Kate Frost and Chris Knight, the dynamic duo behind the Southern Forests Chocolate Company, have taken the art of chocolate-making to new heights in Pemberton, Western Australia. Their journey into the world of chocolate is a story of passion, innovation, and a deep connection to the local community.
While not originally from Pemberton, Kate and Chris fell in love with the region when the family purchased a farm there in 1997. The farm became the backdrop for their culinary adventures and eventually led to the set-up of Knights Distillery by Chris’ father, who was somewhat of a pioneer in the liquor industry crafting liquors, gin and schnapps. Meanwhile, Kate's mother-in-law indulged her passion for chocolate making. Kate and Chris, weekend warriors from Perth, joined in the fun, using chocolate as their artistic medium.
As fate would have it, they faced a pivotal decision in 2020 – sell the farm or their property in Perth. The allure of forests triumphed, and they made Pemberton their permanent home. Kate had a background in the tourism industry, training travel agents for Flight Centre, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, her job came to a halt. Chris, who was working as a winemaker for Houghton Wines, saw an opportunity to reopen the distillery cellar door and transform their shared love for chocolate into a business venture.
The decision to dive into the world of chocolate was not made lightly. It meant transitioning from a small-scale operation to a commercial one, a shift that required careful planning and dedication.
Two months before opening Southern Forests Chocolate Company, Kate faced a personal challenge when she accidentally fractured her neck. Despite the physical limitations, the couple persevered. Fate brought them Lou, a backpacker from Uruguay who happened to be a skilled chocolatier at a commercial level. Lou's expertise and knowledge was invaluable, helping to streamline the production process and produce the consistent quality of hand-tempered chocolate at commercial scale.
From the beginning, Kate and Chris established two core principles for their business: using the best available ingredients and sourcing as much as possible from the local community. They forged partnerships with local producers, using Bannister Downs milk and cream, Pemberton Honey, and even freeze-drying fresh berries from Berry Sweet Strawberries.
Southern Forests Chocolate Company prides itself on using top-quality ingredients without preservatives or artificial flavours. Their chocolates are known for unique flavours and combinations, such as the Lime Bon Bon made from Tahitian limes grown in their backyard and the Caramel Coffee and Almond bar with cold-infused Southern Roasting Co. coffee.
Kate and Chris are dedicated to their community. They employ local teenagers, instilling strong work ethics and values while nurturing their development and interests. It’s not so much about the job deliverables, but more what they’ll walk away with – skills for life. The whole team learns skills from chocolate making to packaging to customer service. One of their young employees, Erin, was recently encouraged to bring her idea of a sticky date pudding chocolate into fruition. Erin has a real flare for chocolate making!
What began as a small venture has grown, and Southern Forests Chocolate Co now supplies local retailers and cafes throughout the Southern Forests, as well as European Foods distributer and high-end greengrocers in Perth. “A special shout to the Manjimup Visitor Centre. They wanted to stock the chocolate in the Manjimup and would not give up until I relented. From this initial wholesale deal, further opportunities have followed,” commented Kate.
Their dedication to customer service, coupled with their idyllic location overlooking a dam and vineyard, makes them a must-visit destination. Visitors can immerse themselves in the beauty of the Southern Forests region while savouring the finest chocolates.
When visitors engage with Kate and Chris, or any member of their staff, they can expect warm recommendations for exploring the Southern Forests region, from the Heartbreak Trail to local attractions like the Gloucester Tree and Beedelup Falls. Championing other local attractions like Ampersand Estates, Hidden River Estate and the Pemberton Tramway, is part of their commitment to the region's growth.
Kate and Chris are currently working on a two-day chocolate-making course for locals and visitors, ensuring that the art of chocolate-making thrives in the home kitchen. Watch this space, as it’s set to be released in the next six months.
Kate and Chris are passionate about what they do and warmly welcome anyone who wants to explore the world of chocolate. Their journey from distillery to chocolate artisans exemplifies the power of passion, community, and embracing opportunities when they arise. So, don't miss the chance to visit Southern Forests Chocolate Company, where creativity and quality combine to create a truly exceptional chocolate experience.