There’s a new Chocolatier in town

Recently hired chocolatier Josue Feliciano has been elevating the truffle shelves at the Chocolate Chisel.
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Those delectable morsels in the glass cases of Port Washington’s chocolate shop are looking a little different these days.

There’s a new chocolatier in town, and Josue Feliciano is breathing new life into the truffles at the Chocolate Chisel.

Feliciano and Chocolate Chisel co-owner John Reichert are in the same mold when it comes to chocolate creations, and Feliciano was given creative control when he was hired a couple of months ago.

“I’m very passionate about chocolate,” Feliciano said. “The way I talk about chocolate, he knows I’m serious about it.”

Feliciano is so serious that he had planned to open his own chocolate and cheesecake business before landing the Chocolate Chisel job.

His journey into the industry has had its share of bitter and sweet moments for the Puerto Rican native.

Shortly after he was born, Feliciano’s mother moved to Chicago and then Milwaukee.

Feliciano joined the U.S. Army and did three tours in Iraq, starting in 2006. He was a tank mechanic but did many recovery missions. He developed post-traumatic stress disorder and still gets mental health counseling today.

After spending nearly a decade in the Army, Feliciano went to nursing school at Milwaukee Area Technical College. One semester from graduating, the stress of the program aggravated his PTSD so badly he couldn’t continue.

In early 2013, he invited people to his place to watch a Green Bay Packers playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. He baked cakes in the shape of a Packers jersey and a football.

“After I was done, I realized how much stress it relieved,” he said. “That’s the definitely the point that shaped the process of what I wanted to do with my life.”

He went back to MATC to earn a baking and pastry arts degree, and he commuted from Milwaukee to downtown Chicago to earn a certificate from the 20-week L’Art De La Patisserie pastry and baking course at The French Pastry School where he worked with chocolate for six hours per day.

“I enjoyed the whole baking process but I always had a special place in my heart for chocolate,” he said.

The French Pastry School helps graduates land jobs “pretty much anywhere in the world.” Feliciano wanted to stay in Wisconsin and was called in for an interview at the Hilton in downtown Milwaukee.

He knew he didn’t want the job. He heard of horror stories of hotel chefs yelling at their employees.

“I actually applied there because I wanted to see their kitchen,” he said.

It turns out he saw plenty of it. He was offered a job, took it and fell in love with the place. His fellow chefs understood his PTSD and that he needed to rest or go home at times.

“They’re just so nice to work with,” he said.

Feliciano started as a pastry cook 3 but within a year was promoted to pastry cook 2. Six months later, he was named pastry cook 1 and six months after that pastry supervisor.

The hotel, he said, recognized his strong work ethic.

But then a glitch developed. The executive pastry chef has an old-fashioned, rustic style, while “I’m more of a refined-type dessert person,” Feliciano said.

Feliciano left the hotel and went back to school for sales and marketing management. He hated it but had stayed in contact with his former coworkers.

By the end of the first semester, he was offered a pastry sous chef job at the Hilton with more money and creative control.

But soon after he started in January 2020, he fell ill. He couldn’t stand and wasn’t eating.

“I felt like I was dying,” he said.

Three visits to the emergency room in one week didn’t yield any reasons. Feliciano later figured out what he had.

“Nobody knew that Covid was a thing yet,” he said.

After recovering, he called the hotel and said he was ready to return to work.

“Everybody’s getting laid off,” he was told.

That’s when the impact of the pandemic hit. Feliciano went on unemployment for 10 months.

“I was definitely really depressed,” he said.

Despite being a dessert expert, Feliciano is not exactly pudgy — quite the opposite — and he got into bodybuilding and sculpting.

He ended up taking first places in the true novice and novice categories at the National Physique Committee Badger State Championships and second places in open class and master’s class, which is for people 35 and older. Feliciano is 36.

“I competed against guys taking steroids,” he said.

Feliciano eventually got a call from chef Tom LaPierre, who had been one of his instructors at MATC. LaPierre saw that Feliciano was a quick study and heard about a job opening at the Chocolate Chisel. Feliciano was the first person he contacted.

Feliciano contacted Reichert about an application, and he did the interview right away.

“It was a perfect match,” Feliciano said. “This is basically my dream job.”

Reichert was already familiar with Feliciano’s work from judging one of his showpieces at the Wisconsin Food Expo. His orange, yellow and black koi fish swimming on waves of chocolate won the people’s choice award.

As Reichert’s chocolatier, Feliciano quickly began developing new recipes for truffles. He is working on an alcohol line that includes bourbon, Bailey’s Irish Cream and a Grand Marnier blackberry flavor.

He’s also redesigning some old favorites and melding his pastry experience into his chocolate expertise.

Feliciano’s work doesn’t stop when he returns to his home in Milwaukee.

“Now, I get home and think, what can we do tomorrow, how can we elevate this?” he said.

Feliciano’s skill didn’t come from his family, although his mother knows her way around the kitchen.

“We always pick on each other about who’s a better cook,” he said. “She’s a better cook. We both say we’re a better baker.”

His three younger sisters enjoy the final products. “They’re into eating it,” he said with a laugh.

Feliciano likes working with all kinds of chocolate but he has his favorite flavor — dark.

“I feel like it’s very versatile,” he said, adding it can cut down on the sweetness of treats like melted caramel.

It also stands well on its own.

“Dark chocolate is very satiating if it’s good quality chocolate,” he said. “Just a small piece will satisfy you.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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