In case you missed the first post in this series about my favorite chocolates (and my #1 indulgence), click here. This post tells the story behind the chocolate and its inspiring owner and creator, Jinji Fraser!
Born in Germany (her dad was in the military) and raised in Baltimore, Jinji grew up without any particular interest in food.
She credits her uncanny smell memory with many of her creative inspirations.
Her first food memory is one that she draws on a lot for inspiration and is a key part of one of her favorite treats – Chocolate-Covered Date Poppers stuffed with raw honey, crunchy cacao nibs and sea salt.
The inspiration? Honeysuckles.
As a child spending her summers in Alabama, she and her brother would spend hours lying by her grandmother’s endless chain link fence, interwoven with honeysuckles, pulling them off one by one and soaking in the sweet nectar.
Inspiration can literally come from everywhere […] Inspiration is everywhere all the time.
As we sat at the table during the interview, she saw a bag of popcorn lining the counter of one of the food vendors and told me it made her think about her new corn-infused chocolates and how they would taste different if she incorporated popcorn instead of corn flakes.
Her creative wheels are always turning; she’s open to being inspired.
Jinji’s start in the chocolate business came in a rather unexpected way.
The Turning Point
After graduating with a college degree in Communication and Culture and completing her health coaching training through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she returned to Baltimore, eager to become a nutrition counselor and teach classes.
Her first corporate job after college was working at Under Armour. At that point, she had no inkling she would a) have her own food business and b) have anything to do with chocolate.
One of her roles at Under Armour was designing nutrition and fitness programs for kids with Living Classrooms, a non-profit organization based in Baltimore.
As she was doing that, she had her first “aha” moment:
You know what? I’ve gotta do food. This is what I want to do.
With nothing holding her back or tying her down, Jinji left her corporate job and went out on her own. She started organizing events around food and got connected to the local healthy food and chef community, including Daniela Troia, owner of Zia’s Café & Plantbar (another favorite place of mine at Belvedere Square).
The turning point in her career came one night during an event she had organized at The Black Olive that centered on creating a delicious raw food dinner to introduce people to that way of eating.
Throughout the night, Jinji kept stepping over a postcard that was turned over on the ground. Eventually, she heeded the urge to pick it up and flip it over (after all it was her event and she knew she should at least pick up the trash). The card was advertising raw chocolate workshops.
I can’t imagine what compelled me to actually look into this thing. This is totally not me to go do this thing.
But she did, and it changed her life and career forever:
I went to this workshop that wasn’t very good. It didn’t need to be good. All I needed was to see this thing, to see chocolate being made and to see that process of making it and the amount of work that goes into it. I just needed to see that. And once I did, I said, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m going to do.’
Jinji has been “completely in love with chocolate ever since.”
Her father, Guy, who retired from the military after 38 years of service, came on to help her with the finances and logistical and administrative details.
“He’s a big heartbeat of the business,” she says. He’s also a welcoming, friendly face. I always look forward to seeing and chatting with him when I’m looking for my chocolate fix 🙂
Like most successful people, Jinji’s path has not been an easy one. I asked her what barriers she’s faced in business.
“ALL of them,” she said.
Her greatest challenge was figuring out how to work with chocolate and turn it in to decadent and carefully crafted bites of bliss.
Chocolate is so emotional. You have to get that in order to work with it […] It’s never the same from one day to the next. […] It takes on whatever energy you have. I swear it does. It knows how you feel, and it reacts to that […] When I was starting out, I don’t know that I really understood that. I thought it was just like candy, like everyone else does […] but I didn’t really get that there’s something much deeper to it than that.
When she first started, she would get stressed out trying to make the “perfect” piece of chocolate.
Eventually, she learned that if she was patient, wasn’t in a rush, took her time, and just loved the process of what she was doing, it was so much easier to work with.
I’ve found the same to be true in my career and life. When I feel like I’m forcing things to happen, it’s exhausting. It doesn’t feel easy. And often, it doesn’t feel quite right.
When I’m patient, enjoying the process and allowing myself to be “in the zone,” on the other hand, I feel alive, and I’m fully present and being the best and truest version of myself. I’m all of me, and things just flow. Whether I’m teaching a workshop, leading a cooking class, or speaking to a room full of people about WHY health matters, it comes easily to me, and I shine.
Think about what makes YOU feel most alive. What comes easily to you? What feels right and natural? Pay attention to that. Do more of it. Be open to what “ease” is trying to tell you.
The Future & “The Nod”
I asked Jinji what’s next and how she envisions her future, given the success she has had in such a short period of time since opening her business.
She wants to travel, see the world, and most importantly, connect.
I feel like enough people love chocolate that they could be connected by chocolate. I feel like enough people would be open to this world that I’m creating right now. There’s just so much happiness in it.
I really just want to travel. I want to get other kinds of inspiration. I want to taste things. I want to share with people the things that I’m doing. I want to keep teaching and doing workshops and talking to people and really just connecting people with chocolate.
But don’t worry, Baltimore, Jinji’s chocolates will always have a home here.
In some capacity, the chocolate will live on in Baltimore because I love Baltimore and I love what I’m doing here, but that’s not my story, that’s not the end of my story at all.
It is so much bigger than Baltimore. It has to be. It just has to be. I really have this dream of just seeing the entire world and all of the people out there […] I love what I’m doing. I love people.
Jinji loves what she does and is grateful for it.
I come and I make chocolate all day long. As bad as life could ever get, at the end of the day, I make chocolate for a living.
One of the greatest joys of her career has been meeting so many chefs and other people who truly love food, including her crew from Belvedere Square.
We have this saying, a couple of chef friends of mine: ‘At the end of the day, we do it for the nod.’ When someone eats something that we’ve made and they just nod, we’re like,
‘That’s the moment, that’s the thing, that’s why we do it.’