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David Lebovitz’s Scooper-Duper Meetup at City Bakery

David Lebovitz and me

David Lebovitz, author of The Perfect Scoop, was at New York’s City Bakery last Sunday for a delicious meet-and-greet. For more than a year, I’ve been reading his blog for the chocolate posts, recipes (try the kouign amman, a caramelized croissant-like cake) and humor.

The last time I was at the City Bakery was when Adam, aka the Amateur Gourmet, celebrated his blog’s second birthday. That was my first time trying the bakery’s legendary chocolate chip cookies and tarts.

pretzel croissant
Photo: The Wandering Eater

This time, I passed another rite of passage: eating my first pretzel croissant. Oh. my. goodness. The outside had that magic shatter factor and a healthy dose of salt. I think Dunkin Hines cakes are too salty, so if I like salty dessert, it must be really good! The inside had a whisper of sweetness, hefty chew and lots of grease (in a good way). Some people complain that City Bakery croissants are too bready, but it worked here.

Also in attendance were Adam (now author of a book memoir), Julie (from A Finger in Every Pie) and Deb (from Smitten Kitchen). I previously met them at various food blogger events, so it was nice to see old faces again.

We (mostly Deb) tried to decode the pretzel croissant’s secret. After careful examination, we guessed that the dough was made with bread whole wheat flour and malt syrup (also found in New York bagels). To get the dark brown pretzel shell, it was probably boiled in lye solution for a couple seconds and sprinkled with salt before baking. According to David, The City Bakery’s recipe is a closely guarded secret, just like that of their hot chocolate.

Julie, several other bloggers and I recently split a 24-pound order of Valrhona chocolate. Her share is still in my apartment. Um Julie, can I just eat it? 🙂 It’s okay that you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet.

Adam was a sweetheart. Fame hasn’t changed him. Actually, he was even nicer now than when I met him two years ago. He remembered my food service trip to New Orleans and was proud of the work that CulinaryCorps was doing.

David Lebovit'z autograph

David was easy going and funny, just like on his blog. At one point, the group talked about being unphotogenic, and David’s motto was, “Does it really matter?” Nice.

I admit that I was a mooch that day. The catch about socializing in New York is that nothing’s free. If you meet somewhere, you’re supposed to support the business and buy something. I rushed into the bakery and went straight to the signing because I could only make it at the end of David’s appearance. In between chatting, I forgot about everything else. As I left, I meant to buy something, but they were packing everything away. Now I have to go back and buy my own pretzel croissant.

City Bakery
3 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011
(212) 366-1414

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Catching up with CulinaryCorps

Left to right: Sandy, me, Danielle, Christine, Courtney and Jeff during an earlier reunion in July.

Although my relief trip to New Orleans was only a couple months ago, I didn’t want my team mates to fade into obscurity. A CulinaryCorps update was in order, so we met for a gluttonous potluck a couple weeks ago.

Jeff graciously opened up his apartment and made Sullivan Street Bakery’s crusty no-knead bread (I make mine with 100% whole wheat flour), chilled zucchini soup and about three other dishes. He also biked in the rain to get heirloom tomatoes for the tuna nicoise salad. Sandy donated kobe beef at $98 a pound, foie gras and aged balsamic vinegar. Everything was in such excess that the foie gras terrine, which is normally spread as sparingly as butter, was cut as if it were cake. The best balsamic vinegars can cost a couple bucks a drizzle, but we poured it like pancake syrup. Man, I felt cheap bringing in stewed chickpeas. Kelli made her famous chocolate-peanut butter mousse cake with an Oreo cookie crust, two layers of crushed corn flakes (if it sounds weird, they’re similar to Rice Krispies) and ganache topping. Oops, I forgot to mention the cheese plate!

My favorite of the lot? The bread, tomatoes and cake. Go figure.

Besides enjoying the meal, there was another reason to celebrate. Christine, the founder of CulinaryCorps, reported that things were getting better in New Orleans. It seemed like a miracle, since some of the conditions seemed hopeless when I went in June. You might remember the Emergency Communities relief kitchen, which had about 2,000 pounds of pre-Katrina chicken. Or how the Cafe Reconcile restaurant was missing 73% of its teen workers and was arguably dirtier than Emergency Communities.

Look at this glowing e-mail from Christine:

1. Emergency Communities looks fantastic! Mark made it very clear that without our wake-up call the days we were there, EC was headed down a very slippery-slope. So thanks to all of you for stepping up to the challenge and getting things back on track. Looks like they will be serving meals through December and possibly into next year.

