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?
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
So how did you
go from PR and marketing to chocolate?
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
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
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
What do you like
best as Kohlerís chocolatier?
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."
daily job like?
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."
developed any other new chocolates?
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?
loved it. He tastes and approves everything. Heís very involved, and
heís just so brilliant. Iím learning so much from him."