I’ve only met three people in my life who don’t like chocolate. I don’t understand. I really, really, really don’t understand… I see them as tragically flawed creatures. Are they real? What must it be like? Terribly miserable state, I’m sure.
I’m convinced that if these people really gave chocolate a chance, they’d change their minds. It’s a mental thing, I’m sure. It can’t be physical… I mean, I used to be very allergic to it as a child (traumatic, I know). At birthday parties, I was the “freak” who couldn’t have any chocolate cake, or had to scrape all of the chocolate icing off…
Like all things forbidden (especially to a kid), the mystique and wonder of chocolate was intensified by my abstinence. What made matters worse, I knew I was missing out on something good because everyone loved it! It wasn’t like being allergic to broccoli or brussel sprouts (both of which I love, by the way – if prepared well), foods that are often cursed and may yield no additional pleasure to life – this was chocolate, universally loved and adored. So what happened? Funny you should ask.
One Halloween, I won a class history quiz contest (I was, and still am a nerd). My prize: a 1lb. chocolate bar. What to do? Well, I could be a good boy and share the chocolate with my friends or family. Or I could keep it for myself and secretly eat it. After all, how bad could it really be for me? I mean, it’s not like I knew I was allergic to chocolate… I had never had it. For all I knew, my “allergy” could have been an incorrect diagnosis by an incompetant doctor… or, an evil conspiracy by doctors to hoard more chocolate for themselves – they saw me as a threat – they could tell that giving me the go-ahead on chocolate I could put a significant dent in their share of the stuff… Well, there was only one way to test it…
I gorged. That very afternoon, after getting home, I went into my room, closed the door and ate the whole pound of chocolate in less than an hour. Like the mayor in the movie Chocolat, deprived of the luscious dark wonder, I was seduced and immediately succumbed to its sweet-bitter rich darkness and fell head-long in love with chocolate.Like I said in my previous post “do play with your food, part ii,” never doubt Mother Nature – and that includes science. The doctors had been right. Even though I had never eaten chocolate, the chemical tests could not lie. I was sick as a dog for three days. I told my parents what I had done. They weren’t mad at me. Worry and concern for my health turned slowly into what I call “parental righteousness” – you know, the whole, “well, I hope you learned your lesson” attitude. Yep, I sure did. It was a painful lesson… but one well worth enduring. The result of my suffering was a miraculous disappearance of my allergy to chocolate. I was inexplicably cured, and my onlyIn the years since, I am quite sure that I’ve consumed enough chocolate to have made up for the childhood years without. I have grown to favor dark chocolate over milk and white (which isn’t really chocolate because it contains no cacao liquor, only cacao butter) chocolates, which I find too sweet. The more bitter, the better. In fact, every night, before I go to bed, I nibble on a piece of
100% Ariba heirloom cacao from Equador or a bar of 85% cacao made by Valrhona. The Ariba 100% is extremely nutty and earthy. The 85% Valrhona, if you really let it sit on your tongue and let it melt into the roof of your mouth, develops a nice deep body like red wine flavor. It’s exquisite.Also, I have tried some of the “chic” chocolates that are the latest trend in the confectionary world. These fancy chocolates are worlds above your traditional nougette or cream filled Russell Stover’s or See’s Candies chocolates, and even make lady Godiva look like a poor man’s wife (although ironically, she is legendary for riding nude through the streets of the village to protest her husband’s oppressive tax policy).I’m talking about
boutique chocolatiers like Jacque Torres (a.k.a. “Mr. Chocolate) in New York, Diane Kron’s K’s Chocolatier in Los Angeles, and Katrina Markhoff of Vosges Haute Chocolatier based out of Chicago. These chocolatiers spare no expense (and neither will you when you’re at the register) at acheiving their innovative and creative approaches to chocolate. Especially, Markhoff is famous for her unique combinations. Her chocolate truffles are infused with some of the most unexpected ingredients.The last time I was in Chicago, I swung by Markhoff’s boutique located right off of Michigan Avenue. I picked out a couple, (okay, so maybe a few) to try. The “Rooster” comes from her “Italian collection” (it’s the tall conical one). It’s description: bittersweet dark chocolate with Italian Taleggio cheese, organic walnuts and Taihitian vanilla beans. I can’t say that I cared for it too much – the pairing was just a bit too odd for me. On the other hand, the “Balsamico”: Sicilian balsamic vinegar and dark chocolate with hazelnuts, was outstanding (perhaps my favorite of all that I tasted), as was the “Sale de Mer”: milk chocolate with sea salt, burnt sugar caramel, and pine nuts.I also tried a number of truffles from her “
Exotic” collection, including the “Poivre” (dark with Telicherry peppercorns) and “Chef Pascale” (dark with Kirsch and Michigan dried cherry). Both were great. I have to say that I wasn’t a fan of the “Naga” (milk chocolate with Indian curry) or the “Black Pearl” (dark with wasabi and ginger) – both which are her “signature” truffles. From the “Aztec” colleciton, I was taken by the “Red Fire” (dark with Ceylon cinnamon and Ancho chili powder) (see my previous post in conjunction with Letters of Marque post about the “perfect food“).Although Markhoff has some pretty stellar chocolate, I’m not sure that I can say she has the best. I’ve had better – I’m not sure where, but I know that I have had, and no doubt, will have, better. Hers are unique in the combinations, but I’m not sure they all work (for me) and the quality isn’t tops. For one thing, I don’t think her truffles are hand-dipped, which I think improve the quality and texture of the product. Also the flavors infused in Vosges truffles are often too subtle to pick up, as in the “Viola.”
One of the best truffles I do remember having was at Georges Perrier’s Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia. Although the meal was disappointing, among the after-dinner mignardises, Iwas delighted to find a truffle infused with Earl Grey tea. It was wonderful. The server was kind enough to bundle up an extra few for the road.Sometimes, I think, the simpler, the better, which, is probably good. I don’t go and search for good chocolate, rather, good chocolate finds me. So, I guess, I can’t claim to be a true chocoholic… and that’s just fine with me. Until the next good one hits me, I’m more than happy with my midnight nibbles on Ariba and Valhrona.
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Regardless of your chocolate orientation, here are two fun quizzes. I aced the
first and failed the second one miserably.Also, you can indulge in chocolate delights all day (today) on the Food Network. The highlight of the day-long chocolate programming will be the new episode of Iron Chef America (9pm EST) that will pit Mario Batali (of Babbo and a ton of other restaurants in N.Y.C.) against Le Bernardin’s pastry chef, Michael Laiskonis (formerly of Tribute in Detroit). The secret ingredient – what else: chocolate! Although I’ve never had the pleasure of dining under Batali (except for the gelato at Otto Pizzeria and Enoteca), I have had three of Laiskonis’s desserts, including his signature “Egg.” My bets are on Laiskonis for this one.
Laiskonis’s signature “Egg”