Qs & As with Amy Singh, Chocolatiere, Activist, Educator

Amy SinghAmy Singh, at least partially frozen forever on the internet as the pre-teen chocolate savant, is growing up. The 22-year-old graduated this past May from Boston University with a double major in International Relations and Economics, but there will always be traces of her as a young girl celebrated for her chocolate making skills, not least for her 2007 public service video created to raise awareness about the presence of third world child labor in cacao’s journey to first world shelves.

Prior to the PSA, the sister of three and child of a pharmaceutical company engineer and a nurse, had been recognized for educating her own taste buds and others, and developing her own homemade chocolate brand. However, that video showed how her journey was evolving from an interest in the way chocolate affected her to how it connected the world. It was a vision she pursued at BU, with one of the highlights of those four years being invited to give a Ted Talk in Prague, which she told an interviewer was her first public presentation about chocolate since about age 11.

For all the claims about how chocolate increases brain power, Amy’s is truly a story of how a passion for chocolate opens up the mind, and she has been kind enough to take some time from her new job as an analyst for an educational management company to answer a few questions about where that open mind will take her next.

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: What is the first taste of chocolate that you remember inspiring your passion and can you name a current favorite?

Amy Singh: Thanks to wonderful parents and family friends, I was exposed to chocolate (good chocolate) from a very young age. And because I live in the NYC area, I started going to the New York Chocolate Show also at a young age as well. These two things definitely ignited my passion for chocolate. I cannot remember specifically the first taste of chocolate that trigged my curiosity, but I was so intrigued by the fact that chocolate was made of cacao, a fruit! That is why I initially began researching chocolate. The complex nature and taste of chocolate continues to excite me. I always have a hard time picking favorites because depending on the time of day and the mood I am in, determines the types of chocolate I want to be indulging in. But if I must choose one right now, it would be Pacari Raw 70 percent (Ecuador) — the flavors of the beans are incredibly rich and also remind me a lot of my own chocolate!

CAC: How did your family and friends participate in your chocolate journey when you were younger?

AS: My family and friends have been quite the support network. I always get asked about how I was able to juggle school, sports, family, friends, and chocolate adventuring when I was young and it really comes down to the fact that I have some incredible people, mentors, friends, family, in my life to make it all possible. My mom likes to say that it takes a village to raise a family and I could not agree more with her. My dad has always been an adventurous eater and has a great palate, so when it came to chocolate, he was always supporting me to dive deeper and go further. I am also extremely fortunate AmySingh2 to have a great friend/mentor, Jim, who has been there always from day one with a lending hand and mind. Jim and my dad used to work together and are both engineers, so as you can imagine that became a huge asset when I was trying to construct my own chocolate factory.

I am one of four children in my family (five, if you include our dog, Ace) and so much of who I am and what I have done and continue to do, is because of my siblings and parents. When I was young, I used to copy everything that my older sister, Anita, did. If she was into a new brand of shoes, so was I! So it is no surprise when I think back to my initial love for chocolate, in part, bloomed from my sister’s love for chocolate. Back in the day, way before I was making chocolate, my sister was the chocolate princess, or at least that was what her email said!

CAC: Which college experiences in and out of the classroom regarding chocolate were most interesting and helped you develop?

AS: One of the best experiences of my college years was studying abroad in London. Not only was it a transformative experience for me personally, but it allowed me to reflect and experience chocolate in a new light. I found that within the United Kingdom, people and stores tended to much more social awareness of fair trade, and so there was much more of it to be seen on the product labels, especially those for chocolate. It was pretty exciting to engage in deep conversations with people about this. I was also very fortunate to be able to travel throughout Europe as well and continue to experience chocolate differently. It also allowed me to reconnect with chocolate experts/friends, like Chloe Doutre-Roussel, whom I met up with while I was visiting Paris

I would have to also mention that my college experiences in Boston, opened the doors to many people and places that I was able to connect with because of chocolate! Many of my photos and videos of my early chocolate adventure days, resurfaced during my college years. My friends thought it was the funniest and “cutest” thing ever! I beg to differ…

CAC: How does being a chocolate celebrity affect your everyday life with friends and family, and do you have a philosophy of how chocolate connects the world?

