Monday, January 11, 2010

Cradle of Chocolate: Back to San Francisco

Just a couple of week's ago, chocolate's illuminating powers seemed to have dimmed. I worried over my mediocre ingredients, mediocre baking skills, and mediocre photos. But things look different in 2010, in large part due to a much-needed (if temporary) change in my (culinary) landscape. I am a reader, writer, and eater who responds particularly to landscape: the volcanoes and histrionics of Guatemala, the desert expanses of Australia. And in this country, though I'm a New Yorker by pedigree, I seem to thrive among the the hilly neighborhoods, burritos, and carefully-selected wine bottles of San Francisco. I not only took enough photos to fill an album (which I've posted on Facebook) but I uncovered enough quirks and romantic details to return to in blog post after article after MFA manuscript chapter for an entire year.

Here's a summary, to be expanded upon in various forms and genres:

Recchiuti Confections: Michael Recchiuti is perhaps both the classiest and the most low key of American chocolatiers. It had been a couple of years since I visited his factory in San Francisco's Dog Patch (the neighborhood which, according to my own cartography, is behind Potrero Hill, which, in turn, is behind the Mission). He's expanded the place since I was last there to include an extra room with an espresso machine for Blue Bottle Coffee and enough space to host regular tasting events. His newest project is an expansion of the dragée line, which already included chocolate-drenched almonds and hazelnuts, into two-kinds of chocolate-coated cherries. On his own blog, he outlines the recipe for the cherries and the process of running them through his new panning machines.

Bittersweet: No one I know can more graciously carry out a calm, intelligent conversation about chocolate than Seneca Klassen, co-owner of the chocolate boutique and cafe Bittersweet. We met at the Fillmore Street branch (just hours before I had an elegantly indulgent dinner down the block at SPQR with my friend Barbara and a couple of her friends) where we discussed Seneca's pragmatic approach to chocolate retailing: sell people the novelties they want whether or not they're any good, but invest time and energy in new stuff that you'd like to see go somewhere (like Askinosie's new white chocolate bar made with goat milk). Seneca's opinion is that no one makes a better chocolate from Madagascar beans than Patric's Alan McClure (who Bittersweet will likely host in an in-store event this month), but I think the most recent batch from Seneca's own Bittersweet Origins is a fierce competitor.

Tcho: If Brad Kintzer (the botanist-bean sourcer-chocolate maker who joined Tcho when Scharffen Berger decamped for Ohio) is telling you how to make chocolate, you're chocolate's going to be good sometime soon. Customers and critics (myself included) have been hard on the four-year-old company for its aggressive techno-marketing before the product is really ready to go public, but Brad introduced me to co-founder Louis Rossetto (who curiously sampled some beans I'd brought back from Guatemala) and a host of other buyers, fondeurs, and rain makers who seem to be doing in earnest exactly what they announce themselves to be doing: taking advantage of technology to communicate with growers and customers as part of a process to reevaluate and improve the whole chocolate-making system. It turns out I'd barged in at the transitional moment when another Tcho founder, Timothy Childs, was taking his leave of the company (as Louis Rossetto, who looks remarkably like his personified icon, just announced on the Tcho blog), but the most interesting thing to me was the Tcho professional line--a couple of wonderfully savory and chocolatey blends that the likes of Michael Recchiuti have taken to using.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't stop posting such themes. I love to read blogs like this. By the way add some pics :)

1:46 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Chocolate Party Favors said...

Visiting the Recchiuti Confections factory was awesome because you've able to witness the process of making their products. The bittersweet chocolate was great also,coz it's different compared to the normal or regular chocolates that we've eaten.

10:04 PM GMT-5  

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