2. Cafe Reconcile is a sight to behold! Not only did Chef Jo keep the kitchen to the standard that we left it that day, he has improved upon a lot of the other issues we mentioned. He bought a power-washer for the floors, those gritty and gross storage shelves that Courtney scrubbed have been painted, the outdoor “storage” is being phased out and the students are learning how to plate starting with the desserts (the shortcake was very pretty).

3. The Edible Schoolyard garden is totally transformed! From the flat, packed dirt wasteland rises a beautiful arbored landscape. It’s still in its very first stages but things are looking up.

4. Holy Angels Market is still going strong! The vendors are happy, the community is coming out to shop and they even have a local chef (Chef Chris DeBarr of Delachaise) signed on to do execute the ongoing brunches.

However, much work still needs to be done in New Orleans. In June, about half of the hospitals remained closed. A school in the Ninth Ward was still closed despite being fully operable. The levees are so thin that Katrina could happen all over again.

The NY Times and Time Inc. have done a great job raising these issues. Unfortunately, I predict they will be forgotten in the next couple of months. Stories run in the media because of a news peg: an anniversary, a new study, a new book, etc. Since rebuilding has been slow, there isn’t much to report on, except during the obligatory anniversary.

I urge you not to forget about New Orleans. I’m guilty of wanting to shut it out, too. It’s so emotionally overwhelming that it’s easier to pretend that the problems don’t exist. Remember, you can help in these ways:

  • Pray for hope, volunteers and leadership in New Orleans.
  • Volunteer for organization like these…
    • If you are a professional chef or culinary student, sign up for the next

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Favorite Fancy Foods: Everything Else

As promised, here’s the remainder of my favorite items from this year’s Fancy Food Show. Sorry for the delay. I’ll be on vacation for the next 10 days, but in the mean time, why don’t you make an ice cream float with cold-brew iced coffee?

Best novelty oil

There was tea oil (how do they get the oil out of those leaves?) and stoplight-green avocado oil, but at the end of the day, those novelty oils tasted as plain as canola. Not Miguel & Valentino’s smoked olive oil. It had the heady aroma of pine cones and borderline bitterness to go along with it.

Best novelty oil runner-up

hazelnut oil

J. Leblanc roasted hazelnut oil– Used at the French Laundry and other fine restaurants, this oil is best for “finishing” a dish, since heat destroys its flavor. Try it in salad dressings, or let it soak into crusty bread.

Best cocktail nuts

macadamia nuts

Brookfarm macadamias with bush pepper spice have bush tomatoes, Tasmanian mountain peppers, Dorrigo pepper, Byron Hinterland Lemon Myrtle and Australian sea salt. I don’t know what half of those things are, but they had the perfect balance of sage-like herbs and salt.

Best cocktail peanuts

salt blistered peanuts

Technically, peanuts aren’t nuts, so I had to give out an separate award to Earth Family’s salt-blistered peanuts. The ridges give the peanuts extra crunch. In an age where green packaging is largely marketing, the words “organic” and “sea salt” really do mean something here. These are worlds beyond Planter’s.

Best savory sweet

Bay seasoning peanut brittle

Salt in caramel and chocolate is becoming common nowadays, so I thought the most creative salty sweet was Blue Bay Crab Co.’s peanut brittle with bay seasoning. Salty toffee peanuts are as old as Crackerjack, but sweet nuts with paprika, mustard and herbs is a new taste sensation.

Best gourmet chips

Tyrells parsnip chips

Tyrells from the UK makes parsnip, beetroot and carrot chips. If you like Terra chips, you’ll love these. They are hearty, so they won’t get crushed under the pressure of your fingers. They also have five varieties of potato chips, including jalapeno and sausage.

Best fruit-sweetened soda

Wild Fruitz's soda

In the realm of designer drinks, there was mint-flavored water, calorie-free drinks and fruit-sweetened sodas. Wild Fruitz’s sodas stood out because they taste just like the fruit itself.

Best gluten-free product

Michael's gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

Michael’s gluten-free chocolate chip cookies are some of the best cookies I’ve ever had, and they don’t even have wheat flour! I’m even biting my tongue because I’ve previously said that all-butter cookies are the only way to go. These gluten-free cookies have palm oil margarine (gasp!), but at least they’re free of trans fat.

Best ice cream flavors

Max & Mina's ice cream

Max & Mina’s in Queens has kitschy flavors: rugelach, halavah (sesame candy) birthday cake and if you can stomach it — garlic and lox. Their flavors are creative enough to satisfy adult palates, but they also bring you back to your childhood. Sometimes I just want fun ice cream without all the shiso-Meyer lemon bla bla bla madness.

