“I actually do make chocolate in heels,” says Katrina Markoff, the founder of Chicago’s Vosges Haut-Chocolat. “People think it’s strange, but I find it empowering. I grew up in the eighties with my mom wearing heels to work every day, so it feels normal.” (Her mother owned a hazardous waste removal company.) Markoff isn’t the first chef to accentuate her feminine side in the kitchen, but it’s hard to think of another domestic goddess who also wears a leather jacket and a Bob Marley shirt with those heels. Markoff, 34, does just that for a day of experimenting in her kitchen and taking meetings. “I love girlie, I love pink, I love heels, but you have to offset those things with a masculine force,” Markoff says. “I like the idea of yin and yang.”
Tapping into a yin-yang vibe is something for which she seems to have a knack. Since starting her chocolate company ten years ago, Markoff has incorporated travel, fashion, and interests as diverse as blues music and The Great Gatsby into her almost spiritual mission to bring the world together through chocolate. Her most recent collection, Chocolate and the Nose, is a sensory box with 48 aromas stored in small vials and 40 chocolate bars from 15 different countries. Who influenced her early on? “Tom Ford did because I loved the packaging of his scents,” Markoff says. “I’m hugely influenced by the fashion industry.” So it is not surprising that Markoff was deliberate about choosing the signature purple color of her packaging. “Hermès was certainly a company I thought about in the beginning—the color orange is such a statement,” she says, referring to its trademark hue. “I did research on the symbolism of the color purple, and it was a highly spiritual color but also known for regality. I thought it had the depth to not go out of style or be too trendy.”
At home, in her closet, a denim Helmut Lang jacket, shredded in a motorcycle accident (no one was hurt), shares space next to an Yves Saint Laurent ensemble purchased in Paris and pieces from the Buenos Aires designer Martin Churba. “I can’t get rid of things that have a story,” Markoff admits. In a drawer devoted to jewelry, she stores exotic Indian earrings picked up on Devon Avenue alongside two of her most treasured pieces: an Indonesian necklace made of copper and conch shell from her husband, Jason, a real-estate developer and the director of operations for Vosges, and a tiger’s-teeth necklace made by the Nagaland tribes of northeast India. “My first truffle, the Naga, was inspired by this necklace,” says Markoff. “I wanted it to have curry and coconut and to taste as rich as being there. It’s how I got the idea of traveling the world through chocolate.”
Which goes to show a bit of Markoff’s secret: Love world cultures, and they will love you back.
Markoff collects Indian earrings (right) and Day of the Dead artwork (left).
Her girlie world (from left): an Yves Saint Laurent blouse, evening gowns, sexy shoes
Her inspirational tiger’s-teeth necklace (left) and a Moroccan handbag
Her kitchen is lined with the covers of old record albums (above); a vintage sign from Architectural Artifacts; she paints her toes to match the signature color of Vosges (right).
photography: (Katrina Markoff) ERIKA DUFOUR; (snapshots) Elisabeth Fourmont; (pink YSL top) erika dufour; (earrings, skeleton, handbag, and nail polish) blackbox studios, inc.