AS: Ha, ha! Chocolate celebrity! I am truly humbled by that, but by no means do I consider myself a chocolate celebrity (nor do most people!) It is a pretty rare occasion for someone to recognize me as that chocolate girl and the few times it has happened, I was completely floored. I actually tend not to talk much about my chocolate adventures unless someone specifically brings it up. It is my friends and family that have been there from day one of my chocolate journey, that are the ones that usually “brag” to other people about my adventures. It definitely is always fun seeing and hearing people’s reactions though. For example, when one of my close friends from college heard about my chocolate story a few years ago, she was adamant about explaining to me about how and why chocolate making from beans is so difficult… “My friends tried to make chocolate in high school and they just could not do it! It is sooo hard!” I just sat, listened, and smiled!

Chocolate connects the world, because for the most part it is mutual ground for people — whether you have am expert palate or just simply enjoy eating chocolate covered strawberries — chocolate has a unique way of connecting us. For me, it has made the world so much smaller, in that I have friends who I have made throughout the globe because of chocolate. My young self was also never too shy about speaking to people about chocolate, including some of the world’s experts in chocolate. For example, when I reached out to Maricel Presilla, I was just in the research phrase of my chocolate making adventures. She invited me to one of her restaurants in New Jersey and handed me a bag of world class cacao beans, and eventually that led to my very own chocolate. She could have easily dismissed a 9-year-old but instead she treated me with respect and generosity. When the TEDxPrague coordinator who had invited me to speak told me that he had heard about me through a colleague of his, who happened to have worked in a chocolate shop in the Czech Republic, I was once again reminded how small the world can be — and also incredibly amazed that my story traveled so far and took the interest of people that did not know me at all!

CAC: Do you have a chocolate-themed wish list?

AS: Chocolate-themed wish list! I can think of too many things that are on this list including creating my very own version of a Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory! In reality though, I do truly want to, some day soon, visit a cacao plantation/farm. I have done a decent amount of research on cacao plantations around the world but have never visited one. It would be a remarkable experience and I look forward to when I can make this happen.

CAC: What’s next for you in continuing your journey of chocolate passion and also in pursuing other interests?

AS: With chocolate, I find myself always being surprised by what doors and opportunities open next. I never imagined or dreamed of being on a TEDx stage giving a talk about my chocolate story! And yet, it happened! I currently do not have any specific chocolate projects at the moment but I am always thinking about next steps as well as always trying to stay in touch and connected with all the wonderful people that I have met because of my chocolate adventures.

I graduated from Boston University this past May with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Economics, and I just started my first post-graduation job. I am working as an analyst for an educational management company that specializes in failing/turnaround public schools. Education is also another passions of mine and just like chocolate, most people have a connection to it and can find some common ground. I am looking forward to being a small part of transforming the education system as well as figuring out how to continue to combine my passions for chocolate — the past, present and future of which an be seen at AmysChocolate.com and facebook.com/amyschocolate.com — and education!

ChocoMas Bells Ringing Soon

White Chocolate Xmas Tree - Jacques TorresOnly 14 shopping days left until ChocoMas. What to do?

Should we prepare for the big day by making batches of triple chocolate granola our breakfast every day? Would it be better to channel the spirit of so many overwhelmed shoppers and kvetch? In this case lamenting the traditional way of counting down with whinging about chocolate Advent calendars being a sham as thechocolate is usually crap? And in that spirit of desultory countdown, should we fwo wup frm eating too many (any?) “limited edition” White Chocolate Pringles or await the promise of the more sophisticated Japanese French Fries dipped in chocolate scheduled to debut 9 January?

On a much happier note, how many hours of practice (10,000?) until we can build a white chocolate Christmas Tree as gorgeous as chocomaestro Jacques Torres’ table delight?

Speaking of people making things in “the spirit of the season” nobody previously thought they needed, we seem to have missed out on the potential to contribute via Kickstarter to Las Vegas performance of the chocolate “Jesus Melts for You”:

As well as investing in a company with a business plan to bring one’s own personal chocolate Jesus to life

There is still pre-Chocomas time, however, to claim our chocolate paint; invest via IndieGogo in chocolate diet sticks with guaranteed pre-1 January delivery or via Kickstarter in a new chocolate stores Apropo Chocolates in New York City or The Chocolatier in Wellington, New Zealand; or just download ChocoMap a free app promising directions for any smart phone user to the nearest chocolatiere?

