NORMAN — Professional, hand-made confections, a fancy word for candy in all of its most wonderfully delicious forms, are rare in Oklahoma.
With that in mind, it’s pretty amazing that Norman has a home-grown pastry and confectionery chef right here in town, doing business since Jan. 10 in a small shop on Constitution Street.
Andrew Marsh, of Norman, attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America located in Hyde Park, N.Y., before returning home to establish his business, Unique Confections.
“I figured if I was going to do it, I might as well go for the best,” he said.
Marsh was working for Ranchers Club in Stillwater, a high end steakhouse on the Oklahoma State Universtiy campus when he met chef Ben Coffin.
Coffin saw his potential and mentored him.
“I started in the restaurant business as a dishwasher and worked my way up,” Marsh said. “I had been almost everything except an owner until now.”
Coffin put Marsh on the dessert line making gelato and box cakes. It was humble, but it was a start. Seeing the younger man’s potential, Coffin, who had attended Le Cordon Bleu, encouraged Marsh to get professional training as a chef.
The CIA trains in culinary arts or pastry. Marsh knew from the beginning he was interested in pastry.
He toured the beautiful campus and fell in love.
The training was “extremely intense” and students would get kicked out for anything less than honorable behavior because the school jealously guards its reputation.
During his training there, Marsh did an internship at an 18 bed hotel in Lenox, Mass. It is a five star, three diamond hotel with rooms starting at $15,000 a night, Marsh said.
At the CIA, Marsh studied a broad spectrum in baking and pastry. After his internship, he had the chance to focus on his deep specialty in an intense session of 12 to 15 hour days.
That lasts, he said “until you graduate and then you sleep for a month.”
“I mainly focused on chocolate there,” he said.
To become a true master chocolatier — a specialist chef who makes confectionery from chocolate — takes years of perfecting the art of working with chocolate. But if his truffles are any indication, Marsh is well on his way.
“I serve a niche that Norman doesn’t really have,” he said. “There’s only a handful of people in the state and really, only a handful in the U.S., who do professionally handmade chocolates.”
That hasn’t stopped him from building a clientele here.
“One of my biggest challenges is ingredients,” he said. But Marsh said he cannot compromise on ingredients in order to create the most delightful and delicious confections. In addition to chocolate and other truffles, he makes a wide range of confectionery treats.
Wedding favors and candy buffets for special events are two good markets for his unique product, but he also makes confections for other retail outlets.
“I do some resale sales,” he said. “For the moment, walk-in is carrying me through.”
He hopes to build a reputation for weddings and as a unique idea for corporate gifts. Having invested in his hometown, he believes there is a market here for his product.
For chocolate lovers, one bite is likely to be habit forming of these unique confections.