Seductive sweets and tasty treats

A successful advocate for close to two decades, Karen Schneid loved her profession.

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“I was very lucky with the cases that I got to work with, even changing the law in some instances. This gave me a lot of freedom and allowed me to travel widely.

“On one such trip, when I was travelling with my husband, David, in Provence. I tasted an amazing confection called a calisson, which is made only in Aix-en-Provence. It was the most sublime experience, a mixture of crushed almonds, candied oranges and melons, covered with a thin layer of royal icing. It was the most amazing confection that I had ever tasted.

“I returned to South Africa, determined to replicate it in my kitchen. And so, my passion for confectionery grew. I remained and an Advocate by day but by night, I was busy in my kitchen concocting confections. Once I had mastered the calisson, I then moved on to nougat and marshmallows. Eventually, I realised that while I loved the law, I adored confectionery more and I took the plunge, left my law practice and opened Ooh La La Confectionery,” Schneid explains.

The business soon outgrew her family kitchen, and she moved to a factory designed by her husband, an Architect, that was indicative of her passion for French design.

“We live on a farm-style property in Johannesburg, which is designed along the lines of a French farmhouse. Establishing a factory was always part of my bigger Ooh La La dream. I envisioned having our own version of a Provençal-style factory on our property to keep the delightful, artisanal feel. There is a wonderful atmosphere in our factory. I have a passionate and loyal team. I have personally trained all my employees in the art of confectionery making and they share my passion for excellence. When we get awards, everyone in the factory shares in the pleasure. Our company employs over twenty staff members and supports many families in this process,” says Schneid.

She says that becoming an entrepreneur has been both challenging and wonderful. It’s challenging in the way that running her own business takes up every waking second, but wonderful in the way that it gives her freedom of choice to be available for her family and their special moments.

“As a Lawyer, if I was in court, I had to be in court, no matter what was going on with my children. As an entrepreneur, while everything relies on my passion, energy and impetus, I get to create something I really want in the world and, at the same time, I can be more actively present in my children’s lives, even if it means I need to work until 1am that night to catch up on my work,” she explains.

In terms of her experience as a female Entrepreneur, she says she has been fortunate that, in her time working as a Lawyer or Entrepreneur, she has always been taken seriously as a business and career woman, and has never experienced discrimination based on gender.

“To women out there, I would say take yourself seriously, know your worth, trust your intelligence, and if you ever do experience discrimination, seek the support to challenge it,” says Schneid.

Award-winning confections

Since its establishment, Ooh La La Confectionery has consistently grown and is the recipient of numerous accolades, receiving more than 54 gold stars from the British Great Taste Awards.

“While not well known in South Africa, internationally, the British Great Taste Awards are the Oscars of the food industry,” explains Schneid. “The judges taste your food blind and have given me incredible, valuable feedback and wonderful compliments. One judge described my calisson as a ‘lovely, beautifully made product, with soft almond paste and delicate perfume with sweet citrus notes’.

It has been very gratifying to be acknowledged on the international stage in this way.

“Here in South Africa as well, Eat Out Magazine acknowledged us with the Best Confectionery of the Year award. As much as being acknowledged internationally is amazing, it’s also fantastic to hear you’re the best at home,” she adds.

She says that the business is buoyed by the support she received from her family including her father who, even at the age of 83 years old, continues to be her mentor.

Ooh La La offers a number of ranges from nougats to their signature pebbles, different Belgian couverture dark chocolates to the new Japanese-inspired matcha range. The confectionery makes artisanal marshmallows, which are infused with unusual and very delicious flavours such as violet, mocha, cheesecake, Madagascan vanilla and more.

“Our Pebble range is very popular. We roast and caramelise the freshest nuts for hours in French copper pots and then add a sprinkling of fleur de sel. My customers have called the Pebbles ‘crack cocaine’. The pebbles can also be bought covered in dark and white chocolate or plain. We also make salted butter caramels, Turkish delight, plain or covered in milk and dark chocolate, and a traditional, award-winning fudge,” says Schneid.

“I have travelled the world to find only the very best raw ingredients to go into our products. Combine this with the very best traditional recipes and confectionery methods, and you have a delicious, award-winning confectionery,” she says.

While there are a number of popular products, she highlights Ooh La La’s pebbles and ormolu—a piece of crunchy butter toffee, smothered in the finest couverture Belgian chocolate and then coated in roasted walnuts and pecans—as fan favourites.

Schneid gleans a lot of her inspiration from travel, her latest passion being Japanese-French fusion confections.

“While in Japan, I discovered matcha. There is a well-known history of Japanese-French fusion confections. I was inspired by the work of Sadaharu Aoki, who came from Japan to France and was one of the first patissiers to create a fusion between these two glorious food cultures.

“Since tasting his astonishing creations, I have been using only the best-quality matcha from the beautiful Nishio region in Japan, in my confections—from matcha-infused milk chocolate, to matcha and orange blossom French nougat and even a matcha white hot chocolate,” she says.

Passion and creativity

Schneid is a great believer in the power of following one’s passion and it is the advice that she gives to aspiring entrepreneurs. “Only for one’s passion will you pour your energy, morning, noon and night. And it is contagious. Lead with passion and others will follow,” she says.

On whether her two daughters will take over Ooh La La one day, she says, “I don’t know what my two daughters will want to do with their lives, but I do encourage them to follow their passions.

They love coming with their friends for a taste of whatever we are working on and I am also quite happy to give them a bowl filled with our confections to snack on because I know that there are no artificial flavours, colours, or preservatives. I have been to my daughters’ school and taught the kids about confectionery, which has been fun.

“If my daughters were to develop a huge passion for the company, I would love nothing more than to work with them one day. But, mostly, I want them to have their own dreams and passions.”

With regard to how she maintains her passion for the business, Schneid explains that what keeps her motivated is her vision for Ooh La La. “I don’t see it as just a confectionery—it’s a brand that embodies confectionery, design, storytelling and education to the world about food. I see myself as creating a little confectionery universe. Each confection has a little imaginative story attached to it, complete with a little character that is attributed to creating the confection.

“I design and package my products very carefully, holding in mind both practical considerations and also French aesthetics,” she says.

“I am passionate about food and about the procurement of ingredients. When I launched my Matcha range, I wanted to educate the world about matcha. When I work with chocolate, I want to teach my customers about the production of chocolate from the cocoa bean and about the difference between brown and white chocolate,” she adds.

For Schneid, the most fulfilling aspect of what she does is meeting with customers and clients and talking to them about the creative process that goes into every single aspect of Ooh La La, from procuring the very best ingredients from around the world to creating stories about their products, to thinking about packaging. As to the most enjoyable aspect, she says it’s the experimentation and tasting every single batch before it leaves the factory.

“I have to say, it’s the creative part that appeals to me the most. I love exploring new flavours, and coming up with new ideas for different seasons and holidays. We have developed four new exciting confectionery ranges for the festive season.

This year, we are offering pumpkin spice, gingerbread and fruitcake nougat. We have created marshmallows in these flavours as well, including gold caramel, cinnamon and sugar and candy cane. In the spirit of playfulness, I also created festive crackers, which you pull open to find an explosion of festive season nougat or marshmallows, amongst a wonderful range of gifting options.

“Working with an artisanal company like Ooh La La really allows me to have immense creative freedom.

“I can come up with an idea in the morning and have it on the shop shelves by the end of the day.

“We will always bring back customer favourites, as long as people still want them, but we will also use every opportunity to come up with something new and wonderful,” Schneid concludes.

To view and purchase Ooh La La’s delicious confections, please visit www.oohlalaconfectionery.com

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