So many choices and work to do. Only 14 days to go …

Ate Through Any Good Books Recently?

chocolate head_phrenologyPublication of The Mast Brothers collection of stories and recipes Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook is the news in the Venn Diagram of chocolate and book circles. However, it shouldn’t be discounted how much the power of beards, as displayed in their sales video, helps catapult the gourmet chocolatista authors onto best seller charts.

The buzz around the book and authors is a reminder of a fantasy inspired this summer by the news report that the aroma of chocolate causes book sales to pop. Wouldn’t the perfect bookstore (obviously and admittedly one for a small but IMPORTANT niche) would be a bookstore smelling of chocolate and selling only chocolate-themed books?

Turns out that as the weather turns cooler and the gift-giving season nears, publishers are releasing a bunch of titles that would help fill that bookstore’s shelves. There are new, “real” cookbooks, including quasi-royal “Queen of Vegan Desserts” Fran Costigan’s Vegan Chocolate , which features ideas she has been working on for over 20 years.

A complete revision of three-time Cookbook of the Year award winner Alice Medrich‘s Bittersweet paean to chocolate dessert making, published in 2003 (and named the 2004 IACP Cookbook of the Year), has been reissued as Seriously Bitter Sweet with recipes for 150 pies, tarts, cakes and other confections with varying degrees of chocolatude.

Typing chocolatude (admittedly a ridiculous word even if it’s a fetching concept) naturally (?) allows for the segue to Canadian chocolate. Or, even if it does not here’s the place to note the ideas far from the tropical origin of the cacao bean as photographed, and described in Canadian Living: The Complete Chocolate Book. If you can’t imagine Canadians and chocolate, that lack of imagination is all about you.

Rounding out recent chocolate cookbooks that could have stocked the shelves of the fantasy store are The Paleo Chocolate Lovers’ Cookbook with its 80 gluten-, grain-, and dairy-free recipes; and a how-to ebook from Jane Wilson and Richard Johnson, Chocolate Like a Pro , that promises tempering for tyros (no expensive machines needed).

Given the upcoming gift-giving season and quick cash to be raked in with impulse buyers who need a stocking stuffer or safe-but-kinda-sexy office gift exchange item maybe it’s also worth mentioning a few other recent “cookbooks.” There’s Crazy About Chocolate , with recipes ranging from the chocolate martini to cocoa-spiced chili; Chocolate: An Italian Passion with stories and recipes from the chefs on Europe’s boot and the promised quick and easy recipes of Chocolate.

While it won’t be surprising to see cookbooks in a chocolate bookstore, what might be a surprise for hungry eyes will be how large the selection is of chocolate mysteries, most published as part of a series. Heading the category is JoAnna Carl [see the earlier Q&A with the author] and her The Chocolate Book Bandit, which will be the thirteenth of her “Chocoholic Mystery Series.” Sally Berneathy has just released book four in her “Death by Chocolate” series, Chocolate Mousse Attack. And, trailing behind in series title accumulation, Charles Kerns has just released his second choco-themed “Santo Gordo Mystery, Oaxaca Chocolate.

Sibel Hodge has made chocolate the theme of her fourth “Amber Fox Mystery” with Chocolate, Lies, and Murder; Abigail Keam does the same in Death By Chocolate, her sixth “Death by____ mystery”; and Kerri Thomson tries her hand at chocolate mysterifying with The Chocolate Is The Life; Bailey Cates bakes her third “Magical Bakery Mystery” title, Charms and Chocolate Chips; and Nancy Coco debuts a new series, “The Candy Coated Mysteries,” with All Fudged Up.

Last, but certainly not least and most likely right next to the cash register to make sure nobody misses it is Dylan Siegel’s Chocolate Bar, the incredible heart-warming book written by a 6-year-old who wants to save a friend and has used his story to raise over $25,000 for helping treat his friend’s glycogen storage disease 1b.

Which turns out to be even more powerful than the scent of even the best chocolate.

