The Edible jeweller

Craig Leach

Every Saturday at the far back corner of the Kitchener Market, behind a modest booth, stands Katharina Ortner. The owner of Anna Tolazzi, an artisanal chocolate studio that specializes in handmade indulgences, Ortner has been serving customers her unique creations for almost seven years. Fervently committed to perfecting her skill as a chocolatier, Ortner has found the market to be an ideal environment to share and sell her art without compromise.

“The market gives me the opportunity to do exactly what I want to do, when I want to do it, and how I want to do it.”

Preparing for each Saturday is hard work.

“It’s not an easy lifestyle,” Ortner admits, comparing market day to a “mini exhibition” where she “really tries to put [her] best foot forward every time.”

During the week, Ortner diligently toils away, concocting small pieces of edible jewelry. Some are imbued with Fabergé-esque detail and decadent fillings, while others reveal a more minimalist approach that speaks to the purity of Ortner’s creative process, as well as her conscious choice of ingredients.

“Organic fair trade. That’s the route I wanted to go. It’s really important to me that I don’t base my business on the backs of someone else’s suffering,” shares Ortner. “Suffering has no place in my chocolates – no grief, no pain, no free labour.”

It’s easy to admire Ortner’s unapologetic approach to her craft. Locally sourcing ingredients, oftentimes from other market vendors, and making everything from scratch, she places very strict principles upon which Anna Tolazzi operates.

“I have a certain standard for my work and it has to hit that standard every day,” she says. “If it doesn’t, it’s just not going to make it to the market.”

As complex as the alchemy behind making chocolate is, Ortner’s approach takes a refreshingly simple stride. “I have this theory,” she says, “if you use the best ingredients possible, find out as much as you can
about the materials, and do it with the best ability, it has to turn out better.”

As much work as the preparation is, Ortner loves her time at the market. She attributes this to the resolve of the other vendors and the appreciation she gets from her customers.

“You have to get up at a godforsaken time in the morning,” says Ortner, who will sometimes wake up at 3:30 a.m. to be ready for the market’s 7 a.m. opening.

Despite this, she says what makes it easy is seeing the other vendors who do the exact same thing. “I really appreciate the vendors there. For me to show up in the morning, I am totally groggy and I would love to sleep in one day on a Saturday and not go to bed at a ridiculous hour on Friday, but when I am
there, and everyone is there, it’s all gone, it’s forgotten.”

When the market doors open and customers begin to shuffle through, Ortner receives perhaps the biggest payout. “There is something very rewarding about dealing with people who really appreciate what you’re doing. I get that feeling all the time from people I serve. It’s rewarding. I love every single one of my customers. It if wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t do this.”

Anna Tolazzi operates between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., every Saturday at the downtown Kitchener Market.