Best packaged cookie line

Immaculate Baking Co. cookies

I just about gave up on Chips Ahoy and the like because I can taste the chemicals. If I wanted a cookie, I’d usually bake it, until now. Immaculate Baking Co.’s all-natural chocolate chunk, key lime and pumpkin ginger cookies are great for snacking. May they replace all your Famous Amoses. They also have organic bake-at-home cookie dough. The only drawback is that their bagged cookies are all crispy; I don’t think it’s possible to make soft packaged cookies without preservatives.

Best sandwich cookies

Late July organic sandwich cookies

Late July Organic Snacks make great Oreo knock-offs. I couldn’t make something better if I tried. Too bad they don’t have as many flavors as Immaculate Baking Co.

Complete Fancy Food Show 2007 Gallery

Related posts:

Fancy Food Show 2007 Favorites, the Chocolate
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 1
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 2

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Favorite Fancy Foods: The Chocolate

Fancy Food Show favorites

It’s that time of year again: the Fancy Food Show! From July 8-10, more than 5,700 booths from 73 countries and regions populated New York. Established and fledgling companies hobnobbed with food service professionals and the media, hoping that their product would be distributed to the masses. It’s a preview of what’s to come to the supermarket shelves.

The natural food products were greatly improved. Last year, there were pseudo whole-grain products and stuff that tasted like medicine. This time around, there was lots of flax, peanuts in all forms (salt-blistered cocktail nuts and natural peanut butters), whole-grain crisps, creative oils, fruit-sweetened sodas and even gluten-free experimentation.

As for non-healthy foods, there were gourmet potato chips and sweet/salty/savory confections. I had some good peanut brittle with seafood seasoning. Long a practice in France, there were also several salted caramels. I think U.S. candy is actually pretty salty to hide the flaws. These candies, however, used salt deliberately and carefully.

On the chocolate front, there was a continuation of single-origin chocolates and cacao nibs. Nothing ground breaking, but there was fine tuning. I felt bad for chocolate giant Ghirardelli, who was proudly handing out 73% chocolate. Cacao percentage is so 2005; artisan makers are focusing on cacao quality rather than quantity.

I enjoyed going a second year in a row, because I developed a better strategy: eat a light meal beforehand (there’s enough food in the Javits Center to feed a village, but all that random stuff churning around in your stomach doesn’t feel good) and go to the Focused Exhibits first. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in the random food booths. Also, it was nice seeing the fruits of last year’s show. Whole Foods now carries Skotidakis Greek yogurt and 34 Degrees fruit pastes, two of my favorites from last year.

Let’s get on to my personal Best in Show, shall we? I had a hard time paring down my favorites, hence the super-specific categories. First, the chocolate.

Best Chocolate Bar – two-way tie

Amano chocolate

Amano – At 4,441 feet above sea level in Orem, Utah, Art Pollard is one of the few remaining independent American chocolate makers (Hershey’s bought out Scharffen Berger and Dagoba a couple years ago). He doesn’t use emulsifiers like soy lecithin, which create smoothness but can interfere with flavor. He also swears by the mountaintop setting, saying it allows him to process the chocolate at a lower temperature and preserve more flavors. He only makes 70% chocolate, but they taste radically different because of the origin. The Ocumare from Venezuela tastes like berries, apricots and plums, while the Madagascar tastes like oranges. He also has a limited edition Cuyagua.

Domori chocolateDomori from Italy also doesn’t use emulsifiers, and it’s a wonder how they get their chocolate so smooth and thick. Two of their 70% Venezuelan chocolates are also very different. (Which is why the percentage gives you limited information. Purists swear by the country of origin, and super-purists insist of single plantations.) The Rio Caribe Superior has notes of plum, apricot, peppercorns, coffee, milk, and sugar. If you think that’s a mouthful to say, wait till you taste it! The Caranero Superior, also from Venezuela, tastes like mocha, nut, raisins and dirt.

Best Fair Trade and Organic Chocolate

Theo chocolate

Theo – Okay, so they don’t have competition because they’re the first roaster of Fair Trade Certifiedâ„¢ cocoa beans and the only roaster of organic cocoa beans in the U.S., but they’re darn good. My favorite is the nib brittle, which has nuanced chocolate bits encased in hard candy. Going along the salty-sweet trend, their Bread & Chocolate bar has toasted bread crumbs (it’s not so weird; they’re crunchy like nuts) and salt. I wanted to like this bar, but I found it too salty. They also have several single-origin chocolate bars and tasty truffles. The bars are a bit hard though.

Best Truffles

Garrison chocolate truffles

Garrison Confections – Chocolatier Andrew Shotts was the executive pastry chef at the Russian Tea Room and helped formulated Guittard’s high-end couverture, E. Guittard. In 2001, he started his own chocolate company with seasonal truffles. His coffee truffle sang in my mouth.

Best Healthy Chocolate

Vere chocolate

Vere – This New York company only uses Ecuadorian cacao, which is naturally sweet. As such, Vere adds just a little sugar and some fiber to their chocolate. My favorite is the chocolate coconut cluster, and I don’t even like coconut that much. It’s wonderfully crunchy and paper thin. Although their chocolate is delicious, I wouldn’t shell out $2.50 for a truffle. No worries though, you can get generous free samples every Friday from 12:00-6:00 at their factory (12 W 27 St. between 6 Ave. and Broadway).

Most Creative Use of Chocolate

chocolate figs

Rabitos Fig Bon Bon – Imagine a truffle encased in a bulging dried fig and then covered in chocolate. Genius! These figs are Pajaritos, which only grow in the southern Spanish region of Extremadura.

Best Cult Chocolate
Pralus chocolate-covered cocoa beans

Pralus claims to be one of only three chocolate makers in France. I’m not sure what criteria he’s using, since Valrhona, Bernachon, Weiss and Michel Cluizel also make chocolate. No matter, each of his single-origin chocolates taste like a different color of the rainbow. They take a little getting used to, since they have sharp white cheddar and mushroom notes. The Madagascar chocolate-covered cocoa beans have that signature Pralus taste. His chocolate is hard to get in the U.S., so treat yourself if you can find it.

Best Snacking Chocolate

Charles Chocolate

Charles Chocolates from San Francisco makes fun things, like triple-coated chocolate nuts, tea truffles and peanut butter butterflies. They use a combination of Guittard and Cacao Barry chocolate, which are pretty neutral (no high notes of fruit or soil). I like my chocolate stronger, but this chocolate is nice if you don’t want to think too hard.

Coming up in part two: everything else.

Related posts:
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 1
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 2

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Cooking up a storm in New Orleans

For the past two weeks, I’ve been processing some heavy stuff from my food-oriented trip to New Orleans. First, I need to get the loom and gloom out of my system, and then I’ll move on to brighter subjects. I promise!

The CulinaryCorps team after two sweaty days in an outdoor kitchen. (Photo courtesy Gerald San Jose)

It was supposed to be a primer on jambalaya and king cake. Instead, a writing assignment led me to one of the hardest yet most rewarding experiences of my life.

In January, a food editor asked me to write an article on Hurricane Katrina victims who were celebrating Mardi Gras out of state. As I interviewed my subjects, I found that they couldn’t talk about their biggest joy of the year without mentioning the biggest tragedy of their lives. There was Kevin Goodman, a Mardi Gras Indian who survived at the Morial Convention Center with hardly any food or water. He saw diabetics and wheelchair-bound people die prematurely. He saw others kill each other. Now settled in Austin, Texas, he doesn’t plan on returning to the place he once called home.

And no matter how hard Mary Prater, a student-teacher who relocated to Indianapolis, explained the importance of the Mardi Gras Zulu coconut, I remained clueless.

When Fred Sullivan told me about his plan to celebrate with a crawfish boil in his new home in Florida, I was intrigued. But I didn’t see how eating with your hands over soggy newspaper was a fine dining experience.

The article sparked an interest in New Orleans. So when fellow food blogger Gerald San Jose told me about a New Orleans CulinaryCorps (like Peace Corps for cooks) trip, I immediately signed up. When I volunteered from June 1 to 8, I finally saw the sparkling, beaded Mardi Gras costumes and experienced not one, but two crawfish boils in all their glorious mess.

I also saw heartbreaking living conditions. I had been warned: It will be hot. It will be dirty. You will work 16-hour days. You will tour mold-infested houses. However, nothing could prepare me for the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the hardest hit areas of the storm.

Ashley Graham of Share Our Strength gives a tour of the Lower Ninth Ward. All the grass is where houses used to stand.

Walking through the French Quarter in New Orleans, you’d never know that a disaster struck. It’s business as usual, if not a little subdued. The Ninth Ward, however, has been neglected because it’s one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

The news describes Extreme Home Makeover-type rebuilding in New Orleans. In reality, it’s the exception to the rule in the Ninth Ward. An area that looked like the size of Manhattan was washed away. Except if such a thing happened in Manhattan, there’s no way it would remain in shambles after almost two years. In some areas, a couple concrete steps were the only clue that houses used to stand. People were still living in shoebox-sized FEMA trailers. Some streets were deserted except for one occupied house. Residents stubbornly stayed because they inherited the land from their family, and they had no where else to go.

