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A Night of Wine and Chocolate


chocophile
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Last week I had the pleasure of going to the Mark Hotel for an evening that can only be described as over the top chocolate decadence. For someone who makes a profession out of eating and rating chocolate I now have the answer to the question, "Is there such a thing as too much chocolate."

The answer is "Yes."

The evening started with four "course" wine and chocolate tasting using all Valrhona chocolates - naturally as Bau is the Executive Pastry Chef for Valrhona and the Director of l'Ecole du Grand Chocolat Valrhona. The wines were presented by Maison Louis Jadot's Eastern Director of Sales, Olivier Masmondet, a Maitre Somellier de France.

This was a great way to start the evening, but Mr Bau's command of English is not really good enough to do justice to the subject. Also, his knowledge of chocolate is limited to Valrhona and that is not a good thing when trying to convey unbiased information about complex topics to people who know a lot about wine and not much about chocolate.

Dinner was an 8-course affair, trimmed down from its original 13-course presentation. Overall, the recipes needed to be prepared many more times than they had been to balance out the flavors. The chocolate was far too prevalent in most dishes and the palate was limited to the same four chocolate selections (Jivara, Manjari, Pur Caraibe, Araguani) used for the wine pairing.

MENU

The best of show were parts of the first two dishes (see MENU items, following) - shrimp and mullet with polenta sticks and red pepper confit tapenade. The chocolate sauce did not work too heavy and too much. The Bombay curry sauce was very good and the caramel mango confit (more like a chutney, actually) was rhapsodical, especially with a few added cocoa nibs.

Worst in show were the Risotto (waaaaaaaaay to much milk chocolate and too much of it, though the smoked pork, parmesan, and rice worked pretty well) and the dessert gelees - really weird texture especially after the creaminess of the yogurt..

I know I promised Steve that I would never just post a link, but here is the link for people who want to read what I have to say about each dish: http://www.chocophile.com/stories/storyReader$373

Amuse Bouche: foie gras gelee with milk chocolate sauce

Duo of Jumbo Prawns and Red Mullet

polenta sticks, red pepper confit tapenade

Americaine sauce flavored with Pur Caraibe chocolate grand cru, crisp leeks

Pan Seared Sea Scallops Marinated with Passion Fruit

Bombay curry sauce with Manjari grand cru chocolate coconut emulsion

caramel mango confit

Risotto Beijing Style

smoked pork belly perfumed with shallots and star anise

emulsion of parmesan and Jivara milk chocolate, Araguani and parmesan shavings

"Roque" and Roll

ganache grand cru araguani, shaved Roquefort, grilled country bread, roasted banana

Sweet mise en bouche: Chuao chocolate nectar and cocoa-nibs foam

The Milky Way

Jivara chocolat and yogurt cream

black cherries and cranberries sauteed, flavored with lemon thyme, crisp chocolate tuile

Trio of Valrhona's Grands Crus Gelees

Araguani, Manjari, and Jivara

apple and quince lasagna and apple jus with tonka beans, apple lace

Paired wines with each course, PLUS petits fours and coffee rounded out the dinner

I can't believe I ate the whole thing. I can't imagine what another five courses might have been like, even with much smaller portions.

Clay

Clay Gordon

president, pureorigin

editor/publisher www.chocophile.com

founder, New World Chocolate Society

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Ted:

Thanks for the kind comments. I work hard on the site constantly improving it. I am working over the next few months to move it to a different platform and along with that will come a chance to review everything and make reflect the learning I have done since I first started writing over 2 years ago. I am at a point where the underlying software platform is getting in the way of my ability to do what I need and want to do.

One of the things I have been thinking of after writing that article plus a few other things here on eGullet, is that success as a chef in one area does not mean success in another area.

It was very clear that Mr BAU was very comfortable as a pastry chef, but less so in his approach to savories. You could say that he approached savories from a pastry perspective, and in this case it meant the ascendence of the chocolate as the most important ingredient in each dish, rather than a supporting player. The Scallops with Bombay curry sauce worked best precisely because the sauce worked in a supporting role and did not take over the dish, as it did in the fish and in the risotto.

