British Columbia

Richmond chocolatiers craft edible homage to Lunar New Year red envelopes

Dominque and Cindy Duby, owners of Wild Sweets, a chocolate confectionery shop, fused Asian flavours and French pastry into a tasty Lunar New Year treat.
Dominique and Cindy Duby, owners of Wild Sweets, a cocoa-bean-to-bar chocolate shop in Richmond, B.C., hold up their red envelope-inspired confection for Lunar New Year. (Roshini Nair/CBC)

A pair of Richmond, B.C., chocolatiers are putting their own spin on the classic Lunar New Year tradition of red-envelope giving — through the magic of chocolate. 

The red envelope tradition, called laisee in Cantonese, hongbao  in Mandarin, and li xi or tien mung tuoi in Vietnamese, is a big part of celebrations. Those who bestow the envelopes — usually filled with money — are gifting good fortune and prosperity to the recipient for the New Year.

Dominique and Cindy Duby, the owners of Wild Sweets in Richmond, wanted to pay homage to that tradition in their own style.

"Being based in Richmond, we have a very large Chinese community," Dominique said.  "We wanted to create something that was Chinese-inspired but sort of like East meets West."

The result? A decadent red cake, with sponge and creme brulée layers flavoured with peanut, chestnut, kumquat, mandarin oranges and apricot covered in tempered white chocolate and decorated with gold chocolate coins, all made in-house.

Dominique Duby cuts into the red envelope cake. (Roshini Nair/CBC)

Envelope-pushing creative process

The creation is in keeping with the couple's "envelope-pushing" style. They are two of the few chocolatiers in the region who create chocolate from scratch beginning with cocoa beans. Most chocolatiers work with pre-made chocolate. 

But it's not just the raw materials that are the focus of meticulous attention and detail. The Dubys have collaborated with food scientists at the University of British Columbia, experimenting with molecular gastronomy — the study of how cooking transforms the physical and chemical characteristics of food. 

For their red envelope cake, the couple used software to determine what kinds of flavour combinations would work best given their aromatic chemical properties. 

"What we will do is we will go into the software and build up from there which ingredient would work either with chestnut or with the golden fruit and if it's golden fruit, which one of those will work [with] the peanut," Dominique explained.

Wild Sweets is a part of a small group of chocolatiers who make their chocolate directly from cocoa beans, as opposed to melting large batches of pre-made chocolate. (Roshini Nair/CBC)

And presentation is also important. Unusually, the Dubys work with a graphic designer, Linda Mitsui, to plan out their dessert designs.

"What we do on a regular basis when it comes to either the packaging or the design of the product is all to do with trying to figure out new ways of how to present food and breaking the barriers or the conceptions that people have," Dominique said.

"We always say, 'Why not?' "