Oh, and there’s also a bunch of erotica created around themes of “chocolate” you can look up for yourself if you’re so inclined. It might make it into the back room, but that probably depends on the cost of the real estate.

 

Questions and Answers with JoAnna Carl, author of the Chocoholic Mystery series

JoAnna CarlCozies, the mystery subgenre,  are how Grammia takes her attention away from worrying about whether there will be enough money next time she rings open the cash register. She recently delighted in the combination of fine chocolate and taxidermy while knocking off JoAnna Carl’s The Chocolate Moose Motive, the author’s most recent tale of murder, mystery and fine chocolate.

Whenever Grammia (a conglobulation of Grandmother and Mamma Mia with roots lost to time) updated everyone back of the Cupid Alley shop with the latest from Warner Pier, the resort town on Lake Michigan where Texas beauty Lee McKinney seems regularly to stumble upon a little bit of death and a whole lot of intrigue while managing Aunt Nettie’s TenHuis Chocolade shop, we began to think (too gruesomely and probably too glibly) of how much we’d like to see the book adapted for television — possibly under the title “Murder She Ate,” celebrating Carl’s mysteries, chocolate on television and also giving a shout out to the forever syndicated show starring Angela Lansbury as writer Jessica Fletcher who was always turning up something amiss in Cabot Cove, Maine.

Accompanying the dream of future television shows is the desire to learn more about the author. In real life she is a fifth-generation Oklahoman and former newspaper reporter for a quarter century or so, who loved mysteries from earliest reading age, was encouraged into writing cozies by a book editor and decided to base it around a chocolate shop as a daughter was then employed in one. She is also kindly enough to share a few minutes and answer some of our questions.

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: Do you remember the first chocolate that made an impression on you and is there any path you can draw from that taste to the Chocoholic Mysteries?

JoAnna Carl: My mother loved chocolate and mysteries. As a pre-schooler I can remember loving chocolate milk, which she told me I called “choc.” Once, she said, she was reading when I asked for “choc,” and she replied, “Let me finish my chapter.” I sighed and said, “Whenever I ask for choc, you say you want to finish your chapter.” So you see that chocolate and mystery were linked in my mind from early childhood. There’s no direct path from choc to Chocoholic, however.

CAC: What about a business selling chocolate suggested that it would make the perfect base for series of mysteries?

JC: The Chocoholic Mysteries were inspired by a former editor, who suggested I “try something cozy.” When your editor makes a suggestion, a smart writer takes it seriously! It took me about eight hours from his suggestion to the recollection that my younger daughter was business manager for a small company that made luxury chocolates. Then the next day (I was at a convention) Earlene Fowler, author of fabulous mysteries with a background of quilting,  commented, “No one’s ever written a series with the word ‘chocolate’ in every title.” My heart leaped, and I said, “Someone’s about to.” And Earlene said, “The idea’s all yours.” I give her all the credit for inspiring my titles!

Anyway, by the time I flew home from the convention I was well into the world of chocolate. First, because I could ask my daughter questions, it would be easy to research, and for a lot of reasons I won’t enumerate here, I needed to act fast on the editor’s suggestion. Second, it was an idea I could adapt to a small town setting, and I prefer a small town setting for a cozy. Third, there’s nothing in the world more cozy than chocolate, and that’s what the editor wanted.

Sometimes readers act disappointed when they hear that writers come up with ideas to order, so to speak. But every truly professional writer I’ve ever known has done this. It’s what makes us “professional,” I think. After all, being “professional” means you get paid for your work, right? On the other hand, a good writers write what they feel compelled to write, say what they have to say. Perhaps an analogy would be if a customer came to a dressmaker and said, “I need a gown for the Oscars.” A professional dressmaker wouldn’t then design and make her a pair of overalls, no matter how much the designer herself loved denim. But maybe overalls made of velvet and trimmed in tulle… Does this make any sense at all? A creative professional can give the customer what she wants, so to speak, while still being creative.

CAC: A particular treat of your books is how “chocolate lore” is infused. What are your favorite bits?

JC: I like the historical bits. One of the most fascinating books I’ve read about chocolate was The Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner. This is a look at the long and bitter rivalry between Forest Mars Sr. and Milton S. Hershey. These two giants of American culture and of industry had lives as dramatic as any novel could be. Okay, you’ve uncovered one of my secrets! I’ll always be more interested in people than in the melting point of chocolate. My books are mysteries, not how-to books on chocolate.

