Willy Wonka-Inspired ‘Candy Alchemist’ Spins Sugar Into Pure Imagination : The Salt : NPR

The Eugene J. Candy Co., which opened a year ago in Brooklyn, stocks offbeat novelties like wax fangs as well as its own experimental confections.

Courtesy of Eugene J.


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Courtesy of Eugene J.

The Eugene J. Candy Co., which opened a year ago in Brooklyn, stocks offbeat novelties like wax fangs as well as its own experimental confections.

Courtesy of Eugene J.

Inside a tiny, hard-to-find storefront in Brooklyn lies the darkly whimsical world of a most unusual “candy alchemist.”

He calls himself “Eugene J.,” and this real-life Willy Wonka is whipping up his own new confections across town from where Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will open on Broadway later this month.

Not much is known about this quiet man in black, who prefers to keep the focus on the candy. Behind a purple satin curtain, he toils away on his latest invention.

Eugene J.’s panning machine, which uses a motorized tumbler to give FG. Freaks their bumpy, crunchy outer shell

Allyson McCabe for NPR


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Allyson McCabe for NPR

“There are so many variables: the temperature, the humidity, you have to look at solubility charts, when you add certain ingredients, at what compositions, at what times,” he explains. “Since it’s a seven-hour process, you get kind of taken away. You pretty much have to put in earplugs and enter a state of Zen.”

As hundreds of pellets tumble hypnotically inside a revolving silver sphere, Eugene J. recalls some of his earliest prototypes.

“Everyone else had an Easy-Bake Oven,” he says. “I had this candy-making kit with a little double boiler and little gizmos to cast gummies into little molds.”

Eugene J. studied chemical engineering at Cooper Union, where lab work taught him how to properly conduct experiments, take meticulous notes, and learn from his mistakes. In a small studio apartment, he continued making candy in his spare time.

“They built a kitchenette into a closet, ” he recalls, “so I didn’t have much in the way of facilities.”

But he did have imagination. Using a hot plate and a small convection oven, he fashioned a makeshift lab to fabricate gummies using common household ingredients like corn syrup and gelatin packets. He didn’t succeed, but he was undeterred.

After college Eugene J. took a job in green manufacturing,…

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