The next step, and I hope people don't think this is a troll post, is that success as a pastry chef does not necessarily translate into success as a chocolatier. I think they are different skills with different taste sensibilities -- the MOF in Pastry is not the same as the MOF in Chocolate. Some chefs make the transition seem easy, others struggle.

My own particular interest, culinarily speaking, is in chocolate in savory recipes -- things that "normal" people don't find too far out.

Two nights ago I produced a meal for a group of about a dozen people. Salad course, soup, mains, and then dessert (in a strange kitchen with one assistant who spoke no English - but that's another story).

The soup was where I concentrated my efforts this time as the salad (field greens with chopped toasted hazelnuts, dried Morency cherries soaked in red wine, cocoa nibs in a simple balsamic dressing ) and duck (with a red wine/dried cherries/chocolate reduction) -- both of which I had made many time before. The soup was an organic tomato and pureed roasted red pepper with a pan toasted corn and Niman Ranch smoked bacon "hash" in the bottom of the bowl. The garnish was a thin garlic cracker shard with a quenelle of sour cream laid on top and then a chocolate/balasmic/chipotle sauce of my own was squirted in a spiral over the top for decoration and to add sweetness, acidity, and heat flavors to the salt and smoke of the bacon and the sweetness (but a different kind) of the roasted peppers and corn.

We served the soup with an Italian white - a Verementino from Sardinia -- and this course was the surprise hit of the evening except for a very special bottle of wine that one of the guests brought for dessert: A 1989 Chateau Latour to go along with the Delaforce 20 yr-old tawny port I brought. Dessert itself was simply a tasting selection of Amedei "named origin" chocolates and a taste of the Amedei Porcelana -- we didn't need anything more elaborate.

:Clay

Clay Gordon

president, pureorigin

editor/publisher www.chocophile.com

founder, New World Chocolate Society

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A pretty fine menu there, Clay!

What Chocolates did you use in your courses?

I dig what you mean about pastry crossing over to savory.

I think people who had a savory background first would have much more success with a savory meets sweet dish.

I know my savory background helps me get more out of my desserts, with an eye toward seasoning.

I mean, I use salt in just about everything, and did way before the whole Fleming thing hit the streets.

I think Conticini's background in savory helps him push his stuff up over the edge.

Most French guys ( and girls) probably have that too.

Perhaps Bau's biggest drawback ( if indeed he has any!!!) is that he's so married to Valrhona!

Not that it's bad, it's one of the worlds premier products.

It's just that he's locked up in it.

Also, from what you described about the dinner, it seems he perhaps simply didn't have the time to devote to really perfecting the dishes.

That's a shame.

Thanks again for your insights ,etc.

2317/5000

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A pretty fine menu there, Clay!

What Chocolates did you use in your courses?

Perhaps Bau's biggest drawback ( if indeed he has any!!!) is that he's so married to Valrhona!

Not that it's bad, it's one of the worlds premier products.

It's just that he's locked up in it.

Also, from what you described about the dinner, it seems he perhaps simply didn't have the time to devote to really perfecting the dishes.

That's a shame.

Thanks again for your insights ,etc.

Ted:

I believe that you're right. I think that if you limit yourself to one product - or the products of a simple company - you limit yourself creatively. You tend to think of dishes in terms of what the product tastes like and how it behaves. The evening was limited because:

a: all the chocolate was from one manufacturer, and

b: all the wine was from one importer

BAU is a lot more comfortable as a pastry chef, I think his instincts there are much more highly developed. It takes a lot of familiarity with ingredients and preparation methods to know "instinctively" what to do to "fix" a dish.

Thus, one of the overall creative challenges was to make it work within the limits circumscribed by the ingredients. Harder for the wine guy because he was entirelyl reactive - the recipes were done before he got involved, and his choices were limited. An "independent" sommelier might have made different choices (and an "independent" chocolatier might have made different choices). I know that I base the choice of chocolate I use for my tasting classes and events on the clients' needs -- not the products of one chocolate manufacturer. And that helps a lot in part because it keep me fresh.

I used Cluizel cocoa nibs in the salad, Guittard Cocoa Rouge cocoa powder in the balsamic sauce for the soup and the Cluizel Hacienda Tamarina (Sao Tome) single-estate for the reduction on the duck. Amedei, as I said, for the dessert.