CAC: What are your personal favorite chocolates and how has writing about chocolate changed the way you enjoy chocolate?

JC: My favorite candy bar is Cadbury’s Caramello, and I’m also very fond of Heath Bars – to the point I don’t dare have either in the house. At least neither stays in the house very long. For homemade chocolate, I go for “Gran’s Fudge” or “Linda’s Toffee.” The recipe for “Gran’s Fudge” is among the lore in “The Chocolate Moose Mystery.” Linda’s Toffee is even better than a Heath Bar, but I’d have to track Linda down and get her permission before I could hand her recipe out, and I’ve lost touch with her son, who gave it to me.

Okay, okay, I admit I’m a chocolate lowbrow. Real chocolate aficionados taste chocolate much as wine freaks taste wine. First, they want only dark chocolate pastilles, little squares. they sniff it. They let it melt on the tongue. But I assure you they do not spit it in the waste jar! I, however, like sweet fillings, nuts, and other goodies mixed with my chocolate, and I wolf it down.

CAC: If you will, what kinds of recipes, mysteries and ideas are being cooked up in the kitchen of TenHuis Chocolade for future books?

JC: Things have changed for TenHuis Chocolade, and that’s largely because my daughter left the chocolate business and went to work for a chicken wing company. (My new editor loves chocolate, but says there’s no mystery in the chicken wing business!) Of course, she remembers a lot about chocolate – as I say, she was in the business office and didn’t actually dip truffles, etc. But I was lucky enough to meet a really nice chocolatier named Elizabeth Garber (Twitter’s @IndyChocolate), who owns and operates Best Chocolate in Town in Indianapolis. In addition to making fabulous chocolates, Elizabeth — and her husband and mother-in-law – is a mystery fan. If I need to know how to do something, I give her a ring, and she helps me. Plus, she lets me copy her product line. So the chocolates offered by TenHuis are a bit different from the ones in earlier books — more exotic — but they’re still good and authentic.

CAC: In addition to the mysteries enveloping the world of Lee McKinney, and her Aunt Nettie, what other projects are near and dear to your heart?

JC: I’m not sure I have any projects ready for plugging. But someday…For one thing, I remain an unreconstructed Okie, although the Chocoholic books are laid in a Lake Michigan resort. Well, I love that area, too – we’re “summer people,” after all. But I’d eventually like to write something else laid in Oklahoma. Possibly historical. Oklahoma may have the most fascinating history of any state in the union. I’d like to mine it.

CAC note: The Chocolate Book Bandit, scheduled for publication in October is available for pre-order. Also, readers interested in seeing a different side of JoAnna Carl should consider that while Eve K. Sandstrom hasn’t published anything new in a while, her “Down Home” books are available as POD books (order a print-on-demand copy through your local bookseller) and keep an eye out for announcement of an eBook deal on the Nell Matthews/Mike Svenson books published in the ’90s.

Should Today be Chocolate Fast Day?

cacao pods_treeNine April’s 24 hours might best be used contemplating and balancing the idea of good that comes from evil. In other words, deal with the question of (how?) can one enjoy Belgian chocolate (arguably the world’s best while also knowing that historically evil guy, King Leopold II — born today, in 1835 — played an integral part in making that happen. (For the full, horroracious story, brilliantly and memorably told, take a look at Adam Hochshild’s King Leopold’s Ghost.)

Shortcut: no answers here; talk among yourselves, as Linda Richman would say.

Desirous of an empire of his own, Leopold manipulated European opinion into letting him take over the Congo on “humanitarian grounds” and then used his rule to plunder its resources, making money mostly from rubber plantations, but also building an important culinary bridge for his chef by exploiting the cacao resources. There would have been Belgian chocolate without Leopold, as Spain had introduced its pleasures into the country during 17th century rule, but it would probably not be the same today. Of course, there are some who say that great engineers and location and just pure kitchen genius would have produced amazing results, too.

(source: Revisitar)

But that’s not the way history happened and so, oddly, today you can celebrate chocolate infamy with a chocolate king quilt comforter named for the Belgian royal, butcher of Congo, who helped create his country’s chocolate acclaim and leaving a popular legacy of attraction for chocolate tourists.

Perhaps it should be a day to engage in a chocolate fast as a way of acknowledging the suffering? The larger point: it’s too late to change history, but never past time to think about it in order to influence the present and future. So enjoy, thoughtfully.

No Chocolate Mousse Droppings Today

chocolate cookingTo celebrate the serious and silly, make sure to take part in today’s celebration of National Chocolate Mousse Day, while not quite letting go of Easter — or for extreme frivolity, 6 March’s National White Chocolate Cheesecake celebration. Voila! From the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian, or at least its magazine’s blog comes a recipe for Chocolate Mousse Peeps, with their truly faint echoes of Easter (available as cats, reindeer,or teddy bears): Directions

  1. Melt Peeps with heavy whipping cream in a saucepan.
  2. Pour into serving glasses.
  3. Zest some sugar from still-intact peeps (alternatively, grind a bit of cacao, espresso, sugar mixture) over the top.
  4. Chill.

While we can’t see a day when chocolate mousse will be highlighted in the store, that doesn’t mean we don’t think you shouldn’t whip some up at home when the mood strikes … and not just on its “national” holiday. When you do, you can class up the presentation by mentioning that your version probably traces its history back at least to French chefs of the late 17th or early 18th century (“mousse” is French for “foam”)and that in America, the popularity of the dessert probably began as far back as the 1890s gilded age, but that the electric mixers of the 1930s — allowing for a more thoroughly whipped egg — expanded its horizons. And, if by chance you participated in this year’s 6 March National White Chocolate Cheesecake Day gala, you might even be able to throw bits of that into the blender, while paying homage to Chef Michel Fitoussi and his 1977 creation of the white chocolate mousse. Or you can do it right by following/adapting proper chocolate mousse recipes from Epicurious, David Lebovitz channeling Julia Child’s “perfect chocolate mousse recipe”, the five easy ingredient chocolate mousse, or the more adventurous Tofu52’s  There’s No Way It’s Tofu Chocolate Mousse that’s also vegan and gluten free, or Shiska in the Kitchen’s Greek Yogurt Chocolate Mousse. The thing to remember is that today’s a national celebration. Enjoy. It may seem daunting to get perfect, but a basic chocolate mousse is easy enough that even your average (well, above average in cuteness) 5- and 7-year-olds can do it. (Courtesy of The Black Sheep Cooking Club)

Questions and Answers with ihearttruffles.com’s Judith Antelman

trufflesWhile “follow your nose” is the better known advice, around the store you’ll hear a lot more urging to “follow your mouth.” The idea is to taste, and not in haste, until you track down the elusive flavor with some oomph. We don’t want to proscribe ignoring the other senses in seeking out the best in chocolate, but following just that bit of advice as part of her own lifelong quest for the perfect truffle — those cocoa dusted or otherwise coated bites of ganache — led assistant baker Valentina Quetzl to I Heart Truffles of Montclair, N.J. and trufflemeister Judith Antelman.

Antelman, a writer with credits ranging from the 2001 New York Giants Media Guide to corporate presentations with names like Global Structured Products Strategy (and a whole bunch of stuff in between), transformed a lifelong passion for dark chocolate that first began to germinate while making ‘smores with her sister in their family kitchen into her current business of artisinally crafting truffles and bark featuring fair trade organic dark and milk chocolate complemented by other organic ingredients and flavors from pumpkin to mint to lemon to peanut butter to amaretto to lemon zest to wherever else imagination and inspiration take her.

What struck Valentina when she finally tracked Antelman down was the chef’s self-described search for “the pure truffle.” And so, after she also agreed to the courtesy of answering a few questions, it was about that we first wanted to know:

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: Can you describe how truffles snagged your heart?
Judith Antelman: I was looking for a pure truffle, which is dark chocolate and cream. I couldn’t find anything made without a combination of butter, egg, oils, corn syrup, glucose, etc. So, I experimented in my kitchen, reading and researching until I perfected the original French truffle. From there, I started infusing the truffles with pure fruits, herbs, coffee beans, liqueurs; using fresh organic ingredients only.

