Hidden away on Barrington Avenue in Brentwood, the chocolate boutique Compartes is filled with meticulously neat displays of colorfully decorated hand-crafted truffles and sweets made with exotic ingredients from around the world. Recently, more than 5,000 miles from his tiny Brentwood shop, owner Jonathan Grahm opened four Compartes stores in Tokyo.
Though the stores in Japan are proving popular, Grahm discovered that his flagship's most popular flavors did not necessarily enrapture customers across the Pacific. "Our stores in Japan do not make flavors such as the wasabi, ginger, umeboshi plum, shochu, amd shichimi seven spice that I make for my customers here in the US. In Japan they prefer to have more 'Los Angeles' flavors in the chocolates. They tend to buy the ones that seem more American and European to them. Smoked salt, honey peanut butter, passion fruit and hazelnut," are some of the bestsellers, along with chocolate-covered nuts and chocolate-dipped fruit.
Grahm's love of travel and world flavors influences everything he makes for Compartes, in L.A. and Tokyo. As a regular customer at Jitlada, he finds ideas in both sweet and savory dishes.
"I am inspired by Jazz, the owner of Jitlada. They use a lot of kaffir lime in their dishes, like the Kua Kling dried beef curry. When I asked her about it she gave me some of the limes and leaves from her house. Then I bought my own tree. It was sitting in our patio in front of the store for months. Recently I moved it to my grandmother's house and I still use the leaves from it."
And Grahm doesn't limit his culinary inspirations to restaurants. "While I am driving around LA if I see an ethnic market with a sign I cannot read, I pull over and run inside. I am always on the lookout for new ingredients to work with. One time on Fairfax I walked into an Ethiopian market. Basically I smelled the bags of spices, bought several of them, and brought them back to my little lab in the back of the store. I have so many ingredients that I haven't been even able to experiment with all of them yet."
He doesn't limit his excursions to L.A., either. When in Tokyo, Grahm always finds some time for shopping. "I buy tons of ingredients in Japan. I go to an amazing store where they sell the seven spices for shichimi separately." The chocolate Grahm prefers is sourced carefully as well: single origin varieties from South America that he mixes together to create his own unique blend. His exploration of flavors and ingredients leads Grahm to constantly rotate flavors in his shop.
For Halloween, Grahm will be making spicy skulls and pumpkin flavored truffles. For Thanksgiving: brown butter sage truffle. Customers might bump into Grahm at the Brentwood Farmers' Market picking up a bunch of rhubarb only to find strawberry rhubarb truffles in Compartes a few days later, a flavor combination that is popular in LA -- and could be very big in Japan.
912 S. Barrington Ave., 310-826-3380
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