“Mr. Chocolate,” “the King of Cocoa,” “the Sultan of Sugar.” He’s known by many names, but no matter what you call him, Jacques Torres is a culinary trend setter. Raised in France, Torres came to New York City in 1988, where he worked as the executive pastry chef at the iconic Le Cirque for 12 years. Then in 2000, he opened his first chocolate factory, Jacques Torres Chocolate, in Brooklyn — and now operates seven retail stores that sell nearly millions in sweets every year.
The award winning chef has hosted his own Food Network and PBS cooking series, written three cookbooks, and is currently co-starring on the hilarious baking competition show on Netflix, “Nailed It!”. As one of the most renowned pastry chefs in the world with over 40 years of experience, Torres knows what it takes to launch a successful business and stay relevant among ever growing competitors. He sat down with Thrive at his chocolate factory in New York City’s Soho — chatting with us over over frozen hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies — about how to stay innovative, ways to empower your team and how he stays healthy while surrounded by chocolate.
Thrive Global: How do you innovate?
Jacques Torres: Innovation is not something that you can push. Innovation comes to you. You can maybe trigger it — seasons can do that for me; the change of temperature, the change of smell, the change of color. Traveling will certainly help with innovation. I can’t just say, “Oh, today we are going to make five new chocolates.” That’s not how it works. You have to be seeded with something. Maybe it’s flavor, maybe it’s a book, but something has to trigger that innovation. One you have that, then you must research and work on the development. It all has to come together.
Sometimes you’re lucky and the first time you try something it works. And sometimes you’re going to be at it for a few days. For me, when something is really good, then I know it, and I get excited about it, and then I want everybody to try it. That’s when it’s magical.
TG: How do you incorporate time for yourself and your family into your packed work schedule?
JT: I don’t think that in life we can partition everything and say, “Oh, this is my time, this is family time, this is work time.” Unfortunately I think that all those lines are a little bit blurred. For me, I will take my son to the park and that would be my time with him and my time at the park. If I have the family visiting me at work, then that will be family time and work time. Or if I will be by myself at work, then I will try to work as hard as I can because I also want to go home. So all of those lines can be quite blurry to me. When I’m at work, I try to work hard, and to get as much done as I can to be able to have some time at home.
TG: What is your relationship with technology?
JT: Today technology is quite complicated. You’re basically never not at work because you always have email and texts. Fortunately I’m from a generation where email didn’t exist when I grew up. I think I had my first computer when I was over thirty years old. I have to say, with a little bit of shame, that I have 120,000 unread emails and that doesn’t bother me. If someone really needs to reach me I will look at my texts. And yes, I have 120,000 unread emails and I still can sleep. And I do turn my phone off at night.
TG: As a leader, how do you manage your team?
JT: If you run a business and want to be a good leader, you have to trust your team. I had a meeting recently with a young gentleman who was asking me advice. I told him that I recently hired a COO, and he drives my company now. I’m still the CEO of the company, but I left the day to day to him. That young man asked me, “That was difficult, for you to let it go?” I thought about it and said, “You know, when I was 30, when I was 40 years old, certainly it would be difficult for me to let go. But today, I just turned 60, I have no problem to let it go.”
It’s a lot easier as you age and understand that you’re part of a company. I have about a hundred employees, so I am basically one percent of the workforce. As long as I have good people around me and that we all talk the same business language, then it’s okay to let it go, because we’re all going to go in the same direction.
I also learned to let your team make some mistakes. If you stop every time that you see a mistake coming or you think one is going to happen, you don’t lead anymore. You make people unhappy and don’t want to take the initiative anymore. So let mistakes happen. I learned making a lot of mistakes and I do believe that we all learn like that. I think it’s part of the experience, as long as those mistakes aren’t a detriment of your company, your product or your customer service.
TG: What is your favorite chocolate?
JT: For me, my favorite chocolate depends on what time of the day we are. Morning can be a chocolate croissant, so depending on the time of day it will be a different product. In the afternoon, 3-4 p.m., I’m going to love a piece of milk chocolate with nuts because it’s creamy, it’s satisfying. It’s between lunch and dinner, so you’re a little bit hungry and you want something that’s going to satisfy you, something a little bit rich. In the evening, say it’s 10 p.m., 11 p.m., I want to go to bed. So I’ll want a little sweet, but not too sweet because otherwise I know I won’t sleep well. I’ll have a piece of dark chocolate with very little sugar, maybe a 75-80 percent cocoa content. Maybe a good origin, Venezuela. Sorry, I’m a chocolate snob! I cannot change that.
TG: How do you stay healthy among all the sugar?
JT: Between the first season of “Nailed It!” and today, my weight has lower 60 pounds. All that happened because I have two young children, and also my doctor started to look at me and say, “you have to lose weight. Your liver is not healthy, you eat too much sugar.” Basically I was addicted to sugar, and I love sugar. The doctor made that very clear — he didn’t tell me do not eat sweets, but told me, “eat everything in moderation.” I still eat sweets today, but I move a little bit more and my portions are a little bit smaller. Losing weight and becoming healthier definitely made a change in my overall spirits and overall health. You move faster. You’re less tired. You are a little bit happier to get up every morning, and you feel good. Running after a 3-year old — I ran four marathons in my life, but a 3-year-old makes you move. I love it!
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