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Chef Speak: Anette Righi DeFendi 
Chocolatier, KOHLER Original Recipe Chocolates

Photos by Dan Bishop

August 2013

As a young girl growing up in Grafton, Anette Righi DeFendi sat in church pretending to bake brownies. Her cookbook, of course, was the hymnal. "Thatís one of my earliest childhood memories," Righi DeFendi says. "It was before I could read."

But not before she could bake, and this chocolate-loving pastry chef is now the new head chocolatier at Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates, in charge of developing new chocolates and overseeing the hands-on production of Kohlerís famous terrapins (turtles), truffles and ganache-filled jewels. Righi DeFendi, 32, sat down with M to talk about her culinary journey that led her back home to Wisconsin.

Had you always planned on a career with chocolate?

"Baking has always been my love; I tried to go to culinary school a couple of times, but it just didnít work out. I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism and mass communications degree. I worked up in the Twin Cities for a while at a real estate firm, but then I decided I wanted to be closer to home, but not home, so I ended up working for Harley-Davidsonís financial subsidiary in Chicago."

So how did you go from PR and marketing to chocolate?

"The French Pastry School was right around the corner from my office in Chicago. It only specializes in pastries, and that really intrigued me. I actually thought Iíd end up loving bread or cake decorating, but I hated both. Every two weeks, when I was in school, weíd switch units. There were breads, then breakfast pastries, then ice cream, then plated desserts, and then all of a sudden came chocolate, and it was an instant click. It made sense to me. I was good at it, and that was it."

You always loved chocolate so why was that a surprise?

"Yes, but I never thought it would turn into a career, and itís remarkable. Itís hard to believe Iím actually living my dream."

How did you come to Kohler?

"After I graduated from the French Pastry School in December 2010, I moved back to Ozaukee County to be with my boyfriend, Matt DeFendi, who is now my husband. (They just got married in April, and they now live in Belgium.) I started working at Miss Juliaís Bakeshop in Brookfield ó her cupcakes are phenomenal ó but then in June 2011 I was hired as the chocolatierís assistant at Kohler, and I was promoted this February."

What do you like best as Kohlerís chocolatier?

"Every day is exciting for me. Chocolate, to me, is very intuitive. I just know when the chocolate is tempered enough without taking its temperature. I love making caramel, and I love making ganache, and when you have that excellent emulsification of chocolate, you can actually see your reflection. Itís like a chocolate mirror. Itís these little things I just get such a kick out of."

Whatís your daily job like?

"We are typically in production Monday through Thursday, then Friday is my new product development day. Iím working on developing three flavors for our 2013 winter holiday line. I have a chocolate just approved, and marketed on the Fourth of July. Itís called Platinum. Itís made with 63 percent dark chocolate, then a layer of caramel and a layer of pecan praline. Itís a molded truffle piece."

Have you developed any other new chocolates?

"I developed a new peanut butter candy bar. That was the first new product I developed and presented to Mr. (Herb) Kohler (CEO of Kohler). I made about 19 or 20 different batches before I finalized it and presented it. Iím a perfectionist, and that works well when you are a chocolatier."

What did Mr. Kohler think of your new peanut butter bar?

"Mr. Kohler loved it. He tastes and approves everything. Heís very involved, and heís just so brilliant. Iím learning so much from him."


This story ran in the August 2013 issue of: