The Design of All Things

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In my day-to-day life I create graphic and digital designs, but when I really look — I see that design transcends all and applies to everything I do. Even cooking.

Before the holidays I attended an evening of chocolate decorating on the Upper West Side at Voilà Chocolat with the Harvard Women’s Club of NY. It was a chance to play and let your inner child out. Once you enrobed your truffle in dark melted chocolate you could be an artist, by adding toppings of your choice. We then took the balance of the chocolate left over and forged unique bars. I made mine look like an oversized cookie.

I got a compliment from the left, then I got a compliment from the right and a comment that I must have done this before (it was my first time). Then one of the assistants said he noticed I had designed an unusual topping combination he had never seen before.

The next step was packaging our delights in a sophisticated set up that looked extremely professional when completed; and Voila! — a gorgeous looking and tasting present to share.

I often take this all for granted, it’s what I do everyday, though now I realize it is a gift I possess and love to share with others.

Contact me with your creative project challenges — it will be fun and possibly very delicious.

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The Spirit of Cacao Tasting

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This past Saturday was a bit cold and gloomy, but not inside Back Label Wine Merchants cozy back room. That is where 25 curious chocolate and spirits enthusiasts gathered to taste 8 new experiences from around the world. Mark Christian of the C-Spot and the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund spoke about the chocolates and what makes them heirloom designation, Natasha Soto-Albors of BLWM explained her spirit choice pairings then I discussed the importance of packaging and its effects on why you purchase what you do and showcased the Heirloom Chocolate Series package Mark and I worked together on.

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Our line up was:

#1 Designation VII

Spirit — Tuthilltown Cassis Liqueur (NY)

Chocolate —  Origin: Maya Mountain, Belize / Barsmith: Brasstown (USA) / Cacáo-content: 70%

#2 Designation IX

Spirit — Bittermen’s Citron Sauvage (OR)

Chocolate —  Origin: Piedra de Plata, Ecuador / Barsmith: TO’aK (Ecuador) / Cacáo-content: 73%

#3 Designation II

Spirit — Catskills Provisions NY Honey Rye (NY)

Chocolate —  Origin: Beníano, Bolivia / Barsmith: Oialla (Denmark) / Cacáo-content: 78%

#4 Designation Preliminary

Spirit — Old New Orleans Cajun Spice Rum (LA)

Chocolate —  Origin: Purús, Brazil / Barsmith: Luisa Abram (Brazil) / Cacáo-content: 81%

My fave pairings in order were 3, 1, 4, 2.

One of the highlights was the chance to try the TO’aK sample disks from Ecuador. This bar at $300 a pop is the most expensive in the world. I was very curious to find out what makes it so special. I did like its very mature, grown up flavor, but as discussed earlier much of the hoopla is the cost of wonderful packaging and store presentation of the bar. Well done.

As a bonus, one of the guests, Glenn Petriello of Glennmade Craft Chocolates  gave out samples of his two heirloom chocolate bars whose beans originate from Belize and Ecuador. Glenn is a new bean to bar producer in Hoboken “yeah” and has 6 single origin dark chocolates in his line.

There were many lively questions and discussions and was so much fun that when it was over no one wanted to leave, but eventually we had to go ;-(

The quote of the day from our package “Save the Earth: It’s the only planet with chocolate”.

A Taste for Chocolate

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I recently attended my first Underground Chocolate Salon by Megan Giller of Chocolate Noise at Voilà Chocolat. Voilà is a unique experience on the Upper West Side where you can make your own truffles, bars and mendiants, etc. in dark, milk or white chocolate and get creative with toppings.

Megan is a food/chocolate writer I met at the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund (HCP) tasting a few months ago. She has fallen in love with chocolate and invited a group of eleven of us to sample some dark chocolates from around the world made with beans from either Peru or the Dominican Republic. She also recommended a book, Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light by Mort Rosenblum, which ended up on my tasting notes near the roasted beans and the caramelized cocoa nib.

The interesting part of the evening for me was that numerous attendees photographed my tasting notes, which consisted of two small napkins side by side with scribbles and a bite of each chocolate.

I was told that my set up was unique and very organized. The designer in me always comes out in mysterious ways.

After an hour and a half of laughing, tasting and discussing we unanimously chose:

Chocolarder of Cornwall, England – Asháninka 70% from Ene River Valley, Peru

Confusing name for a terrific bar, lucky for them I don’t care what they are called. You can see in the photo their bar has the ultimate glossy shine to it.

Our unanimous loser was:

Hexx – 70% Marañon Peru, made in Las Vegas

And squarely in the middle:

Valrhona – 70% Noir Andoa Peru, made in France

The other makers were:

Wellington Chocolate Factory – 70% Dominican Republic, made in New Zealand

Maraná – 70% Piura Peru, made in Peru

Cool to compare the lighter color of this bar against the Dominican Republic bars.

Dandelion Chocolate – 70% Zorzal, Dominican Republic, made in San Francisco

Fresco – 72% Dominican Republic, made in Washington State

ChocoMuseo – Caramelized Cocoa Nibs, made in Peru

 

Food of the Gods at the FFS*

FFS Blog LIAttending the Fancy Food Show at the Jacob Javitz Center for the first time Monday was an experience. I had always envisioned it would be too overwhelming — and it was — but in a good way. I decided to narrow the field by concentrating on a list of chocolate companies and in the process stumbled upon some very innovative food companies (plus really great cheese.) Two of the products that stopped me in my tracks were from the Wild Hibiscus Flower Co., which makes both whole hibiscus flowers sweetened to drop into a champagne glass or stuffed with goat cheese and a pink sea salt infused with the dried hibiscus flower.

Most of the chocolates I sampled were small, artisan, bean to bar, meaning that the cacao beans are sourced from around the world then roasted, manufactured and packaged by the maker. This is where the most innovative new business is headed. Some are all about the bean and others may be enhanced with unique flavors like the citrus fruit Yuzu.

A fun example from a regular chocolate producer, Moonstruck, uses Oregon craft beers to flavor the Ganache filling then enrobe and mold it into the shape of bottle caps (including the beer manufacturers logo on top.)

The trend I noticed in my conversations at this show and over the weekend at the Fine Chocolate Industry Assoc. and International Chocolate Award events is that many bean growers are beginning to create their own product and keep more of the profit in their own country. The three that I spoke with are from Bolivia, Ecuador and Madagascar. It will be interesting to see if the taste differs when chocolate is created at it’s source.

*Chocolate — In 1753, Linnaeus designated the tree Theobroma cacao, which translates to “cacao, food of the gods.”