Sunday, August 23, 2009
Two premiere chocolate producers come to Dallas to share wisdom and chocolate
Steve DeVries and Alan McClure got right down to the nibs.
Approximately 50 Dallas chocolate lovers were in heaven on Saturday afternoon when Alan McClure and Steve DeVries, two of the country's finest chocolate producers, came to the Milestone Culinary Center in Dallas to explain why chocolate is so wonderful when it's hand-made, straight from the bean.
McClure is the man behind Missouri-based Patric Chocolate, maker of dark chocolate, chocolate "nibs," and an especially fierce hot-chocolate mix. DeVries Chocolate, based in Denver, specializes in dark chocolate from Costa Rica.
Both companies are in a unique category known as "bean to bar," which means they start with beans off the cacao tree that they grind and process into smooth chocolate themselves. (Other chocolate companies buy their chocolate already processed by other big companies, then add ingredients like nuts and mold it into their own bars.)
By doing the processing themselves -- one that involves special machinery and the purchase of ultra-expensive beans -- DeVries and McClure can fine-tune the flavor and turn out a chocolate that's not like anyone else's.
Saturday's agenda started with a two-hour slide show and tasting. It ended with a dinner featuring their chocolate as an ingredient in every course, climaxing in two showpiece desserts made by pastry chef Rhonda Ruckman.
DeVries and McClure took turns narrating the slide show, describing how cacao farmers harvest pods from the trees, then remove the beans and spread them out to dry.
The tasting included not only squares of chocolate but "nibs" -- pieces of roasted cacao bean -- crunchy and delicious like a chopped nut. (DeVries and McClure both sell chocolate with nibs as well as chocolate bars.) For those used to eating a large Hershey's almond bar in a single sitting, the tasting portions might have looked small. But each bite had so much flavor and personality that four tiny squares felt like more than enough.
DeVries, 57, who made Saveur magazine's Top 100 List for 2008, had more of a professorial style, while McClure, 31, was the guy with the tattoos on his forearms. But both are the kind of people who don't just accept "things as they are," who have that admirable obsessiveness to rethink something -- like an ordinary chocolate bar -- that the rest of us take for granted.
Again and again, they compared chocolate to wine. Cacao beans are an agricultural product, they said, like grapes, that deserve the same attention winemakers give grapes.
Dinner started with hors d'ouevre such as chicken bites in mole sauce, followed by an unusual salad with baby greens and a chocolate "tower" made from ultra-thin sheets of Patric chocolate with herbed cheese. The best part was the contrast between the deep chocolate and the sparkling-fresh vinaigrette.
The entree was a slab of salmon with a chopped nut crust served with celery root potatoes and DeVries bittersweet chocolate balsamic glaze. The combination of balsamic vinegar and chocolate seemed like a stretch but it worked because the chocolate had a dark savory quality that gave the sauce richness.
Aside from the thrill of meeting two nationally-renowned chocolate players, the draw for a number of attendees was the opportunity to revisit the famed Patric 67% chocolate cake made by pastry chef Rhonda Ruckman at her now-defunct bakery Doughmonkey. Oh but there were two desserts: Ruckman made a dessert spotlighting DeVries' 77% Costa Rican chocolate: a thick, fudgy tart with a florentine cookie decorated with more of those lovely nibs.
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