During the week, my CulinaryCorps teammates and I cooked in several needy areas, including Emergency Communities, a recreation center offering free meals, laundry and Internet access. When we pulled up to the site in the Lower Ninth Ward, we were greeted by an overflowing dumpster and several trash bags on nearly toxic ground. Forget recycling; they didn’t even have regular trash pick up. Within the first 10 minutes of arriving, I wanted to faint. I couldn’t tell whether it was the scorching heat, rotten food or heavy lifting.

The trash pile that greeted us at Emergency Communities. By the end of the day, there was no more room to put out another trash bag. (Photo: Mick Guzman)

The walk-in refrigerator had cooked meals dating back to April and cases of yellowing “green” onions. The freezer was an even bigger nightmare, with chicken that expired in February 2005. Emergency Communities just served it three days earlier because they had nothing better for the residents. The refrigerator and freezer were actually broken trucks that leaked an oil-coolant cocktail into the street.

For hours, I disposed of the green onions and other unmentionables. It didn’t matter how many times I wiped my sweat with hard-to-find paper towels; I was dripping from head to toe.

My teammates and I threw away an estimated 2,000 pounds of spoiled chicken after the freezer broke down. (Photo: Mick Guzman)

After restoring the fridge and freezer to a workable condition, I returned the next day and found fresh empty beer cans inside. Our leader Christine Carroll said that the first CulinaryCorps team in March cleaned up Emergency Communities, exactly like we did. Then it got dirtier than ever.

The conditions at Emergency Communities were worse than my experiences in rural Mexico, where a pack of soda was a week’s salary. In Mexico, people at least had access to clean food and water. My teammate Kim O’Donnel, who did relief work in AIDS-ravaged Zambia, said that even Africa was better.

Everything at Emergency Communities seemed hopeless, from the kitchen to the glassy-eyed residents who hobbled in for the meals. CulinaryCorps put in two days of hard work, but on-site volunteers are still working there for free. Twenty of them slept in a trailer a little larger than my one-bedroom apartment. They shared one outdoor shower converted from a Port-a-Potty. Two volunteers were “upgraded” to an abandoned house across the street. As the sun set, they sat on a dirty mattress, thankful for an extension cord that powered dim Christmas lights inside (their only source of electricity). No one should live like this, especially in America.

Two Emergency Communities volunteers “squat” in this house. (Photo: Mick Guzman)

Interior of the house. (Photo: Mick Guzman)

Inside the house of another volunteer, Darrin. (Photo: Erik Murnighan)

On our last day, we worked at Café Reconcile, which was supposed to be a beacon of hope. The full-fledged restaurant was run by at-risk teens who had no positive role models or were abandoned after Katrina (some schools still remain closed). A lot of the teens did marijuana since they were 10 or 12, but the vocational program instills confidence and gives them job skills. Customers crowded in during lunch to support the cause and sample their award-winning bread pudding.

Behind the public front, some of my colleagues were even more discouraged by Café Reconcile than Emergency Communities. Of the fifteen or so teens that enrolled, only four remained last week. Roger, the young man that I worked with, had exceptional knife skills, but he kept walking out every 10 minutes. During lunch service, he put his head down on the table in defeat as I fulfilled orders. In the meantime, teammate Courtney Knapp said she spent three hours scrubbing pre-Katrina dirt off the kitchen prep table.

It’s a miracle that anything got done in that chaotic kitchen. One of the directors quit after he was mugged at gunpoint, twice.

I want to believe that relief is in sight. Café Reconcile’s biggest success story is Oscar, a 17-year-old alum who now works at Emeril’s restaurant. The first lady was so impressed with him that he’s due to tour the White House.

After our intervention, Mark Weiner, the founder and executive director of Emergency Communities, promised to hire a kitchen enforcer. I can only hope that it’ll come to fruition and that our leftover meals aren’t still sitting in the refrigerator.

There’s also a new farmers market in the Ninth Ward, the only source of fresh produce for miles. The Holy Angels Farmers Market reported the best business ever after we held a brunch fundraiser. Granted, they were only four vendors in a church parking lot, but I want to believe… I need to believe.

Left to right: Vendor Heather Champagne (who made bread pudding with praline sauce), me, Kelli Wright-Morales and Kim O’Donnel serving brunch at the farmers market fundraiser. (Photo: Gerald San Jose)

If you are in any way moved, know that you can help.

  • Pray for hope, volunteers and leadership in New Orleans.
  • More than money, New Orleans needs skilled labor. All you need is a willing heart and an ability to follow directions. Try volunteering for these organizations.
  • Donate to CulinaryCorps. Each member was given the challenge to raise $70. As of now, I’m at $0. Your money will go toward project partners such as Emergency Communities (to restock the infamous chicken), the farmers market and Edible Schoolyard (Chef Alice Waters’ culinary curriculum at the Samuel J. Green Charter School, where 95% of the students are at or below the poverty line).
  • Vacation in New Orleans and pump money back into the economy. In the unlikely event that you run out of things to do, ask the friendly locals for suggestions.

For more info, check out these links:

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Jacques Torres Chocolate Meetup

Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven tour

If it weren’t for some New York Times food writer, there wouldn’t have been a Jacques Torres chocolate shop in New York. In 2000, the famed pastry chef decided to make his own chocolate for quality control purposes. This was a huge undertaking, since there are only about 10 chocolate makers in the U.S., as opposed to chocolatiers (aka chocolate melters or re-packagers).

When Times writer Florence Fabricant got wind and asked Jacques when his store would open, he threw out a random date in December. He never intended to welcome visitors; he situated his factory in seedy DUMBO (“Down Under the Manhattan Bridge” in Brooklyn) because rent was cheap, and he could easily transport his wholesale chocolates to other storefronts. But when you have Ms. Fabricant on the phone, you do your best to impress.

During the construction process, Jacques literally had to babysit equipment that was dumped on the sidewalk. He had asked for outside delivery because it was $1,000 cheaper, but it didn’t seem like a bargain as dusk approached. Jacques and about five other guys couldn’t get the machinery to budge. Then he desperately started pulling out $20 bills from his pocket.

“How many of these do I need to give so you can help me move my equipment?” Jacques asked strangers. He finally got a dolly/lift and has accepted in-store delivery since then.

Jacques renovated much of the store himself, armed with a pastry bag and an off-set spatula. He piped out cement (or caulk, or whatever constructors use) from the bag and smoothed it out, just like icing on a cake.

On “opening day,” Jacques placed some chocolates on display and hid an empty shoe box behind the counter as a makeshift cash register. After his first customer bought $20 in chocolate, Jacques did the happy dance. In the following months, customers thanked him for his charming shop. Jacques couldn’t understand why people were handing him money and thanking him for it.

In 2004, he opened a second storefront in Manhattan, Chocolate Haven. I visited on Saturday, during a private tour for the NY Metro Discover Chocolate Meetup.

Jacques Torres showing us behind the scenes in his factory
Jacques Torres showing us behind the scenes in his factory

candied oranges and other pastry equipment
Candied oranges are boiled in syrup for so long that all the moisture is replaced by sugar.

chocolate melter
Chocolate melter

candy wrapper

wrapping machine
This machine wraps more than one bar a second, if I recall correctly.

During the tour, Jacques talked about the history of his business and how to choose chocolate for eating. When he first made truffles, Jacques blended Valrhona Manjari and a 70% chocolate (probably Le Noir Amer). While the materials and technique were good, a pastry chef friend told him that the truffles tasted horrible. As noted in my chocolate database, both of these bars have fruity and spicy undertones. These strong flavors are fine for plain eating, but they’ll muddle the flavor of say, coffee truffles.

tasting chocolates
We compared the 60% house blend, the fruity Peru, and the earthy 72% Ghana.

For most of his truffles, Jacques now uses his own neutral 60% blend. This way, the said flavors explode and don’t interfere with the chocolate. For his passion fruit truffle though, he can get away with using fruity Peruvian chocolate.

As for when to use cocoa powder versus chocolate, Jacques only puts chocolate in his hot, frothy drink. Cocoa leaves the throat feeling dry, since it doesn’t have cocoa butter. Also, since cocoa powder is the unfinished ground bean, it doesn’t have as much flavor as chocolate that’s been conched (stirred) for several hours. That’s not what a low-fat baker wants to hear, but it has interesting implications. If a cake recipe calls for butter and chocolate, try keeping the chocolate and reducing the butter, rather than keeping the butter and swapping in cocoa powder.

One and a half years ago, I thought Jacques’ chocolates were very good for the money. Now I think they’re very good, period. Before, I felt that the presentation was good, but I could hardly distinguish one truffle flavoring from another. On Saturday, the Hearts of Passion went “POW!” and the Heavenly Hazelnut tasted like a European Reese’s peanut buttercup. The couvertures (base chocolate) also tasted stronger and had a thick texture. Jacques said he hasn’t changed his recipes, but he did refine his techniques. One secret was vacuuming all the air out of his ganache (truffle filling), so the aromas won’t evaporate.

Jacques conducts free demos in his Chocolate Haven store every couple of months. It’s always worth a trip to meet this enthusiastic story teller and teacher. He’s like a kid in a grown up’s body. That’s what a lifetime of chocolate does to you!

Jacques Torres
Jacques savoring his own chocolate.

Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
350 Hudson at King Street (1 block South of Houston)
New York, NY 10014
212-414-2462 phone

Jacques Torres DUMBO
66 Water Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
718-875-9772 phone

Related posts:
Chocolate Haven Tour
Chocolate Christmas tree demo

Video interviews from Epicurious
Chocolate with Jacques Torres (Food Network show)
Passion for Dessert with Jacques Torres (Food Network show)
Blue-Chip Cookies for the NY Times

Dessert CircusDessert Circus Dessert Circus at HomeDessert Circus at Home

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Free dessert events in NYC

Marilyn Monroe chocolate painting

Marilyn Monroe chocolate painting/Sid Chidiac

Chocolate Art Festival!

Australian artist Sid Chidiac invites you to the first annual Chocolates Art Festival!!!! Includes:

– Chocolate Fashion
– Chocalate Body Painting
– Edible Body Paintings
– Furniture Covered in Chocolates
– Chocolates Sculptures

There will be fashion shows everyday! 100% of proceeds are going to a local charity, God’s Love And We Deliver,
helping people with HIV/AIDS and other life-altering illnesses.

May 17-20, 2007

Festival Hours: Thursday, 6pm – 9pm Admission is $10
Saturday, 10am- 9pm
Sunday, 10am – 7pm
FREE Entry on The Weekend !!!

Location: St. Anthony’s Church at 154 Sullivan St. (near Houston) in the lower level.

For more info please visit

Divine History of Chocolate

Soho20 Gallery in Chelsea (511 W 25th, ste 605) is presenting a solo exhibition of the work of Mariángeles Soto-Díaz.

“The Divine Geometry of Chocolate” is a series of abstract oil paintings inspired by Soto-Díaz’s love of chocolate, Soto-Díaz works with the emblems of abstraction, using grids, the drip, squares, geometry and color-fields to address the principle of pleasure. These luscious paintings do not illustrate chocolate so much as evoke anticipation of an exquisite sensory experience. In her words, these paintings delight in “parallels between the sensual materiality of chocolate and that of oil paint.”

As in her prior series using spices, Soto-Díaz also unsettles geometric abstraction with post-colonial perspectives. From its use in pre-Columbian civilizations as both currency and medicine, its seduction of Europe and role within the slave-driven history of cacao production, to the modern struggle to create sustainable cacao production standards, chocolate’s semi-bitter history is nothing but rich.

A native of delicious cacao-producing land of Venezuela, Soto-Díaz uses a blend of Latin American and North American traditions of abstraction, and while infusing them with a dose of conceptualism, she crafts her own brand of neo-modern painting. Soto-Díaz has exhibited internationally and her work is in many public and private collections. She holds an MFA from Claremont Graduate University, where she studied with Karl Benjamin, a central figure in the Hard Edge Abstraction movement.

“The Divine Geometry of Chocolate” runs from May 22nd to June 16th. Reception:Thurs., May 24, 5-7 pm
Soho20Chelsea Gallery is located on 511 West 25th Street, #605, NY, 10001, NY. Tues-Sat 12-6pm. Tel (212) 367-8994.

-Thanks to Clay Gordon of the NY Metro Chocolate Meetup group (and author of the forthcoming Discover Chocolate) for the chocolate listings.

Sticky Toffee Pudding ice cream

Free Ice Cream
Häagen-Dazs ice cream shops will give out free cones of its new flavors, Cinnamon Dulce de Leche and Sticky Toffee Pudding, on Tuesday, May 15, 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., at any participating Häagen-Dazs location. – Thanks to The Food Section

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On May 14, CulinaryCorps Wants YOU to be the Judge

Picture: Metro Three T-shirts

There’s an old New Orleans saying: “You know it’s Monday when you’re eating red beans and rice.” On Sundays, ham would be served during a large dinner. Those ever frugal New Orleansians would save the bone and throw them in a pot of red beans the next day. After a hard days’ of work doing laundry, another hearty dinner would be ready.

This was just one culinary tradition that I learned after interviewing several New Orleans natives for an AP article on Mardi Gras. Any cuisine that has “BAM!” as its middle name may not seem impressive, but New Orleans food combines French, native American, African, Spanish and Italian influences with native ingredients (alligator, anyone?). Genius!

When I heard about CulinaryCorps, a charity that seeks to rebuild communities through food service, I couldn’t refuse their upcoming trip to NOLA. Through generous sponsorships and people like you (does this sound like a PBS ad?), I’ll head out on June 1-8. But we need more funds! That’s why you are cordially invited to be a guest judge at the…


TASTEFULLY BROUGHT TO YOU BY: CulinaryCorps and the staff, students and alumni of the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) WITH GENEROUS DONATIONS FROM: DBA New York, OXO, The Hillstone Group, Union Square Hospitality Group, and ICE. IN SUPPORT OF: The CulinaryCorps/ICE June Outreach Trip to New Orleans, LA.

