Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Looking West: A San Francisco Chocolate Update

"As we reflect on the accomplishments of the past years, we're setting new goals for 2013, ready to transcend the limits of our creativity and growth for you," wrote Michael and Jacky Recchiuti in an email to customers yesterday.  And the couple has accomplished a staggering amount at the  unassumingly exquisite Recchiuti Confections in the last twelve months.  But the facts of their statement and the justifiably optimistic sentiment could apply just as well to the entire Bay Area chocolate industry.  As the plugged-in chocolate makers at TCHO on the Embarcadero just posted on Twitter (in response to some online brouhaha about Belgium losing its place in the chocolate kingdom), "Where in the world... should the new #chocolate capitol be?? (ahem, #SanFrancisco, ahem!?)"

Chocolate has as much history as gold in San Francisco, and the local trade in confections has long outlasted that in malleable metals.  Gold Rush era chocolate makers included the European immigrants Domenico Ghirardelli and Etienne Guittard.  In the 20th century Alice Medrich (maybe you could call her the Alice Waters of the chocolate world) and John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg continued the process of adapting old world traditions to these more lush, wilder, western surroundings.  In 2013, firmly entrenched in the 21st century of the Georgian calendar and at the beginning of a new Mayan calendar cycle, North Americans have become some of the world's leading artisan chocolatiers and chocolate makers--and the Bay Area is the best place to celebrate their work.

Recchiuti Confections: Michael and Jacky Recchiuti have been Dogpatch residents for over 15 years.  They brought their shared passions for travel, fine food, pastry, independent music, and independent businesses to this former industrial neighborhood when they started Recchiuti Confections.  Friends and lucky journalists sometimes stopped by the company's factory space, entertained by a drum set in one corner, an espresso machine outfitted for Blue Bottle coffee in another, rooms full of perfectly tempered chocolates and precisely chilled ganache.  But only the occasional customer who signed up for a workshop on, say, salt and chocolate pairings, ever got to ride the freight elevator into the production space.  Fans could visit the Recchiuti retail outpost at the Ferry Building foodie mecca and sometimes even find Michael and Jacky there among the dragees, C3 triple caramel boxes, and little black boxes of bon bons (transcendent, yes).  But it wasn't until they started playing with the Little Nib concept around Valentine's Day of last year, eventually opening a permanent shop at 807 22nd Street, that the nationally renowned Recchiuti Confections became the neighborhood business that the owners had always envisioned.  And a few months ago, they recruited the local artists and designers Eric Heid, Flora Grubb, and Nate Watson to help them outfit yet another neighborhood space for a Recchiuti project--the Chocolate Lab "sweet and savory" cafe.  "Jacky and I live across from the cafe, which allows us to support both the chocolate biz and cafe with no commute issues," Michael told me recently. "I think the Chocolate Lab will remain a destination place in Dogpatch. We would like to keep this place special and local."

Dandelion Chocolate: Set out from the Dogpatch, walk up and over Potrero Hill, and you're in the Mission.  Valencia Street circa 2013 is an all-American story of revitalization, oversaturation, diversity, gentrification, and above all else foodie-ism.  Among the new neighbors are Cameron, Todd, and Alice from Dandelion Chocolate.  "Cameron and I starting making chocolate in a garage in early 2010. Originally we were just experimenting with beans, roasts, making machines, and learning about chocolate," former techie Todd Masonis just told me over email.  "We think that San Francisco truly is the chocolate city and has a long history of chocolate makers and chocolatiers. We felt that the loss of Scharffen Berger left a huge void and gave us something to aspire to. Eventually, after countless tests and roasts, we shared our chocolate with friends and family and were overwhelmed with the response. We decided to take our chocolate to the Underground Market and were surprised at how many people liked it. From there we decided to turn it into a business."  And the business is growing.  They've been nominated for a Good Food Award, they're on the shelves at Bi-Rite markets and Fog City News, and they're adored by the kids at 826 Valencia.  They have a cafe in the works, too, which with any luck will be open by this year's Saint Valentine's Day.

