Feb 9, 2012 | 12:10 pm
It's the month for romance — and Central Market is sharing the love with their Chocolate Festival, celebrating all things cocoa from Feb. 8-14.
From artisan, handcrafted chocolate to modern interpretations of chocolate, world-renowned chocolatiers will have mouths watering with a wide selection of sweets and will share the secrets of their famous chocolate. Which leads me to wonder, how does one get to be a professional chocolatier? Sounds like the best job in the world to me! But, I digress...
Central Market bills the festival as "Peace, Love, and All Things Chocolate." With a description like that, I knew I was in.
Why do we love chocolate so much? I asked a couple of the chocolatiers their thoughts on the matter. Jason Caslow of Pure Dark Chocolate started his decadent career as a pastry chef, and also worked with revolutionary restauranteur Susan Wine at her SoHo, New York tasting room, Vintage NY. Pure Dark was founded on the simple idea that chocolate should come from the earth and not be overly processed; the company creates premium artisanal chocolate.
"Chocolate is such an interesting thing to me, particularly as an ingredient," Caslow says. "It is very approachable — everyone loves chocolate! — but extremely versatile. While developing recipes for the Pure Dark brand, they really encouraged all of their contributing chefs to think outside of the box and make chocolate for any and every sort of dish, even savory."
This approach inspired such unique dishes as Chipotle Pork Chili, Chocolate Ravioli and Cacao Nib-Rosemary Crusted Rib Roasts, which all use chocolate to bring the flavors to a whole new level.
"I don’t know of any other food that gets quite the same reaction as chocolate does. There is a chocolate out there for everyone, something for each person to obsess over."
"Chocolate is such a fun food," Caslow adds. "I think it just screams with joy. I don’t know of any other food that gets quite the same reaction as chocolate does. There is a chocolate out there for everyone, something for each person to obsess over." And his favorite? "Pure Dark Sea Salt Rounds are my current fixation."
Another chocolatier involved with the festival, Alan McClure, says that chocolate has more to offer than any other food, with its overwhelming complexity of flavor. "It is one of the few foods that is both roasted and fermented. Picture the incredible roasted aroma of coffee, and the bouquet of a vintage red wine and imagine them entwined into something altogether more spectacular. That is the source of my passion for chocolate!"
McClure is the founder and Head Chocolate Maker of Patric Chocolate, having taken a rather surprising path into this line of work. Originally, McClure was pursuing a religious studies degree; during his education he spent a year in France, where he discovered another passion: chocolate. His all-natural, bean-to-bar chocolates have garnered McClure several awards including the Best New American Chocolate by Food & Wine magazine and the 2011 Good Food Award.
"Our Signature 70% Blend speaks to me every time I eat a square," McClure says. "It speaks to me of the four different countries from which I source the beans. It speaks of the people whose hard work at harvesting, fermenting and sun-drying the cacao is intimately related to the quality of the bar. It speaks of the weather in which the trees grow, and the terroir of the area, and above all else, it speaks of my passion for making the best chocolate imaginable, by pulling out all the stops in our process to create chocolate with the most incredible texture and flavor."
Even the CM Cooking School is feeling the love, with chocolate-themed classes such as the dessert-centric dishes you might expect, but also classes that incorporate the sweet stuff into savory meals.
Even the CM Cooking School is feeling the love, with chocolate-themed classes such as the dessert-centric dishes you might expect (Cherry Bliss Brownies or Chocolate Peanut Butter Density Pie, anyone?); but also classes that incorporate the sweet stuff into savory meals. There are also classes for kids and couples.
I took the recent Chocolate Sensation class with instructor Cindy Haenel, who has been a Central Market Cooking School instructor for 15 years. The innovative flavor combinations were definitely part of this class — we started off with a pork tenderloin coated with a chocolate & spice rub that included cocoa nibs, espresso powder, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
Sounds pretty awesome just hearing that list, doesn't it? After coating the tenderloins, we seared the pork on the stovetop evenly on all sides, before placing it in the oven for about 10 minutes to finish cooking. A pan sauce with shallots and white wine went with the pork, along with an incredible mushroom savory bread pudding, and carrots in a cocoa/cinnamon glaze.
Did I say mmmm yet?
The whole thing was pretty fantastic. About the only thing that Cindy Haenel likes better than chocolate is bacon. In fact, I think chocolate covered bacon could just well be her dream food. But I digress again.
After eating our delicious dinner creation we finished up with, of course, a dessert plate. This consisted of the Valentine standby, chocolate-covered strawberries — but also, a very original and creative idea. Cindy taught us how to make a Key Lime Pie from scratch; but here was the kicker. After the pie is made, you freeze it. Then you cut the frozen pie into squares, and coat it with melted chocolate.
Oh. My. God.
As McClure puts it, "Without Central Market, the chocolate landscape in Texas would be a sad place indeed."
You can check out the entire Chocolate Festival offerings at the Central Market website, and see the Cooking School class calendar as well. The festival runs through Valentine's Day at both the north and south store locations.
And for love made to order (and with less stress), the store offers online reservation ordering for Valentine's Day. Four ready-to-serve, chef-crafted holiday dinners for two, meticulously-grown Ecuadoran roses and decadent desserts will be available for online ordering until Feb. 13, and available for in-store pick-up.