1, 2, 3…
Yesterday my dad let me try a new flavor that he was working on (he’s in the testing stage). For those who don’t know, my dad is a chocolatier. (And here’s his website.) Everyone in the family, and anyone else who is around, gets a chance to play a chocolate guinea pig. Since he’s frequently he working on new ideas or whittling away on something this isn’t an entirely rare occasion for me to enjoy. It’s a good relationship (duh) for many reasons. The obvious fact is that you get free chocolate. Well there is a price: your opinion. But you know the saying about opinions, those are as common as people. So it’s not really a price, it’s more like a gratuity. It’s like if you went to the green grocer and could get a free apple provided you ate it on the spot and then told him about it. Hey, free apples.
The second slightly less obvious reason why the relationship is great is that you get to enjoy and discuss a work in progress. How cool is that? There aren’t many jobs in which, if you reach a high enough skill level, even your worst mistakes find happy homes to welcome them. (In fact even mistakes made by a person with a beginner level of skill would be just fine by me.) But the real reward is being allowed into the creative process of a chocolatier. It’s such a rewarding time that it might even trump the enjoyment the final product itself – even if the final product ends up being far superior. Now the final product is still amazing (duh, again), everyone can share the final product, but getting that peek behind the curtain, being allowed backstage, has its own special ring to it. I’ll admit that having this scenario be so commonplace that it could run the risk of making me spoiled. But, like any spoiled brat, I am fortunately completely unaware of it. It’s just another day in the chocolate factory for me like any regular joe. Whee! You say you’ve never been?!
Disclaimer: I am very aware of how fortunate a situation it is I’ve landed myself in. But the part about the creative process thing? That was true: it does mean a lot to me. As it does to anyone who gets to partake. (You can too! Just be lucky enough to be over at my parents house!) You taste and discuss the flavors and technical stuff, make suggestions… Well I make suggestions. Because it’s fun to imagine what else could be done with the same ingredients in different ratios and textures and so forth. Though why stop there? What else would be good? It’s fun to think creatively about food and flavor. The things that people who work in food have to consider for a living. The fun creative, expressive, exploratory part of food. The sweetest piece of the fruit. The part that, as a layperson, makes me think I’d be creative enough for the honest life of cooking. That isn’t true of course. Not by a long shot. I am not cut out for a culinary job and I’ll leave that to the pros. However, ask me to chime in with my fat ideas while engaged with the best part of the creative process with the best possible food to do it with? Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint you by turning it down now, would I? I know that my suggestions may not be implemented, possibly even scoffed at. But even if my record was zero out of ten thousand I’d still make them. The temptation is just too great and way too much fun. (Dad: black cardamom.)
But the best part of being included in this taste-testing (yes, besides hanging out with my Dad of course) is that I still have no idea what is happening in his chocolate room. I’ve watched him go through trials and tribulations with it, amazing successes, I know what the tools are and why they do what they do for the most part, but I find it such a mysterious practice still. And we’re not even talking about bean-to-bar here either at this point in the game, this is just purely with couverture. Chocolate, and most great cooking, is hardly just an assemblage of elements, even though the best elements make the best final products. There is a huge amount of manual skill, chemistry, sensory attention and very large helpings of perseverance and tolerance each. It’s like watching a ballet in which all the dancers are performing at their peak while also carrying washing machines. Choosing to work with chocolate means the defeats are heavy, the tensions high and a bit of serious attention needs to be invested before your mistakes really do become delicious.
A lot of people ask me if I’m also able to work with chocolate (which I don’t), wondering if the talent runs in the family. I tell people that I do, but that I specialize in suggestions.
You know what does run in the family? Stupid jokes.
Being the son of a chocolatier Chris has always enjoyed talking about chocolate as much as he loves eating it. He’s an artist and designer as well as a co-founder of the Chocolate Codex.