Charles Chocolates: You might not have heard this name too often in recent months.  That's because the company that started across the San Francisco Bay in Emeryville in 2004 and relocated to prime real estate in the Westfield Centre in SoMa a handful of years later unexpectedly filed for bankcruptcy in 2011. Charles, or Chuck, Siegel is the playful purveyor of Chocolate Butterflies, the Asiaphile who introduced a line of delicately bold Chinese tea-infused candies, and an avid supporter of bloggers and other upstarts.  (I learned most of what I needed to know about chocolate during a layover in 2006 when he invited me into his East Bay kitchen).  A shrewd executive, Chuck's planning a comeback this season, also in the Mission.  If we're all lucky the master chocolatier will be working with couverture supplied by Dandelion and other American micro chocolate makers.  I had a chance to talk to emeritus Bay Area chocolatier Alice Medrich about Chuck once and she told me that he has "this enthusiasm and passion and lack of attitude and just this real... what’s the word?  He wasn’t and isn’t... What am I trying to say?  He has a good and sophisticated palate but he isn’t snobby in any way. He makes delicious things, he’s uncompromising about his quality, and now that I see him back in his business it just seems like it was always meant to be."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG. Charles Chocolate? Please, E-child, not again. (Count me in the "snob club" if you must, Alice.) You did not bring up Charles Chocolate in the same piece with Recchiuti, now did you?

Maybe with Dandelion (ok, they currently deserve each other but even that will be a stretch one day when Dandelion loses its training wheels and dismounts its bean-to-bar tricycle).

One is master of his craft (Michael). The other (Charles) a cocoa version of Barnum and Bailey.

On another front, I caught this recently about "chocolate epicenters" on another site (nowhere near as erudite as yours, maybe you can offer them some guidance):

Over the centuries, the root/route of chocolate in the USA started with the Boston barsmiths (most notably Walter Baker & Co; indeed the earliest record of cocoa beans imported in to Colonial America occurred August 23, 1686 when the ship Adventure sailed into Boston harbor from the Caribbean island of Nevis) & moved out West to follow the fortunes of the 49er gold miners (Ghirardelli & Guittard), then zig-zagged back East to Hershey’s, PA + McLean, VA (Mars HQ), with a stop in Chicago along the way (candy companies from Brach’s to Wrigley set up operations there).

Guys like Dylan Butterbaugh of Mānoa producing bars alongside Madre, Seneca Klassen, Original Hawaiian, Kona Shark, & others in their wake that form an industry cluster, signals that the center of chocolate gravity may be shifting again… to Hawai’i.

What say you?

12:31 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Unknown said...

Alright, Man of Mystery. How about you meet me at the Hawaii Chocolate Festival during Hawaii Grown Cacao Month this February ( and declare your identity and intensions?

4:51 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG are still pimping charles? The previous anonymous had it right , a "barnum and bailey" huckster of epic proportions who deserved the fate he sowed.

have you eaten all of dandelion's offerings? They are no better than any other small "cocoatown melanger" using bean-to-bar maker. Howe many more companies need to look like the Mast brothers-(who also suck) Would that all starts up had seed money from making software and selling it for big bucks.

In spite of anonymous' declaration of hawaii as the possible epicenter; not happening. Again, more hype. Madre has made 1 good bar--unfortunately the cocoa beans and the pulp are from the DR, not hawaii.

The problem with hawaii is there is no genetic adherence, no good drying operations, and no good beans. There is NOTHING happening in hawaii for awhile. Seneca may have a handle on it, but he is YEARS away from having a quality process in place.

Please do not escalate the hype.

Maichael is the bomb. Nice guy, great product...even if he is a Valrhona whore...

11:33 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am closer than you probably think and already there.

Obviously we missed each other at the base of one of the snake-balustrades lining the temples in the Yucatan to mark the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012. As well as in front of the Havana post office at high noon on New Year's Day where a gaggle of chocolate seekers met along the trail.

But I prefer to avoid those who, to use your word, are "intensions". (Was that a typo caused by carpal tunnel tension or explicitly intentional?) It is just the fierce non-violent warrior in me.

The road to hell may be paved with them but I am trying to stay on this side of the good ones.

Please divulge yours.

You know my name,
The Fatman

12:37 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon II,

Madre has improved though still a ways away;

Seneca's prototypes have been more than promising.

Fact is, with the exceptions of extremely few and far between examples, no place on earth has much cacao genetic adherence so why single out Hawaii?

Another indisputable is that Hawaii has some attractive germplasm awaiting further propagation. If it gets its act together (a BIG 'if'), it very well could be a chocolate Napa (offshore, of course, and all the headaches that that involves).

And, finally, if not there, then where? Mexico? Colombia? Madagascar? Australia? Cuba? Been to Venezuela lately? Right. I omitted many countries but you got the coordinates mapped out.

And please respect our dear and fearless moderator, Emily. At least she has the restraint, common sense, and good taste not to bring up Dick Taylor. Or was that just an accident of geography since it is outside of San Francisco? Whatever.

Emily, please do not disappoint me by including Dick in some upcoming article. That would totally ruin my faith in you. Unless of course you lay Dick out flatter than the asphalt that the company labels and sells as "chocolate".


12:15 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Unknown said...

Here is a good article about the chocolate market in China

12:22 AM GMT-5  

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