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Walnut Hill School for the Arts

Catching Up with Julia Choi '03

This month, we had the opportunity to chat with Julia Choi, a graduate of our Music Department, who recently opened a new chocolate shop in Montclair, New Jersey. Julia caught us up on her years since graduating and her journey to a culinary career.

 

What brought you to Walnut Hill originally, and what was your experience like as a music student here? Do you have a favorite memory from those years?

I was looking for a high school for the arts where I could get competitive education on academics and music, and Walnut Hill seemed to provide both that I was looking for! Plus, it was close to major cities such as Boston and New York, the capital of the arts. My experience at the Hill was a warm and familial one—I felt like I was part of the family from day one and felt very accepted and encouraged.

I have a lot of favorite memories, but I must point to all the wonderful performances I got to be in. Especially when my buddy Ethan and I got to play on the radio show From The Top with Yo-Yo Ma.

 

Catch us up on the years since you graduated—what did you do after Walnut Hill, and how did that lead you to the culinary career you have now?

Are you ready? OK, so first off I started my college program as pre-med, graduated with a psychology degree, worked in advertising agencies, went to a culinary school for baking, worked in a few of the best restaurants in NYC, worked as a food stylist, and now opened a craft bean-to-bar chocolate shop with my husband, Roger.

 

Congratulations on the recent opening of your chocolate shop, Vesta Chocolate! Can you tell us about the inspiration for this new business venture, and any plans or dreams for its future?

Thank you! Vesta is the Roman goddess of the hearth, keeper of the home and family, and we thought it was very befitting! We roast our cacao beans in-house to make chocolate, and then make all confections, baked goods, and spreads using that very chocolate. We felt that there was a gap between craft bean-to-bar chocolate making and confections and the everyday chocolate products people consume. At Vesta, we are trying to bridge that gap and help people apply delicious chocolate (that’s made without commercial preservatives and emulsifiers!) to their everyday living.

 

Do you find that your arts education influences the way in which you approach your work in your current field? If so, in what ways? 

Absolutely! Whether I liked it or not, I had to practice in order to learn a music piece, and then to be able to perform onstage. That drive and discipline has stuck with me, and to this day we strive to push ourselves to be better in all ways that we can. I was also taught that music is nothing without heart, without soul. I believe that chocolate is exactly the same. Chocolate made beautifully with fancy technique is great, but the one that is made with heart and care is out of this world. That’s the best lesson I learned in life—that whatever you choose to do has to come from your heart.

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