Alumni Life

Mix Master

Meet the UB graduate with an eye for art, a mind for business and an insatiable taste for chocolate

By Sally Jarzab

“A lot of the well-known chocolatiers are men, and their products tend to look kind of plain. I wanted to make something that women specifically would connect to.”
Michele Ogden (BA ’03)

As proprietor of Whimsy Confections, Michele Ogden (BA ’03) makes some of the most fanciful concoctions ever to fill a chocolate box.

Mauve-tinted, milk-chocolate rose blossoms flavored with Earl Grey tea and wildflower honey. Layers of citrusy Japanese yuzu and ginger covered in white chocolate and Jackson Pollock-style splatters of black. Dark chocolate ganache infused with cinnamon and cayenne pepper and molded into the shape of a pair of lips, smooth as silk and faintly iridescent.

With a day job in human services, Ogden works into the wee hours creating these tiny, tasty objets d’art. Her weekends, too, get candy-coated. But the work is paying off. After starting Whimsy Confections last October as an online shop with pop-up displays around town, Ogden recently opened a physical boutique on Main Street in downtown Buffalo.

Despite what the Whimsy name might suggest, the bonbon business isn’t a passing fancy for Ogden. She’s been dreaming of it for almost a decade since reading an article in Essence magazine about a woman chocolatier. “I was like, that is so my passion—that is what I want to do,” says Ogden, now 37. There was only one small problem. She didn’t know even the basics of chocolate making.

Still, as many can attest, a chocolate craving is hard to resist. “Every year that passed, I would ask myself, now am I going to do this?” Ogden says. In 2013, returning to Buffalo after a stint in the D.C. area, she finally made up her mind to learn everything she needed to know and just do it.

For business expertise, Ogden attended UB’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. The sweet stuff she picked up through an online chocolatier certification program. A somewhat unexpected option (what’s virtual about chocolate, after all?), the web-based curriculum taught Ogden the fundamentals, which she then perfected on her own, though not without challenges.

Tempering—the process that gives quality chocolate its distinctive snap and sheen by stabilizing its fatty acid crystals—was the first test. The “easy” way is the seeding method: adding small pieces of hard chocolate bit by bit to melted chocolate and stirring to maintain the optimal temperature. Ogden says she completely failed at it. So she bought a big slab of granite to try a more hands-on technique called tabling and found that this one she had a knack for. “Some people find tabling intimidating because it’s so involved, but I love it,” she says of the method, in which chocolate is heated, slathered onto a cool surface and continuously agitated. “I could hand-temper chocolate all day long, and it will turn out just perfect, shiny and beautiful.”

Design-wise, the former media study major draws from her love of pop art. Using an airbrush gun and cocoa butter tints, she gives her chocolates a cheerful, splashy aesthetic that sets Whimsy apart from the competition.

“I’m very girly, and I like things to be fun and feminine,” Ogden attests. “A lot of the well-known chocolatiers are men, and their products tend to look kind of plain. I wanted to make something that women specifically would connect to.”

That’s top of mind when it comes to Whimsy’s flavor profiles, some of which even pay homage to a special woman from Ogden’s past. “My paternal grandmother, Ruthie, taught me how to bake and sparked my interest in food,” she says. Ogden recently celebrated Ruthie’s penchant for Southern desserts in a special Mother’s Day collection.

At the heart of Whimsy, though, is an enterprising spirit Ogden credits to her late father. “It was always his dream to start a business, but when you’re a parent taking care of your kids, you can’t always just do what you want,” she says. “I get so much satisfaction knowing my dad would be proud of me today.”

A sampling of confections: