Episode #5: Daniel Sklaar from Fine & Raw - The Fabricant Way
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Episode #5: Daniel Sklaar from Fine & Raw

The winding journey that built the Willy Wonka of Bushwick.

Today I’ll be talking to Daniel Sklaar from Fine and Raw in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  I found Daniel thanks to Monkey (he’s my guest on the second episode!).  He referred to him as the Willy Wonka of Bushwick, and how could I resist meeting someone with such a nickname?  Daniel’s chocolate factory is one of the most fascinating places you’ll find in this neighborhood: the smells captures once you enter the store and the where the magic happens is just there, in front of you.  

Be wild and precious, keeping yourself fresh and being patient. Be curious. Always have that thing inside you heart that keeps you exploring.


Jennifer Dopazo: Hi Daniel.

Daniel Sklaar: Hi Jen.

Jennifer Dopazo: I read an interview where you said that your goal was to save the world through comics and with chocolate, do you mind telling me a little bit more about that?

Daniel Sklaar: Sure. Let’s see, where do I start? That notion came about maybe six and a half years ago. At that time I was probably influenced by way too many comics. Lived the life of fancy and disillusion flight, which is a wonderful place to be. In that reality I dream of saving the world was born. Obviously the best way to do that is with chocolate.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great. That’s where the saving the world comes from is the comics, the whole idea that there’s always a hero.

Daniel Sklaar: That and also there’s something in everyone that is nurturing and wants to improve and grow on some level. The extreme example of that is the world.

Jennifer Dopazo: True.

Daniel Sklaar: Why not embrace that idea in it’s fanatical version and cover it in chocolate?

Jennifer Dopazo: I love that. I understand that your idea behind Fine And Raw is to [inaudible 00:01:45] safe chocolate from the mass production processes. Why is that? Why do you want to do that? What made you decide to do that?

Daniel Sklaar: I love authentic food. One of my favorite things is [00:02:00] going to the farmer’s market and hanging out with farmers and seeing what they have and chatting to them about food and then getting together with a bunch of my friends and cooking up that food.

Jennifer Dopazo: OK.

Daniel Sklaar: The only way to improve that scenario would be for me to go to the farm and grow the food myself. I think that there’s a connection in life between your food and how it then rolls over into other aspects of your life. If you really enjoy your food you’re bringing enjoyment into your life, which has a ripple effect of enjoyment into further things. Now, not all food is really food. We live in this very interesting time period where we have food-like substances.

Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah.

Daniel Sklaar: It’s important for people to know the
difference [inaudible 00:03:08] pretty latent. Chocolate being my passion I wanted to help create connection with people’s relationship with chocolate.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great, chocolate’s delicious so why not?

Daniel Sklaar: Basically what I’m saying is I just get to eat a shit ton of chocolate and I rationalize it very well.

Jennifer Dopazo: Great, in 2007 you spent three years traveling and then when you came back to New York, that’s when you started your whole chocolate adventure somehow, you embraced chocolate as part of your life. Was there something during that trip or was it something that you could share with us that made you make that decision?

Daniel Sklaar: I’ve been obsessed with chocolate [00:04:00] my entire life, just so you know the thing about obsession is that it’s often veiled and you’re just enjoying the obsession without being self aware of it. When I actually stopped being a traveling gypsy and had to fit into the real world, as they say reality sucks because you have to pay rent. I had to do something about that. What transpired was finding chocolate in the kitchen where what I was doing in the kitchen was being a chef. The short of the long is that when I was in the kitchen as a chef I wanted to throw chocolate into every single dish, which is absurd. I had to do something about it because that does make for a successful chef. It does make for a successful chocolate maker.

Jennifer Dopazo: That was basically your hint that chocolate was going to be part of your life anyway because you really wanted to incorporate it.

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah.

Jennifer Dopazo: Then going back to your experience at home, you started this whole new adventure, let’s call it that way by making truffles at home in your kitchen. I read that you parents really loved it and there was all this support around you. How did that make you do it, go for it, and what was the push around it? Did you feel that support was what you really needed?

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah, absolutely, the support of your friends and family is paramount. When you have that kind of love thrown at you you do feel like you [00:06:00] can conquer the world.

Jennifer Dopazo: Did you have trouble related to chemistry and how you mix all these ingredients and you make this wonderful product. I read somewhere the way you set up the factory was kind of that way, some sort of lab that people can just come in and see the process. Why is it important for you that people see the process and they can experience how it is to make chocolate?

Daniel Sklaar: Several things about the factory, it’s not just a chocolate factory, this is a time machine, it’s a place where we produce imagination first and then chocolate second. When people come in here, they really understand the essence of what’s going on, that idea. By a time machine I mean when you walk in here, you get transported back into your childhood regardless of who you are. The way that the factory is set up with it being an open plan and really transparent helps that whole process, helps you go down the rabbit hole a little bit easier.

Jennifer Dopazo: Somehow helps people get excited about it, right?

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah, completely. People freak out when they come here, it’s amazing.

Jennifer Dopazo: It’s a good freak out.

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah.

Jennifer Dopazo: You mentioned in an interview that the original logo of Fine And Raw was a collaboration work between you and an artist friend of yours. You gave her images of chocolate and record images, why that mix? What did you want these two images to brand and basically become an identity for your company?

Daniel Sklaar: What I did was I took the things that I was completely in love with at the time [00:08:00] one was this record label credenza, there was some of my favorite producers putting out the best records that I’ve heard in a while. I paid a bit of homage to them and I took the, they had a Japanese minimal aesthetic to the labels. I was absolutely in love with the music and the design, it was really inspiring. Then, what I was doing was chocolate so I took pictures and images of chocolate trees and plants and [inaudible 00:08:44] and just fused the two alchemically.

Jennifer Dopazo: It’s basically giving graphics of chocolate, the treatment of this album that you had as an inspiration, that’s kind of the feel you wanted for it.

Daniel Sklaar: Totally, I did the remix.

Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah definitely.

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah.

Jennifer Dopazo: Let’s talk about cowgirls, what’s …

Daniel Sklaar: Yeehaw.

Jennifer Dopazo: What’s different or special of this line and why cowgirls? What’s the inspiration of it?

Daniel Sklaar: They started about five years ago in my loft in Williamsburg when Williamsburg was still this frontier. It was the epicenter of Americana and art and culture and youth rebellion, all these things. What got represented there was tattoos, pinups, and dive bars, that’s pretty much all their was and one crappy grocery store.

When my crew decided let’s have some fun and start designing new labels, let’s take where we are and create an extension of that we started messing around with [inaudible 00:10:19] and cowgirls and slowly but surely we developed our little posse of bold individualistic bad ass cowgirls.

Jennifer Dopazo: Are they any different, the ingredients or the flavors, or it’s just like …

Daniel Sklaar: It’s actually a very interesting design project in terms of there were flavors matched to different cowgirls and then the flavors changed and then the girls changed and then the flavors changed and then we were like all right fine, let’s just finalize the girls and then once we’ve done that put that aside and finalize the flavors, the whole project took five years.

Jennifer Dopazo: Oh wow.

Daniel Sklaar: It was over five years.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s a good way of putting it.

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah.

Jennifer Dopazo: Would you say the boldness of those cowgirls, then you had to match them with the flavors you were experiencing with, or what …

Daniel Sklaar: Both of those components of doing a project are so integral to each other and at the same time completely divorced. You can create an image that you think is perfect, you fall in love with it, and then you get a sense of the flavor, all right cool, let’s [00:12:00] pull out this flavor. Then when you start to put together a collection of flavors you’re like, “Actually no, the flavor sequence doesn’t work, we need to change this flavor to espresso, we need to change that flavor to almond and this one to smoked salt.”

Then it becomes this game of musical chairs, flavors, and cowgirls. By the end of it you’ve eaten more chocolate than you should have and you’re totally high on chocolate and then you have all your artist friends collaborating and artists are bat shit crazy as it is, they don’t mind you feeding them chocolate the whole time.

Jennifer Dopazo: Oh my God. That’s amazing.

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah. Things happen in this creative chaos. Eventually you come to a point where you go, all right that’s enough.

Jennifer Dopazo: We have to …

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s good for now.

Daniel Sklaar: It’s good for now, we can’t come up with anymore excuses to come up with another flavor because we can’t eat anymore chocolate at this point.

Jennifer Dopazo: I read an article where you talked about the community of artists around you and how they’ve been a great part of Fine and Raw’s image, basically. The thing that I see when I see Fine And Raw’s chocolates and even the business cards and the stickers, there’s a sensitivity to art and to hand drawn and all these different artistic treats to it. Do you think that community was the one who made it that way or was something that you guys just found each other and it happened?

Daniel Sklaar: The community made it that way, it wasn’t that we found each other, it was more that already existed, came together to reduce more of what already existed. This is just who we are and what we do.

That was always the way it is, just in terms of thinking about it from a product point of view when you make a product, it’s an experience from the first time that you see it to the point where you throw the wrapper away. It’s way too much fun to sidestep any potential creative projects or any part where you can include your imagination, it adds to the flavor.

Jennifer Dopazo: If you were in a different place with a different community it would look different then, do you think? Do you think it eventually would just be …

Daniel Sklaar: I think it would be different, although how different … I am from South Africa and if I’d stayed there and I lived there, instead of doing cowgirls we would have do Zulu warriors.

Jennifer Dopazo: OK.

Daniel Sklaar: It would have just been localized. I always make things that are important to me and my life and my friend’s lives. The community is actually the same community, just different influences. Artists are artists everywhere.

Jennifer Dopazo: The first time I heard about you, which was through Monkey, he told me, “You have to go meet the Willy Wonka of Brushwig,” [00:16:00] what’s up with that name?

Daniel Sklaar: That’s funny. I supposed it’s really a fun thing for people to call me, it’s a little bit bizarre when people say that. I think, “Wait, hold on, no, incongruences, does not compute, does not make any sense.” But hey, I will own it.

Jennifer Dopazo: Have you called yourself that way or you wouldn’t?

Daniel Sklaar: Personally I don’t call myself that. If I was going to take on some combination of that name it would definitely be more Bushwiggy Wonka of Chocolate, that seems to be a lot more rational somehow.

Jennifer Dopazo: OK.

Daniel Sklaar: It’s irrational sound.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s a great name.

Daniel Sklaar: That’s totally a great name.

Jennifer Dopazo: Let’s say artist name somehow are like …

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah. It just seems to easy, that’s all.

Jennifer Dopazo: OK.

Daniel Sklaar: I don’t know why, I want there to be more of a challenge in the name. There should be a silent Z or EH somewhere and I am like, “Yeah that’s me.” Willy Wonkagh, silent gh.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s a good one, maybe you should start hashtag or something with that and people will pick it up.

Daniel Sklaar: Completely, #silentgh.

Jennifer Dopazo: See that’s a good one.

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah.

Jennifer Dopazo: Why do you think people need Fine And Raw in their lives?

Daniel Sklaar: Why do they need Fine And Raw in their lives?

Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah.

Daniel Sklaar: They don’t need Fine And Raw in their lives.

Jennifer Dopazo: No?

Daniel Sklaar: They want Fine And Raw in their lives.

Jennifer Dopazo: Oh that’s even better.

Daniel Sklaar: It’s a subtle difference. let’s get down to the psychology of it. Really you don’t need much for your body, but on a spiritual level people do need it, but on a day to day level, people want it. What it brings to your life is incredible [inaudible 00:18:15] indulgence all the way through to [inaudible 00:18:19] it’s chocolate, it’s a strait up aphrodisiac.

Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah.

Daniel Sklaar: Whatever level you choose to engage energies and power and mythology, it’s your personal prerogative, I don’t have to be involved in that. However, Fine And Raw, definitely facilitates.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great.

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah.

Jennifer Dopazo: It’s been great talking to you, I really enjoy your energy. I wanted to see if you could share anything to those curious minds that will listen to this and get to know you and how would you … There’s something that I like to call the creative courage that we need to create or do whatever we do as artists and as daily business person. I just wanted to see if you have any tip or any wisdom words that you want to share with people who listen to you today.

Daniel Sklaar: Absolutely. I’ve got so many pearls I can string a necklace.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s amazing.

Daniel Sklaar: Let me try and focus.

Jennifer Dopazo: OK.

Daniel Sklaar: There’s several things that come to mind. Among them is being wild and precious, keeping yourself fresh and being patient and curious and always having that thing inside your heart that keeps you exploring.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great, that’s beautiful. Thank you.

Daniel Sklaar: You’re very welcome. It’s been fun!

Jennifer Dopazo: It’s been great, we’re spending a morning at this wonderful chocolate factory, that’s a dream.

Daniel Sklaar: Yeah completely.