My findings in the Shotts class were that enrobed and molded bonbons are not equal. From an artisan chocolate business perspective, the ROI on molded pieces is less and so my eyes were opened to some of the advantages of enrobed pieces.
It takes these advantages to convince me to do any enrobed pieces.
For me, I don't think aesthetically there really is a doubt on what is more eye catching, it's molded pieces. The variety of shapes and designs of molds makes it possible to create true pieces of art, they can
look like something in an art gallery. You just cannot achieve the same shine, contrast of color and design or artistic statement with an enrobed piece. If you ask 100 consumers which is more visually appealing between Chris Elbow's Chris Elbow
Rosemary caramel or any of his enrobed pieces, I think over 90% would say the Rosemary caramel. It is dramatic, colorful and more importantly unexpected for chocolate. If you ask 100 chocolatiers, you will get more of a split and probably more will pick enrobed. Why? I think it is a combination of factors including:
1. Tradition - More than most any other group of which I've participated, chocolatiers/pastry chefs seem to value tradition over change. It is a strange contradiction when you see all the incredible pastry "art" with sugar, chocolate and cakes. But none of those items are truly made to be eaten, they are technically "edible" but the compromise to vanity is perceived as complete. Yes, wedding cakes are eaten but they cost $5,000-$10,000 for the appearance not the taste. So, when a molded piece of chocolate looks like these showpieces, it would be natural to feel the same way, pretty and elegant but lacking depth and quality. It also is a more "American" excursion into the visual appeal not as fully embraced by the european aristocracy. I don't mean that in a disrespectful way but I see a similar history with wine. When California first started producing wines there was little if any respect and all european wines were considered superior. Today, when I'm at the wine store and feel like spending a little extra $$$ many of the more expensive bottles are from U.S. vineyards. I remember asking a local chocolatier, "have you ever tried a rosemary caramel" she immediately gave me a look of disdain and spit out, "I never mix sweet with savory". Well, good for her and good for me as new things don't threaten me and when I open my shop, I'll remember that times and tastes do change. 15 years ago if you asked for a list of the top 20 chocolatiers in the world, I doubt you'd see a name outside Belgium or France. Today, while respect is still very high for those individuals you would see new names on the list who are pushing the envelope on what is done with chocolate and they might end in more diverse surnames such as Love, Shotts, Donnelly, Elbow and Kee. I think that indicates growth...not an abandonment of tradition.
2. Perception - We are talking about aesthetic value. Webster's defines aesthetic as pleasing in appearance
the word derives from the greek meaning "to perceive". But as we all know, we don't trust our own eyes when it comes to our own perceptions. If we did, we would make far better choices in our lives. Because we are so concerned with what other people think we buy cars for their exterior when we spend 99% of the time looking at the interior. BMW, Mercedes or Jaguar can slap a logo on an overpriced KIA and we gladly will pay $10,000 more for their low end vehicle rather than for a superior vehichle from Honda, Toyota or Nissan (I actually drive a Pacifica). Anyone ever see somebody with a laptop at Starbucks or Barnes and Noble? Want to bet that same person doesn't boot up in McDonalds? Of course not, whose perception do we want to influence at McDonalds? If Polo sells a sports shirt without a logo for $20 and the same one with a finely detailed, 3 color guy on a horse for $25...which one do you buy? Anyone ever pay $5 for an embrodiered polo rider by itself?
Anyway, you get my point. We have a spontaneous physical reaction when we see something (I want that, that looks good, yuck!) but we will process our decisions based on more than that and often it is strongly influenced by the perceptions of others. Beer, cigarettes, wine, (probably foie gras) are typically acquired tastes and the reason we go back again is often because of a desire to be accepted. Not always the case but often enough. How does this long digression relate to our topic? I do think many of us are still giving the perceived "right" answer of a traditionalist. From an aesthetic perspective, purely based on visual appeal....I'll trust my eyes and not care about the fact it probably is the "wrong" answer.
3. Business Justification - I also think many say enrobed pieces are better looking, better tasting etc. because it supports what they are currently doing. They make smart business choices for more efficient production and for artisan chocolatiers, that clearly is enrobed pieces. Saying anything less than you think your product is more attractive is telling people you are an artist who compromises your art for money. Nothing wrong with that but it goes against the basic doctrines of the artisanal oath. Interestingly, while it makes sense to do enrobed pieces for productivity and cost effectiveness, almost no one will go to the next step of adding preservatives. I'm certainly not advocating that or have any desire to do that (forgive me for the hypocricy) but really, isn't that just a few bus stops down the road? I guess my point here is do many of us defend what we are currently doing, merely because "we
" are doing it?
4. Skill/time required - The last reason I think people may shy away from molds is that they are VERY time-consuming and require more "painting" skills using brushes and airbrushes. You have to shine the molds, paint, coat, fill then seal. There also is the issue of expression...it is truly unique for molds as there are no transfer sheets (except for magnetic molds) and we are still early in the "era" of painted molds and the artistic expression is often pretty shallow. Everyone does a "marble" design using a finger to create a swirl. Airbrushing techniques are also pretty standard at this point but I'm sure someone will push the envelope here and in 2 years....we will see some more dramatic pieces. All of this means more time to create each piece. I think the aversion, limited exposure and failures with these techniques influences what is more aesthetic....after hundred's of disappointing molded pieces, a perfect enrobed piece is a thing of beauty.
Ultimately, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I do realize there is no "correct" answer. But for me, I remember the impact of seeing Norman Love's G Collection on Godiva's website 2-3 years ago and how it awoke artistic seeds in me that had been dormant for years. I love enrobed pieces, I'm amazed at their taste, texture and consistency but never did they reshape my perceptions. If anyone is familiar with the artwork of Tim Cotterill aka "Frogman", I see his artistry in each finely done molded piece that uses colored cocoa butter. He sculpts in bronze and we use chocolate. He creates pieces that people collect and admire while we create pieces that challenge everything our customer has known about chocolate and opens them up to new tastes. To me, a beautiful painted molded piece is the "hook" to get someone to try a rosemary caramel that in a more traditional form, would not be purchased. It sounds a bit naive or idealistic but what really excites me is that people are drawn to the visual and it gives me a chance to expose them to new tastes they would never otherwise have considered.
So...I guess my vote for aesthetic is molded.
Edited by Truffle Guy, 02 February 2007 - 11:22 AM.