Love chocolate? Chef Santosh Tiptur has opened the restaurant of your dreams. Tiptur, the executive chef at DC’s CoCo Sala restaurant, launched his new venture The Conche last month at the Village at Leesburg.
The Conche, named for the ingenious 19th century invention that revolutionized the blending process for chocolate, boasts a 300-square-foot chocolate lab where diners can see the pastry and confectionary teams in action. The restaurant offers a savory dinner menu—with dishes like cocoa nib crusted scallops and cocoa-rubbed New York strip steak, in addition to desserts to die for and a boutique selling handmade chocolates. And this fall, look for a carry-out window with European-style hot chocolate.
Tiptur, 46, lives near Dulles with his wife and two children. Just before the restaurant’s grand opening June 22, he talked with Loudoun Now about his enduring love of chocolate—and how it all started with a Cadbury Eclair.
Loudoun Now: Where did the concept come from?
Santosh Tiptur: Our idea is to have our guests enjoy chocolate in many different ways—in our savory foods, in our desserts, in our cocktails, and we make our own confections. … I’ve been a pastry chef for 28 years. I love working with chocolate. It’s my weakness. … Nine years ago, we opened CoCo Sala in Washington, DC. It’s exactly the same concept and it’s been very well received and is very unique to DC. I’ve lived in [Loudoun] for the last nine years. I said there’s so much development here, it’s time to open up something. … At first I wanted to open just a chocolate shop, but looking at how people appreciate what we can do with chocolate, I want to showcase as much as I can.
LN: Tell me more about the savory dishes.
ST: The cocoa itself doesn’t have any sugar content when it’s a bean. It has a nice flavor, especially coming from different parts of the world. Some of the beans come from South America and they have nice floral and tropical fruit aromas. Some of the beans from Africa have a nice earthy, bitter, acidic—almost like a red berry—nose to it. And they work well with savory food. … I use it almost like a spice.
LN: Are you incorporating chocolate in the bar program?
ST: Our GM [Samet Yuksekgonul] is an amazing mixologist. He worked with us at CoCo Sala. He infuses cocoa and herbs into his bases. He does sous vide [infusion] of jalapeno and cucumber and basil into vodka and sometimes into bourbon and creates a cocktail. We have many unique versions of it and we’ll continue to add more chocolate-related cocktails and martinis soon.
LN: Tell me about the rest of your team.
ST: My sous chef’s name is Jeff Collins. He was my sous chef when we opened Coco Sala. Kathleen [Faliskie] is our pastry chef and Sara [Dobson] is our chocolatier. The rest of the team is pretty young and we’re trying to look for talented people to join our team in the kitchen and in the front of the house. …We have so many different components—the retail part, the chocolate room…
LN: Tell me more about the chocolate and pastry program.
ST: Our chocolate lab is around 300 square feet. Our intention is to make all the chocolate confections here. We have a little boutique area in the front and we’ll sell them from there. At the moment, we’re doing 12 different types of bonbons—all unique flavors using the highest quality chocolate. … During the daytime, this room is occupied with making chocolate. In the future, we plan to do some classes in [the chocolate lab]. We’re planning to do kids’ summer camps. … For the adults, we’re looking to have them come here and do team building events, corporate events, wine and chocolate pairings, beer and chocolate pairings, whiskey and chocolate pairings. … In the evenings, we dedicate the room to plating the desserts. Kathleen and her assistant make beautiful plates throughout the evening, and guests can watch. On weekends, we have all the kids lined up there in the window looking at the plating.
LN: Tell me about your background. Where did you learn your craft?
ST: I grew up in India. … At that time, there were not many different companies doing chocolate in India—the only company was Cadbury. The first time I ever tasted chocolate was a reward for helping my mom and I got to taste Cadbury’s eclairs—a milk chocolate with a soft-centered caramel. Ever since, I always wondered how it was made.
I wanted to be a pilot but my parents were not very adventurous about me leaving India. My dad owns a pharmacy and he wanted me to be part of the business, but I never had any interest in pharmacy. I said, “no, I have to do what I want to do.” I went to the pastry school in Bangalore and heard one of the professors saying that someone who graduated was working in Miami for a cruise line and that stuck in my mind. … I started working for the Taj group of hotels, luxurious five-star hotels in India. I was working for a pastry chef from Switzerland and he inspired me a lot—he taught me a lot of principles and discipline over the years.
I decided to come to the U.S. … I worked for Royal Caribbean for seven years and then I joined Seabourn Cruise Line, an ultra luxury line, so I was pretty much in charge of managing the pastry and bakery program. I left the cruise lines after 12 years and joined the Ritz Carlton company in San Juan Puerto Rico. In 2007, I met a wonderful lady, Nisha Sidhu, who had a vision to open CoCo Sala. We opened CoCo Sala in 2008.
LN: What brought you to Loudoun?
ST: We were living in an apartment in Falls Church. We have two kids and wanted to move into a single family [home]… We didn’t know much about this area back then, but we met our wonderful neighbors and saw how nice it is to raise a family here. Even though the commute was painful, it was good for the family. I love to be in Loudoun County.
LN: You were always a pastry chef. When you expanded into the savory side did you have to re-educate yourself?
ST: When I was going to school, we [learned] the savory side, but I never had so much interest in the savory so I stuck with pastry. But since I’ve been well traveled and have met some of the best chefs in the world, I’ve seen so many things, my palate is sophisticated and I’m always curious to learn new things. As a young boy, I used to go grocery shopping for the house. I knew the markets so well. … I used to pick the best vegetables and the best produce and the best spices.
LN: When you’re cooking at home for your family, what do you like to make?
ST: My kids and my wife like Mexican or Italian. Every time I go to Chicago, I have to go and dine in [Rick Bayless’] restaurant. It’s so good. It’s contemporary Mexican with very authentic flavors. … We invite friends for parties and it’s pretty much like in a restaurant. … I like to cook while they’re enjoying and make one dish at a time.
LN: Do you have any tips for home cooks or bakers?
ST: I would say that whatever you had as a bad experience in your childhood that remains in your mind—whether it’s broccoli or raisins—every ingredient, every vegetable is good. … If you use them the right way, everything is delicious.
The Conche is at 1605 Village Market Blvd. Suite J108 in Leesburg and is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and for Sunday brunch. The chocolate boutique is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. For more information, go to the-conche.com.