CAC: Why were you looking for a pure truffle? Was it a personal quest or a followup to your Wall Street career or had you already decided to start up the business?
JA: Everything I tasted was mixed with added ingredients, thus the pure taste of cocoa was lost. Many truffles tasted like plastic, or were too buttery, or just weren’t right for any number of reasons. I like clean food; I wanted a clean pure chocolate tasting truffle; not a mush mouth of sugar and butter. Thus, I experimented. The business was purely a whim initially. I love making chocolate truffles and bark, and was encouraged by friends who loved my truffles.

CAC: What was your specialty on Wall Street and what led you there first, instead of to the world of chocolate?
JA: Wall Street was an accident. I previously had worked as an editor in publishing and academia. Through a friend, I fell into a freelance editing gig in the mid 90s at a Wall Street bank. It was flexible, lucrative, and I enjoyed the other editors, so I continued as a freelance editor until the credit crisis. I worked for a few different banks until the recession.

CAC: What was the process like in putting together your business and why do you think it has found a niche?
JA: It is a small business, and mostly word-of-mouth and my website, ihearttruffles.com. I started plying friends and then parties with truffles, until friends encouraged me to try selling them. It took off slowly, and is still in the baby stages. The niche I found is a result of individuals like me desiring a pure cocoa truffle. Using high quality chocolate and ingredients are crucial to garner a clean smooth truffle. My demographic is usually the foodie with a sweet tooth, but not a sugar addict.

CAC: Is there something in particular that you have learned as an artisan that can help the at-home truffler?
JA: Practice. Practice. Practice. One must love crafting truffles as it truly is laborious, thus it is a labor of love in the greatest sense. It took many years of practice, a few chocolatier classes, and experimentation, which still continues.

truffle plateCAC: What are some of your favorite current and can you share the secret of truffles you are working on for the near future?
JA: Without sharing truffles secrets, some of my favorites are: maple-cinnamon; coconut; and mocha.

CAC: Are there one or two aspects to truffles that you wish your customers knew more about before or when ordering from you?
JA: I want customers to know I combine the highest-quality ingredients, fair trade chocolate, and a whole lot of love in every small batch of truffles and chocolate bark.

CAC: What other projects are near to your heart and what is to be expected from I Heart Truffles?
JA: I hope to open a small chocolate shop at some point in the near future. Location still unknown. Currently, I am crafting orders for Easter, Passover, weddings, and Bat Mitzvahs. I sell to the NJ/NYC area. When I start shipping, I will sell nationwide. Interested customers may refer to: ihearttruffles.com for further information.

Happy 117th Tootsie

Tootsie RollsThe eternal popularity of the Tootsie Roll proves that even a little chocolate can go a long, long, long, how-many-licks-anyway way. Named for the daughter of creator Leo Hershfield, legend has it that the Tootsie Roll — “chocolate-ish, but without the expense of actual chocolate,” in the words of Candy Professor — was introduced by the Austrian immigrant into his New York City penny candy shop Feb. 23, 1896.

Early Tootsie Roll AdThat is the story kept alive by Chicago-based Tootsie Industries, producers of an estimated 60-million plus TRs every day. The company is also home to a host of other downmarket but ever popular confections and is currently run in a Willy Wonkaty manner by 90+ Melvin Gordon and the woman who allowed him to marry into the company, wife Ellen. It is not necessarily the only version of the iconic candy’s history … but the corporate considerations are leading us from what makes the Tootsie Roll magic: it was “chocolate” by virtue of mere wisps of cacao and that has proven to be enough.

Although allegedly introduced all those years ago today, the real genius lay in the candy being the first wrapped penny candy, meaning it was easier to vend and that (with imagination) what was first monikered “Chocolate Tootsie Rolls” provided a summertime flavor unmatched at a time when refrigeration and lack of filler technology joined to insure that any cheap chocolate sold in the summer would melt well before getting close to a mouth.

The (truth-in-advertising mostly chocolate-less) Tootsie Roll of today is ingrediented sugar, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, condensed skim milk, cocoa whey, soya lecithin, artificial and natural flavors. Not necessarily appetizing, healthy-sounding or chocolately, but not hurtful to sales, or financial prospects of the company. Still, looking too far beyond the wrapper does leave something of a hole in the heart of Tootsie Roll Day.

