approach to chocolate is about being able to turn a concept into a flavor and communicating that flavor through chocolate.”

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