Julia Choi Rodriguez
Julia Choi Rodriguez is a long-time creator in the culinary world, first working in advertising on major food brands, then as a pastry chef for top restaurants who turned food stylist. She and husband Roger Rodriguez, a pastry chef and chocolate maker/chocolatier now embark on a new collaborative journey combining their collective culinary experience to open their own business Vesta Chocolate in Montclair, New Jersey.
Julia was born in Seoul, Korea and moved to the U.S. at the age of 14. Her two distinct cultural perspectives have been at the core of her creative philosophy, and she regularly returns to Korea for inspiration.
Julia graduated New York University in 2007 with her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and began her professional career in the advertising world as an account executive for major brands such as Baskin Robbins, Quiznos and Bonefish grill, but she found herself yearning to apply her creativity more directly to food and cooking. She enrolled in the baking and pastry program at Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and upon graduation worked for a few years as a pastry chef at top New York City restaurants including Gramercy Tavern, Jean-Georges, and Bouchon Bakery.
From there she decided to branch out on her own into food styling starting her own business, Baby One More Bite where she married her advertising and culinary backgrounds, styling food for some of the most recognizable brands including, Wendy’s, Starbucks, Guinness, KRAFT, Food Network to name a few. When she is not working on set for clients, she spends her time and skills on set volunteering for non-profit groups such as God’s Love We Deliver.
Julia and Roger recently relocated from Manhattan to New Jersey, Roger’s home state. As a child violinist, she once participated in a radio show with Yo-Yo Ma.
Roger Rodriguez wears many hats. Pastry chef, bean-to-bar Chocolate maker, Chocolatier to name a few. He now joins forces with his wife Julia Choi Rodriguez, a seasoned culinary professional, to open their own chocolate shop, Vesta Chocolate in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. This blend of his professional and personal experiences makes him a truly unique chocolate maker who is celebrated internationally.
He grew up in the beautiful Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where rich cultures of the native Taíno and European influences wonderfully coexist. His grandfather owned a cacao plantation and his grandmother made the best hot chocolate, so it was only natural for Roger to embrace the culture of chocolate. The indigenous flavors of the Dominican Republic are consistently at the core of his work. His family immigrated to New York when he was a teenager, so he retains a blend of the culture from his native motherland and the melting pot of culture of New York City.
After studying graphic design in college, Roger enrolled himself at the esteemed ICE culinary school in hopes to marry the synergy between his love for sweet things and his ability to create. He quickly found his sweet spot in the pastry kitchen. After graduating from ICE, he got his first job at Anthos in New York City, where he started honing his skills as a pastry chef. He went on to some of the city’s most respected kitchens such as Jean-Georges, Gramercy Tavern, and Del Posto where he not only grew as a seasoned pastry chef but also learned his passion for working with chocolate.
While most pastry chefs avoided working with chocolate, Roger was drawn to the challenge and opportunity to explore the infinite possibility of flavor transformation that chocolate offered. Dissatisfied with commercially available chocolate, he sought to create his own to realize the flavors he envisioned. He spent seven years at Cacao Prieto, a small chocolate factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Here, Roger applied his creativity and roots creating bean to bar chocolate exclusively using cacao beans from his native Dominican Republic creating a collection of terroir inspired flavors such as Dominican Spice, Orchid, Vanilla + Cassia, and more.
Roger firmly believes in late Steve Jobs’ philosophy “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” He hopes to keep reimagining the ways he can transport people to a different place, a different dimension through what he creates with chocolate. Lastly, he adds that the very secret to a great chocolate bar is nothing but 100% love.