Fortunately, nature abhors a vacuum and some have stepped forward to try and fill that hole with recipes for actual, well more-, chocolate TRs. The Food Network tosses out one easy-peasy recipe incorporating actual, semi-sweet chocolate chips and Heather Baird of Food52 provides a no-cooking, no-baking, honey and cocoa powder version that is probably pretty close to what Hirshfield imagined he was making in his young daughter’s honor.

Whether manufactured or fresh from the home kitchen, enjoy today’s probably fabricated history celebration of the little candy that could because, well why not even the “penny” candy still has some chocolate.

Know It When You Taste/See It?

hershey kissHeard a mediocre talent describe herself on a TV chat show as an artist. It is probably true, which told us two things: 1) we realized it no longer means anything special to be identified — particularly self-hailed — as an artist, and 2) what’s going on with chocolate art.

And the answer is we don’t really know. Is Alexander Lervik’s Lumière au Chocolatea art, a fixture, conceptual dessert?

Is it “art” or just “decoration” if chocolate is used to create abstract designs in a kitchen?

What about when chocolate is used like any other sculptured material? (It is quite the niche.) Would this be museum quality art if it didn’t melt or wasn’t edible?

It seems that basic advertising for chocolate shops, products or themed events is immediately labeled art when taken out of context, framed and hung on a wall? But why, exactly?

The point is probably made. After a good 30 seconds of thought and 25 or 30 minutes of web surfing we failed in figuring out the defining characteristics of what is and what is not “chocolate art,” other than, of course, chocolate is involved. Taste is involved, but it is not clear at all from what is labeled as “art” or produced by an “artisan” how to define that. Basically, we’re back where we started, with the concept of art that we started with: it’s something person-created that dramatically and consequentially changes the audience’s perception of the world around them — and in the case of chocolate art it has at least a bit of cacao in it.

Actually, we’re not quite back where we started: we’re behind on getting everything baked up for Valentine’s Day, now less than 200 hours away.

Give ’til It Tastes Well

chocolategoldmoney January is ended, as are many aspirations people began the year with — as demonstrated through their new year’s resolutions — dashed by their own stopdoingitiveness. However, there are folks, some part of the greater choco-community, who have persevered with their dreams into February.

So, if by chance you have saved money by quitting the gym or the weight loss program or the book or wine or cheese or whatever club you signed up for while in post-holiday self-help mode, there is still time and an easy way to make yourself feel better. Consider supporting folks looking for some financial support for their projects in chocolateland.

For example, you can help buy a new cocoa grinding machine for the Saqui Family and Maya Center Village to help produce a unique, Belizean chocolate that also — and, no, we’re not exactly sure we understand how — aids a jaguar preserve and cacao farm in the Central American country.

Also thought provoking, but in a very different way, is the request for funding of the promulgation of Naples, Fla., Judy Cakes’ fluffy chocolate covered beermallows (recipe and samples available for a $50 pledge), a combination of beer, chocolate and marshmallow that we bet you weren’t expecting to read about here either.

Although not strictly chocolate related, it is chocolate-relevant (and sad) that a proposed film will bring to light chocolate used for evil. Chocolate Boxes is Leeds’s Sean McMahon’s proposed student film telling a coming of age tale set in 1937 Yorkshire and taking its name from the explosive devices, strewn by Spanish Fascists where Spanish Republican children could find them.

Finally, while we are always admittedly a bit ambivalent about promoting competition, there is another reachout from fledlging chocolate makers, Cocoa Loco, trying to grow some wings in Stamford, Connecticut, who as part of their fund raising pitch promise a random distribution of a chocolate-covered Oreo or marshamallow in exchange for a pledge of $2.

Of course, if you happen to be coming to this post post-deadline for any of these funding campaigns, we encourage you to visit crowdfunding sources Kickstarter, GoFundMe, ChipIn, DonorsChoose, IndieGoGo, Quirky, Etsy and RocketHub [] to check out artists, entrepreneurs, dreamers, and (alas, yes, possibly) the overly self-indulgent and scam artists as well, who are trying throughout the year to live out their chocolate dreams … and maybe yours as well.