From an early age, Ginger Elizabeth Hahn was curious about cooking. Her interest was piqued by Julia Child’s cooking shows and the Great Chefs series. But it was a culinary summer camp at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone that really struck a cord. “I was 16 and it was a week-long program,” recalls Ginger, chef/owner of Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates in Sacramento, CA. “I got to stay on campus and it was an amazing experience. I knew from the first day there that I wanted to go to the CIA.”
After graduating from high school, finances kept Ginger close to home and she attended Santa Barbara City College. Ginger received a certificate in Hotel, Restaurant, and Culinary Arts. She joined the Women’s Santa Barbara Culinary Guild and had the opportunity to actually meet Julia Child. “She gave me advice on scholarships, especially the one offered by the International Association of Culinary Professionals,” says Ginger. “It took me three years but I finally got the scholarship and that enabled me to go to the CIA in Hyde Park, NY.”
“I knew the CIA was the best. I pinched myself every day thinking I must be dreaming,” Ginger remembers. “The campus had great energy. The chef-instructors brought years of experience to the classrooms and kitchens. I wanted to achieve pastry excellence and the CIA gave me the skills to reach for my goal.”
Ginger’s externship at Jacques Torres Chocolates in Brooklyn, NY, was a plum assignment. “It was really hard because they had just opened. There were only Jacques, the co-owner Ken, one other kitchen worker, and myself. They really pushed me to take on more responsibility,” says Ginger. “Just being there was a great experience and I loved it. And I’m glad I did, because during that time I was living in an apartment in Chinatown with no running water, on top of a noodle shop!”
After graduation, Ginger apprenticed under World Pastry Cup gold medalist En-Ming Hsu ’92 at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago. “It was an amazing, intense learning experience. We would test dishes 10, 15, even 20 times before they made it onto the menu. That’s something I still do to this day,” says Ginger. “Without the CIA I wouldn’t have worked with Jacques or En-Ming. My degree helped me get my foot in the door at great establishments where I continued to learn and grow as a chef.” To be closer to her family, Ginger returned to California. She served as pastry chef at Masque Ristorante in El Dorado Hills for three years.
In 2005, at the ripe old age of 24, Ginger opened the wholesale chocolate company Couture Chocolates by Ginger Elizabeth. The new venture allowed her to showcase the skills she acquired, while continuing to explore new ideas. In 2008, she opening her first retail location in Sacramento under the company’s new name, Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates. A true family affair, Ginger’s husband Tom handles finance, ordering, technology, and permitting.
Business had grown steadily ever year. In 2010, Ginger was named one of the Top Ten Chocolatiers in North America by Dessert Professional magazine. That same year, the Sacramento Business Journal named her as one of the “40 under 40” notable business owners.
Ginger is committed to purchasing her chocolate from producers who pay at or above fair trade prices to growers and invest in improving farming communities. “We make our own jam in house using fruit from local sustainable farms, use organic dairy products whenever possible, and about 90% of our packaging is made in the U.S.,” says Ginger. She also makes sure her employees are treated fairly and receive health care benefits.
Today Ginger has a staff of 20 and a newly opened, 3,500 square-feet commissary workshop. “I’m in my own little chocolate paradise. The space has a state-of-the-art kitchen that allows me to do research and develop new products,” says Ginger, “and a second retail store is in the works.”
Justifiably proud of her success in business, Ginger also has a rewarding home life. “We have three beautiful kids, a great support system, and a chocolate shop with a happy team of employees,” says Ginger. “You have to work really hard in the industry, always striving for perfection, making good hiring and managing decisions, and being fair with customers and purveyors. It’s hard owning your own business, but absolutely worth it.”