Monday, May 14th, 6pm-8pm at DBA New York (41 First Avenue between 2 and 3 Streets).

$20 per person (tax-deductible). Includes a free beer, a vote in the competition and a chance to win some wicked cool door prizes like my very own macaroons and homemade Nutella, dinner for two at Houston’s and pickled okra.

All donations will go towards the CulinaryCorps/ICE outreach trip to New Orleans from June 1st-8th. Funds will be applied to equipment and supply donations to NOLA project partners, including: bulk coffee and equipment for Emergency Communities (a Lower 9th Ward feeding kitchen); crawfish boil equipment for Edible Schoolyard NOLA; and gardening tools for The Renaissance Project’s newly conceived 9th Ward Community Garden.

For those who cannot attend, CulinaryCorps has set up an online fundraising page through Donate today! And thank you!

In other random news, here’s two more articles I wrote (non-food related, sorry):

Tip Sheet: The 10 Worst Things to Say When Facing Arrest
Hmm, do you think if Paris followed this advice, she’d be in jail?

They Write Stuff
Liars, Liars. From Thomas Chatterton to James Frey, authors have achieved fame and fortune by faking it. Check out the list of the most notorious incidents.

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Sugar High Friday #29: Hot Cacao

hot cacao

No, it’s not a typo. Cacao is not the same as cocoa, just as hot chocolate isn’t the same as hot cocoa. According to David Lebovitz (author of The Great Book of Chocolate), cacao refers to the bean, while cocoa refers to the powder after the bean is pulverized.

Cacao beans are like chocolate-flavored nuts. They are borderline savory and 100% addictive. Last year, Marc Boatwright, owner of Choctal, sent me a sample of cacao crunch (candied cacao nibs). This guy really knows his beans. Choctal claims to be the only maker of single-origin chocolate ice cream. Cacao tastes vastly different based on its origin, which is why Kalimantan and San Dominican chocolate ice cream are two distinct products. So, it was no surprise that each of Choctal’s nibs had subtle distinctions. Some tasted fermented, others tasted nutty, and still others tasted like toasted bread. It was like getting a variety pack of chocolate.

For this month’s Sugar High Friday dessert event, I substituted Choctal’s nibs in a hot chocolate/cocoa recipe. You won’t be able to grind the nibs into a fine powder, but you will infuse the milk with deep chocolate flavor. Only make this drink if you want something rustic; the sandy cacao bits are like “pulp.”

If you have candied nibs, just add two tablespoons per cup of milk. Otherwise, follow the amounts below. Look for nibs at Whole Foods or other fine retailers. For online ordering, I recommend Dagoba’s or Valrhona’s nibs from

For more “raw chocolate” ideas, check out Chocolate in Context, which will round up recipes with nibs, beans, cocoa butter, untreated cocoa powder, and fresh cacao fruit on Friday.

Hot Cacao

Makes 1 serving

1 cup milk or unsweetened soy milk
1 1/2 Tablespoons cacao nibs
1 Tablespoon sugar

In the microwave, heat the milk on HIGH for two minutes. Combine the hot milk with the cacao and sugar in a blender. Blend for about 30 seconds, or until the cacao is sandy and the drink is frothy on top.
Variation: Cold milk can also be used.

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Quick Bites: Wii Love Free Yogurt Gelato

Photo: Mark Peterson/New York Magazine

Yolato, a new store selling yogurt gelato, is offering two chances for free dessert. Sign up to receive news and get a coupon for a free regular-sized yolato at their West Village location. Or stop by their new Upper West Side store on March  9 and 10 14 for a taste. It should be delicious, since gelato is like ice cream amplified to the nth degree, and real frozen yogurt is making a comeback in New York. For the record, that L.A. transplant, Pinkberry, tastes like grainy frozen ice milk because they reportedly use 7-UP.

120 Macdougal St., New York, NY 10012
nr. Bleecker St.

2286 Broadway
nr. 82nd St.

In other small news, check out Avenue Food, an NYC blog with street credibility. Last Saturday, Sarah hosted a Wine, Cheese and Wii Party. I don’t know what was better: the crusty mac and cheese, gruyere/caramelized onion pizza or the workout on the Wii. Sarah posted videos of us playing (it’s more entertaining watching the player than the TV screen itself). Unfortunately, the video of me had some technical difficulties.

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