Candies from Delphinium, a new candy company based in Oakland. Photo: Delphinium
Michael Russ II and Sasha Yilmaz-Ward met as pastry chefs at Oakland Restaurant The Wolf, where Russ was Executive Pastry Chef and Yilmaz-Ward was hired as his assistant.
It was one of those culinary amalgamations of thought in which the two saw each other as friends as well as colleagues and knew that at some point they should set up their own business together.
“Michael is extremely talented,” said Yilmaz-Ward. “He has such a creative mind and it’s fascinating to watch him at work.”
In the meantime Russ knew that he had found a reliable partner in Yilmaz-Ward. He saw immediately that he could rely on her and knew that she could realize his vision immediately in his absence.
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They began to work out a concept to open up their own space together. Called Delphinium, it was supposed to be a mid-century modern bar with a pastry tasting menu that features plant-based confectionery with a sultry, “poisonous but beautiful” atmosphere. By January 2020, they worked with a brand agent and started looking for investors. But now it’s obvious what happened next.
Due to the coronavirus, both were fired from their jobs.
“We just had to lower our expectations a little,” said Yilmaz-Ward. “Michael just said, ‘Let’s take our opening menus and recipes and turn them into storage-stable candy fillings.” Delphinium started its online shop in mid-October with a box on the theme of Halloween.
Sasha Yilmaz-Ward and Michael Russ II from Delphinium. Photo: Delphinium
The response to their confections has been positive, but so far Delphinium has only spread through word of mouth.
“We always say we’re a big deal away from collapse,” joked Yilmaz-Ward.
Prior to joining The Wolf, Russ spent three years as head pastry chef at Tableau, a restaurant in the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. He took part in the Food Network show “Best Baker in America” even though he dropped out in the middle of the series.
Russ describes his style as “modern with a bizarre flair” and also cooks hearty food. But his passion is definitely pastries, and he especially loves baking specialty cakes and what he called designer pastries.
And before Yilmaz-Ward worked at The Wolf, he helped launch Daily Driver, the large bagel company with multiple locations in San Francisco. But before baking, she was on an academic path to get a PhD. When she visited Turkey for research, she found that she would rather study pastries than Turkish politics. She visited the pastry shop in Turkey because it was much cheaper, but the catch was that the classes were taught in Turkish, which she was not entirely fluent in.
An eight-piece candy from the Delphinium Christmas collection. Photo: Delphinium
Delphinium recently released its winter collection. The four sweets we tried came from the holiday offer: Butter Me Up, a gingerbread milk chocolate ganache with brown shortbread crumble; Christmas in Hawaii with flavored rum and passion fruit in white chocolate ganache; Don’t Be a Grinch, Salted Caramel Rosemary Milk Chocolate Ganache and Naughty and Nice, spicy white yuzu chocolate ganache with black cocoa sprinkles. A box of four candies costs $ 14. eight for $ 30.
The candies made from Valhrona chocolate are beautiful to look at, with primary colors like red and blue bent with gold over the brown of the chocolate. We were also impressed with the unique flavor profiles.
While chocolate candies are mass-produced everywhere, the duo wanted to offer something different. They strive for “provocative flavors with a wild, whimsical kind of intriguing energy that you can’t get from the bigger brands,” said Yilmaz-Ward. Her parents own a seven-acre ranch in the Castro Valley, and the Delphinium partners use some of their products for their confectionery.
Delphiniums Christmas jams and mulled wine mix. Photo: Delphinium
Along with candies, we tried Delphinium’s Earl Gray Shortbread Cookies ($ 8-21), a packet of seasoned pecans ($ 12), and a trio of glasses ($ 35): a black plum jam, eggnog milk jam, and a spice mix for the manufacture of light bulbs wine. Delphinium also makes candy bars ($ 12) made with Valrhona Jivara 40% milk chocolate, caramelized cocoa nibs, and a pinch of Maldon sea salt.
The expansion of Delphinium’s candy selection is at the top of the partners’ agenda after the holidays, especially as spring will bring new flavors with it.
Of course, the pandemic affects everything logistical as they are figuring out if they will be shipped outside of the Bay Area and how to most effectively scale them.
“We’re always bustling about ideas, but the candy is our baby,” said Russ. “We learn so much about fillings and our customers and their preferences.”
While it’s a precarious time for any new business, the two are excited about their new business and look forward to what lies ahead.
“We had to completely change our entire schedule,” said Russ. “Fortunately, as we opened our own space, the ball rolled very slowly so we could regroup and re-analyze to see what we wanted to do and what was possible during that time with all these uncertainties.”
While there is no doubt that COVID is horrific for the entire industry, Russ said, “This is not at all what we intended, but it is better than what we first envisioned.”
Yilmaz-Ward added that they are glad they can indulge people at a time when they are so needed.
“People are being drawn out of their sourdough phase and their banana bread phase,” she said. “The holidays are coming and people are depressed that they are being forced to be home. It’s not as cozy and quaint as it was at the beginning. People are looking for something to enjoy and it’s nice to be able to offer them something special that they can’t do for themselves. “
Delphinium offers nationwide shipping and free deliveries to customers in the East Bay.
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