I am doing a similar menu for a dinner at a private club in a couple of weeks (adding a choice of pan-seared salmon with a pink chocolate beurre blanc for an entree) and an artisan chocolate tasting for dessert - a selection of seven artisan chocolatiers, most of whom will be at the dinner.

:Clay

Clay Gordon

president, pureorigin

editor/publisher www.chocophile.com

founder, New World Chocolate Society

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Clay,

Where would you recommend I try out here in the SW, New Mexico specifically, to try to get Cluizel chocolate?

And does it come in pistoles, etc.?

I know a lot of people here love it and I'm dying to get my hands on some.

Any info will be greatly appreciated.

PS: Is it really expensive, as Valrhona is?

2317/5000

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I had the entire 13-course menu Bau prepared during the Montreal Highlights Festival in mid February (this exact same menu has already been -- lightly -- discussed a while back on the Montreal board).

I actually thought the risotto was one of the better dishes. Our menu included a duck and chocolate pastilla, a lamb dish, an extra dessert and more.

I agree that Bau doesn't really excel at savoury BUT my surprise was how mediocre the desserts were. The gelée was an absolute failure in my books because the mouthfeel was more crumbly than melting and the last dessert, a sacher cake with truffle ice cream, was incredibly rich. The whole thing felt like an experiment and I wasn't wild about being Bau’s guinea pig.

BTW, I think he brought along one of the sous chefs from restaurant La Chronique in Montreal, where many of those dishes were conceived with chef Marc de Canck.

All in all, the chocolate element was often just the sauce, and one couldn't help thinking the taste was an intrusion. At the end, I felt sick to my stomach. I think the amount of cocoa butter may also be a factor in the overwhelming cloyingness of the meal.

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I had the entire 13-course menu Bau prepared during the Montreal Highlights Festival in mid February (this exact same menu has already been -- lightly -- discussed a while back on the Montreal board).

I actually thought the risotto was one of the better dishes. Our menu included a duck and chocolate pastilla, a lamb dish, an extra dessert and more.

I agree that Bau doesn't really excel at savoury BUT my surprise was how mediocre the desserts were. The gelée was an absolute failure in my books because the mouthfeel was more crumbly than melting and the last dessert, a sacher cake with truffle ice cream, was incredibly rich. The whole thing felt like an experiment and I wasn't wild about being Bau’s guinea pig.

BTW, I think he brought along one of the sous chefs from restaurant La Chronique in Montreal, where many of those dishes were conceived with chef Marc de Canck.

All in all, the chocolate element was often just the sauce, and one couldn't help thinking the taste was an intrusion. At the end, I felt sick to my stomach. I think the amount of cocoa butter may also be a factor in the overwhelming cloyingness of the meal.

Lesley:

The risotto may have been better in Montreal - different sous cooks, different kitchen, maybe less chocolate, maybe better pork. All I can say is that in this case it was like chocolate-flavored rice pudding with al-dente rice with bacon chunks and cheese.

You're right, the texture of the gelee was pretty off-putting, crumbly not rich at all ... but at this point you have to wonder if that was what he was looking for given the similarity in experience (though why he would want that texture is beyond me).

Using the sauce as the vehicle for the chocolate is very much a classical French approach and is one of the major ways I use it. However, I use it an an interesting accent, not the centerpiece (at least in savories) and that's how I think it works better.

All in all I think the impressions we have are pretty much the same: we, as guinea pigs, paid a lot of money for something that was pretty conceptual and dishes that needed to be prepared many more times before they were ready to be served to a paying (and unsuspecting) public.

:Clay

Clay Gordon

president, pureorigin

editor/publisher www.chocophile.com

founder, New World Chocolate Society

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Ted:

The importer and distributor for Cluizel is a company called Vintage Chocolates located in New Jersey. They also operate a web site called eChocolates.com and you can buy pretty much anything out of the Cluizel catalog (plus Sevarome and PCB) off the web site. If you want, you can set up a wholesale account and get terms.

Their 800# is 800 207 7058 so you can call to ask if there is a wholesaler out in your neck of the woods. If not, they'll ship and they've got a very good track record of delivering event in 100+ weather.

:Clay

Clay Gordon

president, pureorigin

editor/publisher www.chocophile.com

founder, New World Chocolate Society

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