What I love about teaching workshops are the questions my students ask me about cacao and chocolate. What are the best cacao growing regions? What’s the best chocolate? How does Thai cacao compare with other countries? What is white chocolate? How do you come up with your flavors? And, as conversation follow its natural course to discussion of cacao and how processing methods, there are general exclamations like, I had no idea cacao was a fermented food! I had no idea what a long and complicated process it is to make chocolate!
The most satisfying realization I help students come around to is that last statement: what a long and complicated process it is to make chocolate. What inevitably comes up is the supply chain transparency in craft chocolate vs mass chocolate, the difference between bulk and fine cacao, the merits of directly traded cacao, and how their decision to purchase a bar of craft chocolate helps change many, many lives.
This is how we open a ganache formulation and truffle making workshop at Xoconat. Cecelia gifted her friend Rika a private workshop for Rika’s birthday and the three of us sat around my marble workshop table and gabbed about chocolate before turning towards flavor pairing and ganache formulation. My mission is to inspire people to mindfully shop for chocolate and to make it an intimate part of their kitchen pantry. Chocolate is a remarkably forgiving product if you know some key rules and parameters. And chocolate is a versatile food that can go with many herbs, spices, fruits and liquors. These are the options that I provide during a workshop. I open up my pantry and let my students discover new ingredients and guide them in unique ways of thinking about flavor and chocolate.
I encourage my students to reach for ingredients that speak to them personally, that vibrate something within them even if they aren’t sure what it is yet, because, I tell them, you’ll be surprised how it all ties together in the end and makes sense. The inspiration behind my flavors come from my mixed cultural heritage and the unique experiences that transpire within that terrain. Rika reached for raspberries, pistachios and cardamom. Cecelia was moved by the dried mango, lavender and kaffir lime leaf. Rika is Filipino Indian. Cecelia is an American with Hong Kong ethnic roots.
The entire transformative process – the gooey chocolatey mess, the rolling of the chocolate and getting it all over the hands, the desperation that creeps in when students look at their misshapen lumps of chocolate (“Is that the way it’s supposed to look?”) and don’t believe me when I tell them that it will all turn out alright, followed by the wonderment and excitement they express as they witness the entire process come together while they garnish their truffles is, admittedly, a bit of an emotional roller coaster — but is exactly what I love so much about chocolate and the sharing of it. There is a sense of immense pride and accomplishment as I observe my students delicately place their truffles in candy cups, share a taste of their creations with each other and box them up to take home and share with their family. And when they say, “I learned so much about chocolate today!” or, “I’m going to be more mindful about what kind of chocolate I buy now,” I know I have done my work for the day. Know the source and honor it.