100 Tastemakers in Phoenix

Jim and Maureen Elitzak of Zak's Chocolate on The Three Things You Probably Don't Know About Chocolate

From now until we publish the 2016 edition of Best of Phoenix, New Times is naming 100 Tastemakers — members of our local culinary community who help shape the way we eat, drink, and think about food in Phoenix. Some you'll know, and for others, it'll be a first introduction, but each person on our list deserves a nod for helping make our city so delicious. Oh, and while you're here, be sure to check out our list of 100 Creatives.

61. Jim and Maureen Elitzak of Zak's Chocolate

You'll find Zak's Chocolate in a Scottsdale strip mall, but this sweet shop isn't just another place for Hershey's bars and M&Ms. Owners Jim and Maureen Elitzak are both chocolatiers — as in, they make confections out of chocolate. And chocolate makers — as in, they make their own chocolate out of raw cocoa beans. 

The shop's story begins when Maureen began making chocolates as a hobby as home. (While her talents lent themselves to skills that require attention to detail, precision, and hand-eye coordination, Jim just liked eating chocolate.) As her interest grew deeper, she began taking courses and became a certified chocolatier. 

Eventually, Maureen began to look for organic chocolate, and when she couldn't find any products that tasted great, she began to make her own at home. The couple then began to make bean-to-bar chocolate together five years ago. When they realized they were making chocolate every day, they decided to turn their hobby into a career. 

Today, Jim is the primary chocolate maker, roasting and grinding cocoa beans to make Zak’s Chocolate. Maureen serves as primary chocolatier, making chocolates in flavors ranging from straightforward Simply Chocolate to Earl Grey Lavender. Last week, Zak's Chocolate's 55 percent Dark Milk Chocolate Bar won a bronze medal at the International Chocolate Awards Americas/Asia-Pacific competition.

Toady, the couple dishes on the three things you probably don't know about chocolate and their go-to place for a quick lunch. 

Our go-to place for
a quick lunch (when we can find the time) in Phoenix is Leoni’s Focaccia. Great sandwiches, but, oh that focaccia!

Our go-to place for a kinda quick, yet relaxing, dinner on the way home in Phoenix is Il Bosco. Awesome pizzas, salads, energetic inside, great relaxing patio outside … makes you feel at home.

The best kept secret in Phoenix is Toyama Sushi in North Scottsdale. Another really small, local place. Unassuming, just great sushi. Sit at the sushi bar and enjoy Mo’s infectious smile and laugh and let him do his thing with the omakase.

Three things most people don't know about chocolate are ... Okay, we know it’s "just chocolate” and people should enjoy chocolate however they like, so this might sound a little chocolate-geeky, but this stuff is part of what really got us into making our own chocolate.

1. Chocolate can have more than just one flavor (without adding anything to it). There are many varieties of cocoa beans and, like wine and coffee, they have complex and interesting natural flavors, which are also a result of terroir.

2. Dark chocolate does not have to be bitter. While cocoa beans have bitter notes, they are also acidic and astringent. As craft chocolate makers, our chocolate-making style (think craft beer or a winemaker’s style) determines how those elements do or don’t come through in our chocolate. Hint: We don’t highlight the bitter notes, and we strive for a balance across the board.

3. There is much less caffeine in chocolate than most people think. Most chocolate we eat is high in sugar and that’s what tends to give people what seems like caffeine jitters.

This summer, we're keeping cool by hanging at Zak’s Chocolate where it’s always cool inside (literally). Our little chocolate factory is kept at around 70 degrees year-round. We also keep cool with our cold brew cacao or coffee (using Peixoto coffee beans) and we always have some jazz, Jimmy Buffett, or Bob Marley playing. Come join us!

Our culinary guilty pleasures are just about anything in the case at Super Chunk Sweets & Treats (lately, it’s the canele).

At home, we love playing with flavors and our guilty pleasure “homework” involves taking our own brownies and pairing them with things like Super Chunk’s ice creams and something like a late harvest zin from Sand Reckoner. Guilty as charged. 

The 2016 Tastemakers so far: 

100. Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis and Phoenix Public Market Cafe
99. Ross Simon of Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour 
98. Debby Wolvos of DW Photography
97. Anibal and Salem Beyene of Café Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant 
96. Bo Mostow of Uptown Farmers Market
95. Julian Wright of Pedal Haus Brewery
94. Stephen Jones of The Larder + The Delta
93. Eric Glomski of Page Spring Cellars
92. Richard Bock of Giuseppe's on 28th
91. Walter Sterling of Ocotillo 
90. Daniel Sevilla of Angry Crab Shack
89. Doug Robson of Gallo Blanco and Otro Cafe
88. LaDawn Driscoll of Liberty Market
87. Jason Calhoon of The Shop Beer Co. and Side Kick Cold Brew
86. Tim and Kim Cobb of United Lunchadores Street Gourmet
85. Micah Olson of Bar Crudo and Okra Cookhouse and Cocktails 
84. Paola Embry of Christopher's + Crush and The Wrigley Mansion
83. Jared Porter of The Clever Koi
82. Diane Corieri of Evening Entertainment Group
81. Erich Schultz of Steadfast Farm Shares His Go-To Place For Beer That Tastes "Like Arizona"
80. Jeff and Leah Huss of Huss Brewing Company
79. Aaron Pool of Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup
78. Diana Santospago of The Maine Lobster Lady food truck
77. Gio Osso of Virtu Honest Craft and Nico Heirloom Kitchen
76. Lauren Bailey of Upward Projects
75. Rodney Hu of Arizona Distilling Company and Yucca Tap Room 
74. Jacob Cutino of Homeboy's Hot Sauce
73. Country and Sergio Velador of Super Chunk Sweets and Treats
72. Dean Thomas of Cornish Pasty Co.
71. Jennifer Caraway of The Joy Bus
70. Scott Holmes of Little Miss BBQ
69. Jared Allen of Proof Artisan Breads
68. Steve McFate of McFate Brewing Company  
67. Mel Mecinas of Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North
66. Jessa and Dan Koppenhofer of Gilbert Farmers Market
65. Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks
64. Ryan Probst of Odelay Bagel Co.
63. Diana Brandt of AZFoodie
62. Benjamin Butler of Hayden Flour Mills

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria