Most of you are familiar with the quote made famous by the movie “Forest Gump,” “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” For Bridget Labus and Gianina Serrano, chefs and owners of Sixth Course in San Francisco, CA, life is chocolate (truffles to be exact) and every filling is a delight no matter what you get. The ladies of Sixth Course have seen A LOT of chocolate and are dedicated to making the Bay Area a little sweeter. In fact, Gianina’s email signature really says it all stating, “Nobody knows the truffles I’ve seen,” as both she and her partner attribute their innovative chocolates to endless experimentation until the right balance of amazing and delicious is achieved. From handcrafted chocolate truffles to decadent pastries and mouthwatering, artisanal gelato, the Sixth Course proves that dessert is much more than a sweet cap on a meal; it’s a way of life.
Janae Morris (JM): When did you open Sixth Course?
Gianina Serrano (GS): Sixth Course has been in business since 2010 with a focus on chocolate truffles. Our brick and mortar location opened on October 15th and offers dessert pastries and gelato in addition to truffles.
JM: What was the motivation behind your decision to open a shop?
GS: We always fantasized about our own shop but realized it was an absolute necessity as we grew out of the kitchens we were renting. The other deciding factor was that we really required a space that we could design to our specific production needs.
JM: What’s a typical day like in the kitchens/offices of Sixth Course?
GS: Our day starts off with tasting every item on the menu with our morning tea and coffee. This helps us decide what needs to change on the menu or what new things we would rather see. After our morning tasting, we move into a.m. production for service and setting up the shop. We break mid-day to eat again and post on social media. The second half of the day is general production and product development.
JM: The imagery of your truffles is mouthwatering. What inspires some of the flavor combinations you create?
GS: The Bay Area is full of inspiration; the local markets, museums, the food and the cocktails! One of our most popular truffles, the Habanero Passion Fruit Caramel, was inspired from a cocktail made around the corner.
JM: When customers walk away from Sixth Course, what kind of impression do you hope you’ve made, aside from the obvious wish of having them come back?
GS: We want customers to be excited about the dessert course. Sweet treats don’t have to be an afterthought. Pastry can be beautiful, but it can also be fun and approachable without always being surrounded by a fine dining experience.
JM: How often do you offer something new on your menu?
GS: We try to get something new every week, even if it is just a special for the day.
JM: You’ve been in numerous competitions. What was the most exciting win for you? Why?
GS: The first win was the sweetest. We were so pleased everyone was excited about our products. [Writers note: Sixth Course won Best in Salon and Best Truffle at the 2011 San Francisco Chocolate Salon competition.]
JM: Do you ever consider expanding your menu or adding additional Sixth Course establishments in the U.S.?
GS: We are always looking to expand the menu in new ways for our customers. Additionally, we love to play with new ideas and keep the menu fresh. Additional locations are in the foreseeable future.
JM: What would you want people to know about Sixth Course and the individuals behind it?
GS: We love what we do and we hope that people can taste it in our product.
JM: Why are pastries and confections so important to you?
GS: There is always something to learn in pastry, always a new technique, new recipe, a new ingredient to try, always another book to buy. But these are the things that keep us engaged in our craft, it’s why we love what we do, we are never bored!
JM: What is your best-selling item(s)?
GS: Truffles are seasonal favorites for the holidays, and we are notorious for the caramels, second to that are the gelato pops. For those who can’t decide, they always go with a pastry, go figure.
JM: What are some other yummy options people can look forward to experiencing at Sixth Course?
GS: We are looking forward to rolling out the Panini Gelato and candy bars that will be out soon. We also have hand-painted sugar cookie collections in the works.
JM: With food trends and the ever-changing taste buds of foodies across America, how do you stay ahead of the flavor curve?
GS: Food trends will always come and go, but that’s a nice aspect of the industry. We continue with our education as much as possible. It is necessary for keeping our products relevant. We start with working on products we would love to eat and then work from there. We continually fine-tune the product until we have something we love.
JM: I notice how important your carbon footprint is you to in all aspects of your business. Can you tell us more about your decision to make that such a big focus of Sixth Course?
GS: San Francisco has always been working towards greater sustainability, whether it’s composting, recycling or buying local. Recently, sustainable product packaging has been getting better and more readily available. We wanted our packaging and branding to be straightforward, simple, and approachable with an emphasis on the product first.
JM: When you close business for the night, what’s usually the last thought on your mind?
GS: The Post-It on the kitchen door.