"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." ~ Thomas A. Edison
Chocolate tasting! It was another event with the Liberal Boomer Group, at Kakao in Maplewood. We were to bring our own wine, and would learn what chocolates paired well with our favorite wines. I don't really drink wine (it makes me hot and sleepy). Still, I thought it was a sound idea.
Brian the Chocolatier promised us a geography and chemistry lesson in the making of chocolate, but first he gave us a quick history of his business. He had worked for two decades in corporate communications, but really wanted to do something different. "I knew I wanted to work with my hands," he said, "and I love cooking." One day, a neighbor lady asked him to help her sell a bunch of chocolate making equipment she had in her basement.
He held up fingers as he told us: "First, I bought the equipment; then I rented a space; then I quit my job; THEN I learned how to make chocolate." Yay risk taking! I was wholeheartedly on his side by this time.
He showed us photos of cacao trees, told us where they grow (in a fairly narrow band around the equator), explained the pods and their contents which look nothing like chocolate.
From the weird filling of these pods come the cocoa beans, which don't turn chocolate-colored until they're roasted. As he displayed a photo of a Mexican street filled with roasting beans, I asked if that was real - I mean, they were just spread all over the street - but yes, it was real.
According to Brian, very few places in the world roast and process chocolate. The growers in these equatorial areas have no idea what our concept of chocolate is. The beans are shipped off to be roasted, then ground up like a very coarse coffee. I think he said the Mayans drank this ground cacao steeped in water and swore it came from the gods ... WITHOUT SUGAR! We tasted some ground cocoa. It was bitter.
So sugar has become part of the processing. He told us what percentages are "dark chocolate." The talk of chocolate percentages reminded me of the carats in gold, and he does treat his chocolates like precious gems. Which, believe me, they are. After one bite Sara pronounced, wide-eyed, "I'm never eating M&Ms again!"
It seems that at some point the cocoa/sugar mixture becomes too crumbly to work with, so you have to add mik to hold it together ... voila, milk chocolate. And vanilla enhances the flavor. And if you mix this up but omit the cocoa, you get white chocolate.
So that was my lesson in chocolate, which I do not intend to put to any practical use. Instead, I educated my palate.
"What is a truffle?" asked Brian. "It's a fungus that grows underground. Dogs and pigs dig for it. It's very rare, highly prized, exquisitely tasty, and it looks like a dirty rock. That's NOT what we mean when we use the word 'truffle.'" It seems a chocolate truffle has a soft, flavored center and a hard coating called a ganache. When it is rolled in ground-up cocoa, it looks like a dirty rock ... and it is rare, exquisite and highly prized. Thus the name "truffle."
Time for our first truffle tasting. Brian described his hand-dipped truffles as "Lego-sized," and insisted we use two bites to eat them. "Take a bite," he said. "Let it rest on your tongue and fill your mouth with flavor." This was a chai tea truffle, and I was in heaven with that first bite. I was glad I didn't have wine to muddy the flavor.
I don't know what the second truffle was because as he was telling us about it, my BlackBerry was buzzing. I had to go back to work.
But here's the thing: before becoming a chocolatier, Brian used to work where I do. His moment of epiphany came not from the client work or the long hours, but from the realization that this was not what he wanted to do. A job posting that dovetailed exactly with his resume, at a firm where he had good friends, attracted his attention and he gave it serious consideration, but in the end it wasn't what he wanted.
Brian is my new hero. He is building up quite a good business and reputation, winning awards and kudos in all the local foodie media with flavor combinations like lavender-vanilla and Turkish coffee with cardamom. But besides that, he stopped doing the expected thing, took a leap into the unknown and gave himself a chance to be happy.
That job I had to go back to? Read the title of this post.