Every other Monday, we’ll introduce you to a member of the Dandelion community through a Q & A. Stay tuned to meet our chocolate makers, café staff, kitchen team, producers, partners, importers, mentors, and everyone who helps make our chocolate possible. We took a few weeks off for the holidays but we’re back this week with Kai Heimpel, our R & D Assistant who spends his days rescuing machines in distress.
Name: Kai Heimpel
Hometown: Saarbrücken, Germany
Favorite Chocolate: Omnom Licorice & Sea Salt
Worked at Dandelion Since: March 2015
Position: R & D Assistant
What’s your typical day like?
Well, on a typical day I usually have a project in mind. I get to work and I start to work at the project, but inevitably I’ll find something more urgent, a machine that just broke. I’ll take a look at it, and try and fix it. At some point, I’ll get back to my first project, but not before I get caught up in emails or calling a service person or someone to help. You never know when a machine is going to stop working, so it’s really unpredictable. But that’s what I do: projects. Just not always the ones I counted on that day.
So you spend a lot of time repairing broken things?
Basically. At Valencia, something breaks about every week. Sometimes, chocolate gets stuck in between the granite, the steel, and the Delrin (a food-grade acetal resin). Left long enough, it starts to grind down the Delrin and steel, and even the millstones. So we have to keep all the maintained to keep the machines turning at a similar rate.
Last time I saw you, you were elbow deep in the wiring of the tempering machine.
Well, it breaks all the time. It has a big augur screw on an axle in the back that pumps the chocolate, and it’s held by two bearings. Somehow chocolate got into the ball bearings, and chocolate is the darndest things when it gets into machine parts because it grinds down metal surprisingly quickly.
Wait, chocolate beats metal?
Sometimes you can lose a millimeter a month or something weird.
That’s crazy. So what happened this time?
Are you really interested in hearing about this?
Okay. So, the chocolate made the bearing irregular, produced a bunch of heat, and baked the chocolate on. It was black and stinky, and looked like charcoal. I’m actually surprised we didn’t find any diamonds. It was so hard and black that I thought it was a seal, so I was spending half a day on it to get the seal off and then, in a burst of inspiration, I grabbed a spike and chiseled it, and suddenly it broke because it was chocolate! Unbelievable. Now that’s what really excites me.
Can you think of anything more exciting than chiseling baked chocolate off a ball bearing?
Got it. How does San Francisco compare to home?
It’s expensive. And all the streets are straight, it’s confusing. Gas is cheaper and measurements are all in Imperial, which you call Standard, even though it’s not standard anywhere but here. Also there’s Yosemite here and all that. That’s different.
Who is your superhero alterego?
It was a good movie.
Hmm. If you could be any animal, what would you be?
Is a virus an animal?
No. And why would you want to be a virus?
I’m just checking the perimeters of the question.
This is a trick question because humans are animals.
Can I go back to work now?