Ask Peter: Chocolate on the menu
We see online that you’re doing a special menu in your London Providores Restaurant that features chocolate in every course. We are intrigued. Where did this idea come from and did you have ideas that just didn’t work out? The Bite team
Paul A Young (great name don’t you think) and I have collaborated before, in 2011, to celebrate British Chocolate Week, we joined forces to design a six-course menu, plus cocktail, for the first and last day of the week. Paul invited seven of his favourite chocolate producers to come along and talk about their business model and vision, and their feelings on why their particular brand was special and fabulous. And they truly all were fabulous.
One of my particular favourites, and someone I’ve been supporting for many years, Philipp Kauffmann from Original Beans, spoke about the way the company’s cacao planting has helped preserve the mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park in Eastern Congo, by funding the forest rangers’ lunches. Having a packed lunch means the rangers can spend the whole day out in the forest looking after and monitoring the gorillas. Previously, they’d head out then come back for lunch before heading out again. Something as simple as a packed lunch allows them to travel twice as far each day. It’s worth pointing out that many of these rangers are killed every year, as the land, the gorillas and the natural resources of the area are hugely exploited by poachers, charcoal makers and people fleeing political turmoil in neighbouring countries.
That time Paul picked the chocolate he was keen to showcase and we sat down to blind taste around a dozen different varieties. We put them in order of mild to robust to create our “flight’’, as one does with wines. Then we began to conjure up ideas of what would go with what. We didn’t want to be predictable and offer a mole sauce with everything. Mole is a marvellous sauce from Mexico, a mostly highly spiced sauce with around 20 ingredients that might contain orange peel, cinnamon, cloves, roasted cumin, and three types of chillies — plus a dark chocolate added towards the end that gives a fabulous richness. But we wanted to create some new flavours, so in among the courses we came up with Mast Brothers Chuao 70 per cent teamed with eggplant, tamarind caramel, grapefruit, green mango and coriander. The chocolate was mixed into the caramel and it teamed perfectly with the sour tamarind and sugar and the grilled eggplant.
In another course we paired Valrhona Venezuelan 64 per cent with crispy pork belly, crusted ox tongue, butternut coconut curry and pine nuts. The ox tongue had been poached for a long time to render it nice and soft. It was then coated in ground cacao nibs mixed with flour and polenta to form a crust, before being pan-fried till crisp. The mild coconut curry was made from spices, fresh ginger and coconut cream and finished right at the last minute with the chocolate. Fabulous.
For our Chocolate Month this month at The Providores, Paul and I did a very similar process of blind tasting the chocolate he selected and then discussing what to pair them with. We were aware that we’d set the bar high almost four years ago. We have dishes such as baked octopus with green mango, green papaya, chilli, lime, crispy garlic and shallots. The chocolate we’ve used here is an intense, but fruity Menakao 100 per cent from Madagascar.
It might not seem that chocolate and octopus can match, but we really believe that it does.
One “local” New Zealand chocolate I’ve been hugely impressed with in recent years is from the Solomon Islands and it’s called Solomons Gold. We’ve been making some lovely dishes from it at The Sugar Club and I’ve just eaten a square as I’ve been typing this. It’s slightly smoky, brittle on the tongue, with roasted dark characteristics and a great eat. It’s a great example of how chocolate can be full of character. Gone are the days when chocolate was a dark brown, sweet, dairy filled treat. Now chocolate connoisseurs around the world want something that not only tastes terrific but also has a back story. It’s worth experimenting to see what is out there — and next time you go to buy a slab of chocolate take a risk and try something new. You might just like it!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.