Will Gustwiller works in chocolate the way a sculptor works in clay. It isn’t a metaphor applied carelessly; Gustwiller, owner of Eclipse Chocolat, earned an MFA in Sculpture from SDSU.
Food had always been a hobby for Gustwiller. Upon graduation, he felt that if he didn’t give chocolate-making a chance, he never would.
“It sounds funny, but I learned how to cook by watching the Food Channel,” Gustwiller says.
Chocolate-making’s precise chemistry demands expensive equipment, which Gustwiller didn’t have. Because of this, many of the ways that he works with chocolate is unconventional.
“The chocolate’s a foundation for flavor profiles that people might not experience elsewhere,” he says.
While we’re chatting, a woman enters and orders four of Eclipse’s avant garde truffles—lavender sea salt, bergamot orange peel, caramel pecan, and peanut butter toffee—and two glasses of wine to take back to the pizza place next door.
What started as a simple retail storefront now includes a dessert café, morning coffee shop, and restaurant into its bag of delectable tricks. The last of these, which features prix fixe chocolate-themed dinners once a month, is wildly popular but started as a necessity.
The first theme dinner was for Valentine’s Day, 2007—which featured five courses and cost just $45 per couple—and it was a way to get more people into the shop to buy chocolates.
“I didn’t make any money, but that wasn’t the point,” Gustwiller declares.
Since then, the dinners have been consolidated into three courses, and are $45 per person. Gustwiller applies the same fearless experimentation that’s made his truffles a success to these chocolate dinners.
This year’s Father’s Day menu included an open-faced beef sloppy joe served with a bourbon-chocolate barbecue sauce. Reflecting on its creation, Gustwiller says that at the time he’d thought, “This’ll probably be a stretch. This’ll probably be better without the chocolate,” he says with a laugh. But the opposite proved true; the thick sauce complemented the ground beef. Like a piece of art whose popularity can’t be easily explained, the entrée just worked.
On the nights that Eclipse isn’t serving chocolate-themed diners, it becomes a dessert café serving crème fraîche cupcakes, dessert platters, and drinking chocolates. The last of these are obscenely rich chocolate drinks infused with such flavors as rosemary mint and chile burnt caramel. Each is served with two homemade vanilla bean marshmallow squares.
Along with Eclipse’s storefront, their chocolates are also sold at farmers markets in North Park, Little Italy, and Rancho Santa Fe; local, high end hotels; and wholesale to Florida and Alaska.
All of this success led Gustwiller’s undergraduate alma mater, Bowling Green State University, to recently name him their Recent Distinguished Graduate. With a BFA in 3D Jewelry/Metals that preceded his graduate work, Gustwiller is an example of someone who’s earned two fine arts degrees and come out the other side making money.
(Picture caption: Artisan cheese truffles: Salted Gjetost, Gorgonzola Cherry, Apricot and Brie, and Tarragon Goat Cheese.)
2121 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92104