Chef Nils Rowland creates custom desserts, cakes, and chocolates in Crème de la Cocoa – a St. Augustine, FL pastry shop he owns with his wife — where the emphasis is on teamwork. We got the chance to speak with Nils Rowland about his influences, and how his roles on television pastry competitions have affected his approach to Crème de la Cocoa’s daily operations.
Meet Chef Nils Rowland
What is your relationship with St. Augustine, FL and your involvement with the community?
My wife and I both grew up in Gainesville, but St. Augustine is where we came to the beach and vacationed. Eventually, we decided we wanted to live where we vacationed and moved here. Once we started Crème de la Cocoa, we started getting a lot more involved in the city and doing charity events. Today, we try to help out as much as we can. We really try to integrate ourselves into the city — to really become a part it. A lot of businesses come and go. We’re trying to be one that’s here forever.
Tell me the story behind Crème de la Cocoa.
When we got into pastry, my wife and I realized we eventually wanted to have a shop. I’d talked about it from the get-go. Crème de la Cocoa came about because it just felt like time for us to do our own thing. Seeing what people were doing around us made us feel that we had a really good shot at being the best at what we wanted to do, so it was time to jump all the way in.
Talk about what you offer here besides chocolate.
A lot of people think Crème de la Cocoa is just a chocolate place, but that’s not necessarily true. One of my specialties is chocolate, but we also offer classes, we do custom cakes, weddings, wholesale, and we just started ice cream. We’re a full-service dessert bakery and confection shop, so we’re sort of a hybrid of everything. And, everything we get into we try to be the best at.
What did you take from your experiences on television?
One of the things that stood out to me the most is that during team activities or team art pieces, it can be hard to get everybody’s ideas to jell together. Sometimes the best way of doing it is having one person as the creative head to take all the ideas and splice them together. When you get into these competition shows on TV, people are very self-invested and can become concerned with what they’re doing more than the overall piece. You can tell when that happens on a team because the show piece will not be cohesive, when everything is supposed to be seamless. The biggest takeaway is that everyone should be a team player.
How has that transferred into your business?
In a lot of businesses, you’ll see there’s a main person and they normally get all of the credit. What I try to do is make everybody on our staff number one, so it’s not really just about me anymore. I try to put them in the spotlight as much as I can. It’s more about helping everybody else get to their personal endgame. Instead of divide, why don’t I just bring everybody under one roof and make one giant dessert think tank?
Who or what have been some of your influences and why?
We’ve been fortunate that our family and friends have been supportive of everything we’ve done. We’ve had positive influences everywhere we’ve turned, but I also think some of the biggest influences are when people don’t believe in you. I’m a really competitive person, so it tends to give me a little more drive.
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming chef?
Perseverance. You have to have grit. There’s going to be stuff that goes wrong and you’re going to have to wade through a bunch of muck, but if you’re willing to get through it, you’ll make it. There’s a saying, “If you can take it you can make it.” It’s so true because nothing goes according to plan. You have to make it work.