How cool is that? New local bean-to-bar chocolate K'ul is also an energy bar

Get made-to-order chocolate bars at K'ul beginning December 5th.

Get made-to-order chocolate bars at K'ul beginning December 5th.

When was the last time you ate an energy bar? Did you like it? Or did you convince yourself that you like it because you think it's good for you? Peter Kelsey, whose name you may recognize as the founder of the New French Bakery, (he sold for undisclosed millions in 2013 and said he got bored within four days of retirement) and prior to that as a local name chef (New French Cafe, Fagres, Sidneys, many others) was on the hunt for an energy bar that was both truly good for you and that also tasted great. He could find none.

"I'm a food guy, so I don't like diets." Nevertheless, his doctor urged him to stay away from foods with a high-glycemic index (food that makes your blood sugar rise). All of the energy bars he found were based around sugar in some form. 

Dark chocolate with a cocoa percentage of 70 percent or higher is a low glycemic index food. The combo seemed like a no-brainer for Kelsey, an avid cyclist who has also struggled with health problems. This would be the energy bar that's both good — really good — and good for you. K'ul (pronounced "cool," it's the Mayan word for energy) would be the new project to stave off his boredom. 

First, let's get this out of the way: these bars are delicious. Like really, really tasty. Ignore the marketing on the package touting it as a superfood bar, and the healthy-sounding ingredient lists of maca, guarana, cranberries and pumpkin seeds, and just rip right in like it's a candy bar. If you're any fan at all of dark chocolate, these can function as a straight-up treat and they do: He's got a line of "artisan bars" marketed strictly to the discerning chocolate-eating set. 

And why not? They're using all of the same equipment — roasters, winnowers, sorters, and tempering equipment, as any artisan chocolate maker. And, they're currently the only bean-to-bar outfit in the Twin Cities — so if you were ever a fan of Rogue, who jumped ship some years ago and left us without the street cred of the kind of city that can support this sort of serious chocolate-making, then listen up. And unlike Rogue, this is no $13 bar. K'ul bars retail for around $3 — a detail that was very important to Kelsey. 

Just as he did at the bakery, he wanted to produce a great product, using great technique at a great price point. An ideal that arguably may have catapulted his bakery into greatness. "I wanted it so everybody could enjoy it. So — three dollar baguette; three dollar bar of chocolate." 

While this product functions wonderfully as chocolate (he's employed longtime local chocolatier and pastry chef Christian Aldrich as his chocolate maker), Kelsey says he hopes the product will be thought of first as an energy bar, because it works. They've been sponsoring bicycle races as well as direct marketing to athletes, and Kelsey says succinctly: "They all say, 'Yeah, it works.'" 

Kelsey even designed the packaging with athletes in mind — small enough to fit in a pocket, with an opening that can be maneuvered with one hand and squeezed into the mouth even if the chocolate melts. Sounds weird, but hey, it works. (And, who doesn't want to squeeze melted chocolate into their mouth? You know you want to). And, he says, cyclists find the bar easier to chew and swallow when consumed on-the-move than traditional energy bars, a small but not unimportant detail that he says he can personally relate to because he had tongue cancer and doesn't swallow very well. 

All this is not to mention the state-of-the-art facility they've built in Seward, with a retail storefront and bean-to-bar chocolate facility in back. You should visit. The place smells absolutely heavenly. Kelsey has traveled the world and visited all of the farms where the cocoa beans are sourced, and has identified properties that are in line with what he calls a Direct Trade model. "I have been to the farms we buy beans from to see personally how the people and environment are treated then buy the beans direct with no middlemen. We visited farms in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil before purchasing."  Last but not definitely not least: made-to-order bars! Beginning on Dec. 5, visit the K'ul retail space to have a personalized chocolate bar made before your eyes, with the ingredients (supplements?) you most desire in your bar. Choose from almonds, dried fruits, puffed quinoa and lots of other stuff. It's pretty cool — a lady just tempers the chocolate in a small machine right on the countertop, mixes it on a cold tile, and within a few minutes it hardens. The just-out-of-the-temperer chocolate is luscious, much the way fresh squeezed juice is better than anything that's been sitting around in a bottle. They'll also be making the bars at the upcoming Seward Winter Frolic, Dec. 5 and 6.  Buy K'ul at their Seward storefront; Lunds and Byerlys after the first of the year; Midwest Mountaineering; and many other retail outlets. Get a full list here.  K'ul Chocolate 2211 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis  612-344-4300