The Delicious Move to Chocolate Artist
A row of artists’ tools hangs the entire length of my favorite wall at work: wire whips for stand mixers, giant slotted spoons, and variously sized mesh strainers, including a chinois. To the right stands our tempering machine—flawlessly smooth, molten chocolate running from its spout, as from a chocolate fountain of childhood daydreams, into the slowly rotating drum below. Mesmerizing. I sent a photo to a friend, and she replied, “It’s a chocolate sink!”
Turn around and you’ll see wall racks on the other side of the kitchen with 3-kg bags of Valrhona chocolates from France, stacked and patiently waiting for us to create good and beautiful things from them. I could almost hear the Guanaja 70% Dark eagerly muttering to the 35% Ivoire White chocolates: “Good morning! Let’s go! My goodness, what are they waiting for?” (all in French, of course).
An editor, former engineer, and retired homeschool teacher with no culinary experience on my résumé, I somehow ended up in a professional kitchen wearing a black apron made for professional chefs and making the fanciest Devil’s Food Cakes I have ever seen, their sides dressed to impress with dark chocolate curls and their glazed tops flecked with edible gold leaf. (Edible gold leaf!) Our Whiskey Cherry Cordials, also with gold, are so glamorous that a bride-to-be recently ordered them to be individually wrapped as wedding reception favors. I’m still pinching myself that I actually work here, making those.
Many years ago during our weekly homeschool library visits, my sons checked out books on fighter jets and pet rats and the Titanic while I, an in-my-dreams pastry chef, checked out cookbooks. In those days, I half-joked that if I ever had twin girls, I’d name them Val and Rhona. Now a couple of decades later, I’m making truffles with Valrhona chocolates. Wait, did that really happen? (Pinch, pinch.) Yes, it is really happening. Thank you, Travis and Sam.
Like a proud mama showing off photos of her babies, I often show people photos of the truffles and pastries I make. If I share the photos on social media, I always use the hashtag #madewithlove, and this is what I mean. Whenever I decorate each Passion Fruit Mousse Bar with those three delicate white chocolate stars, I’m imagining someone in my head. Who will take this one home? This one in particular? Will it be a man who just purchased a gift from Moonbeam Clothiers two doors down, then stepped into our store for something sweet to add to the gift? A woman on her lunch break? A grandfather and granddaughter on an afternoon downtown outing, walking in hand-in-hand?
Those people in my imagination, you and you and you, are always in the back of my mind as I measure out ingredients to the nearest gram. As I stand thermometer in hand to precisely temper 85% Abinao dark chocolate. As I spread that tempered chocolate in broad, brisk strokes onto a baking sheet with an offset spatula, then sprinkle cacao nibs all the way to the edges. As I put on blue dishwashing gloves and scrub that baking sheet so we can make more chocolate bark for the next person who walks in the store or shops on our website. Made with love.
Once (so far), I worked not in the kitchen but in the store. I was a customer of Cacao Chemistry, a small business, for years before I was an employee, so it’s a familiar place. And yet, the experience is different from the other side of the counter. Instead of imagining customers as I worked in the kitchen, I saw them before me as they walked into the store.
“What are those?” a young woman asked.
“Those are our Passion Fruit Mousse Bars.”
“Wow!” she said. Just one word. That happened to be the first batch of Passion Fruit Mousse Bars I had ever made.
A man in military fatigues walked in. “Hi!” greeted Sam. “The usual?” So now I know this man’s usual order: one dark hot chocolate made with oat milk, and one milk hot chocolate.
Some who entered were out-of-town visitors just passing through on their way to a ski resort. They ordered macarons, truffles, and some chocolate from the shelves.
A man told us he was there for his son. “When he fills up his sticker book, he gets to have a chocolate party with his friends.” This means the truffles I hand-dipped will be for a father throwing a chocolate party for his son. Even better than I imagined.
A woman and her family walked in. Her family members browsed the shelves, but she marched straight to the pastry case. “I want two cakes,” she declared almost fiercely. “It’s my birthday, and my three-year-old granddaughter loves those cakes.” Cakes for the granddaughter, on the grandmother’s birthday—the very same gold-flecked cakes I had just created the day before.
Happy Birthday, dear grandmother. Next week, I’ll be in the kitchen again, thinking of you as I pour ganache. With love.
Photos from Cacao Chemistry. Post by Monica Sharman.
Poetry Prompt: Find It in Chocolate
Using any of the phrases in this post, create a found chocolate poem. If you need a little extra inspiration, go get your favorite chocolate and take some of the words or phrases from the wrapper. Then whip up a delicious poem and share it in the comment box below. 🙂