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Dandelion Chocolate

Dandelion chocolate

One of the interesting things about leading chocolate tours is that I get to meet a wide swatch of people who have various interests. Some just like to come and taste, others have more professional aspirations. When Todd Masonis joined me a few years ago, we had some talks about his idea of opening a bean-to-bar hot chocolate salon. I had a pretty good amount of experience meeting with – and tasting – many of the American bean-to-bar chocolates, folks who were participating in what Chloé Doutre-Roussel, whose is one of the most knowledgable people about chocolate that I know, refers to as “The American Chocolate Revolution.” And I was encouraging, but also knew of the difficulties these folks faced in terms of building a facility to make chocolate.

Many of these people are mavericks, with the “revolution” starting over a decade ago, and now encompasses perhaps two dozen or so enterprising people who’ve been producing bean-to-bar chocolate in the states. Todd had started a successful internet company so I could tell he had the drive to do something new and interesting, but sourcing the beans and getting the equipment together isn’t easy. So no one was more surprised than me to get a note in my Inbox recently from Todd, who said that inspired by our talks on that trip, he was about to open his new place, Dandelion Chocolate, producing bean-to-bar chocolate in San Francisco’s Mission district with his business partner, Cameron Ring. And I was intrigued.

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The Best Brownie in London

Paul A. Young Brownie

If you skip over the fact that I made three trips in the past thirty days, and have two more coming up in the next two weeks, I don’t really travel all that much. (And it’s funny because some people like to try to point out inconsistencies about things I write about, which is amusing because I take even greater pains to point them out myself.) Before I moved to Europe, I was always quite surprised when I thought Europeans spent all their free time and weekends heading to other countries, visiting new cities, and immersing themselves in foreign cultures, when quite a few of them stay at home in lieu of hitting the road.

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Recchiuti’s Asphalt Jungle Mix

Recchiuti asphalt jungle mix

Michael Recchiuti was recently here in Paris for a few weeks, visiting, and eating his way around town. Because he’s a chocolatier (from San Francisco), of course, he concentrated on chocolate. Interestingly I couldn’t remember how we met, but he recalled the event pretty well.

Apparently a group of us had been invited to Robert Steinberg’s kitchen, since he was working on developing ScharffenBerger chocolate. Along with me and Michael, Harold McGee was there, as well as a few other local pastry types. Although I vaguely remember this (so I reserve the right to dispute it at a later date), Michael said that I arrived for the chocolate tasting and discussion with a bag filled with my very own plastic containers and proceeded to unload and open them, each containing a recipe I was working on for my chocolate book, asking the various pastry chefs and food professionals sitting around the table for their opinions.

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Blondel Chocolate

chocolate at blondel

Les françaises are justifiably proud of their chocolates and chocolatiers, but if you talk to them about Swiss chocolate, many will say – “Oh, Swiss chocolate is very, very good.” Yet when I press them on which particular brands of chocolate are “very good”, they often don’t, or can’t, pin down the specific names* of any.

chocolates at Blondel

Folks who have been to Lausanne – French, American, and otherwise – however, always talk in glowing terms about Chocolats Blondel. And indeed, they’re worthy of adulation from people, far and wide, a fact I recently was reminded of.

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Nunu Chocolates from Brooklyn, in Paris

chocolates filled with salted butter caramel

A few years ago an American friend asked me about opening a pop-up store in Paris, featuring something he creates with chocolate in New York City. At the time, I advised against it. People outside of the United States do have some preconceived notions about how Americans eat (many still think we all eat at fast-food restaurants), but a recent wave of magazine articles about food in America, small restaurants in Paris with America-trained chefs and owners, and most importantly, people traveling to the United States and seeing the astounding produce at the greenmarkets, I’d like to think has caused a shift in thinking.

chocolate tools

So I was excited to see that Nunu Chocolates from Brooklyn had set up a space in the Brachfeld Gallery in the Marais here in Paris, for a temporary pop-up shop featuring their chocolates.

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Xoco Hot Chocolate

Homemade Mexican Vanilla Soft Serve Xoco hot chocolate

At my get-together and book event the other evening here in Chicago, the biggest question I was asked by all who came by was – “Where are you eating while you’re in Chicago?” Thanks to a vast network of friends, bloggers, and assorted other folks (who I’ll get to in a minute), I’ve been eating incredibly well. People here are brimming with suggestions of places to go, near and far. And interesting, everyone wanted to know how long I was staying in town. Next time I come, I think I’ll create an online calendar and let folks fill in my dining itinerary because not once was I steered wrong. The only thing I lack is time, and tummy space.

When I travel, aside from eating, my most important order of business is lying in bed in my hotel-issued zebra-striped bathrobe (a photo of me in it will not be forthcoming) watching American television, and it’s hard to roust me from my horizontal position.

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Rogue Chocolatier

Rogue Piura chocolatier Rogue chocolate

I realized the other day while gathering and tabulating receipts for the year, that my expenses for cheese far outweighed my expenses for chocolate. I’ve always been fascinated, and wanted to highlight on the site, some of the great bean-to-bar chocolates being made in America since I know it can be a tough business making chocolate on a small scale. But one that fell under my radar was Rogue, which was started after I’d moved away from the states so I wasn’t able to give it a try.

Also because I thought what all these American bean-to-bar chocolate makers were doing was tremendously exciting. And two of my friends had started a company and I saw how much work and passion (and money) went into what they did. They grew and flourished, but some of the smaller companies weren’t getting the recognition that I thought they deserved, so I decided to profile them. And since it’s my site, I can do whatever I want. So there.

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American Chocolate Hazelnut Paste

hazelnut chocolate spread

No one was happier than I was to receive the news, directly from the chocolate-maker himself, that Askinosie was jarring up a chocolate and hazelnut spread. To make the spread, cocoa powder is made from pulverized cocoa beans sourced directly from the farmers in the Philippines, and hazelnut butter is made from nuts harvested from an orchard in the Pacific Northwest. Then they’re both ground together with a modest amount of sugar and a few cocoa beans tossed in the mix.

I don’t have any problems with Nutella, but I know some people are concerned about exactly what’s in that too easily-reachable oval jar. I don’t regularly buy it, but have been known to dip my knife into a jar every now and then myself, and wonder what quantities people are eating it in that makes it problematic? I suppose if I was plowing through a jar a week, I’d be more concerned. But for an “occasional user” like myself, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Still, I was happy to hear that there was a chocolate-hazelnut spread made with ingredients sourced direct from their origins, created by a pioneering American bean-to-bar chocolate maker.

sliced baguette chocolate hazelnut spread

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