Chocolate remains as a completely unique and mysterious ingredient. While there is so much focus on 'farm to table' very few in the industry have taken chocolate to the level of 'plantation to marble.' We have of lately seen several well-known pastry chefs step out and travel deep into Central and South America to understand the ingredient as a product of the Earth (Michael Laiskonis is one that comes to mind). Chocolate is similar to coffee in that they are both common vices, both have (historically) bad carbon footprints, and both follow similar trade patterns. Cacao is grown and harvested deep within these below the border countries and shipped to European countries where denominations such as Swiss and Belgian chocolates get the glory. During the presentation by Dominique Persoone at the Star Chefs ICC, one audience member afterwards asked why is Belgium famous for chocolate when it is not grown there and definitely not an indigenous product of that country. Chef Persoone did not understand the question because he gave a completely unrelated off track answer... but, it stuck in my head as an interesting question.
Once entering South America, cacao takes it's place as an agricultural product. The cacao pods are common although not thought of much when eating that candy bar in the USA. There is definitely an attraction to getting to the root of an ingredient. For Fabian's demo, he utilized fresh pods for an gelato. The seeds and there surrounding pulp were scooped out and soaked in water. Oxidation occurs rather quickly and even the end result frozen product seemed a bit browner than the previous day.
The gelato flavor, after being processed with cream, sugar, glucose, stabilizers, had essences of fresh produce... just in a chocolatey manner. Fresh, clean, and full of caffeine. Time seemed to round out the flavors even moreso (not deep and earthy, but green and fresh).
Here are some of the pods as we prepped in our hotel kitchen. That's Pancho scaling out ingredients (one of the Venezuelan Culinary students assigned to assist us... and did a great job for 3 days). Notice the huge bottle of malta also which found its way into 3 of our 4 demos.
Fabian calculating the ingredient amounts for the recipe.
The finished dish... with a few extra ingredients (excuse the poor quenelle, as Fabian brought some culinary students onstage to 'assist' with the plating).
We also had the pleasure of meeting Chef Jose Ramon Castillo of Que Bo! who was the star of the conference this year. He controls everything in the chocolate process for his company in Mexico from the terroir to the seasonal harvesting and all points of production afterwards. His chocolates are made with only natural colorings and he exclusively uses glucose instead of sugar because it interferes less with the true essence of the chocolate.