Chocolate: From Concept to Competition
Over the last month an idea became edible art, as two Chefs were let loose to experiment and play as they prepared for the Carefor Chocolate Competition, held last Saturday in Ottawa. The Chef in my life, Chef Benoit Gelinotte and Executive Chef Devin Marhue, pushed chocolate in new (and tasty) directions in the big shiny kitchen as the rest of us tasted and critiqued, in an exercise of chocolate bonding.
Working in a professional kitchen we get the opportunity to explore food on new levels, experiment with new and interesting ingredients and be to be a part of something bigger. A kitchen that performs well is a kitchen built on common values, two-way communication, respect for each team member and a healthy amount of humor. Sharing select experiences with our Food Gypsy readers, the occasional tip or trick, bit of hilarity, or in this case; the exploration of chocolate from a different perspective, is always a treat.
We communicate best when we’re talking about food.
The Textures of Chocolate
The Carefor Chocolate competition entry, titled The Textures of Chocolate began with a dissection of ideas, and a Chef Benoit browsing though multiple high-end cookbooks for inspiration and direction. “We wanted to showcase chocolate in a way that some people may have never seen before” said Chef Devin. The impetus of the idea came from the book ‘VOLT ink.” by Brian Voltaggio & Micheal Voltaggio, from their acclaimed VOLT ink restaurant in Los Angles. In their version of Textures of Chocolate, the Voltaggio brothers used a milk chocolate gelato, raw, organic cocoa and chocolate caramel.
“Gelato was out of the question for the Carefor competition where we need to deliver 500 samples over four hours. So we looked for something that would hold at room temperature for the duration of the competition and substituted a dark chocolate cremeux with Maldon sea salt” explained Chef Benoit. (Cremeaux is a French pastry term, meaning creamy. Similar to a smooth, thick pudding.) “Salt and chocolate compliment each other so well, and we wanted to push that savory element further so we began looking at olive and it’s saltiness as well as olive oil, as a way to further compliment the main ingredient —chocolate”
Olive was used against dark chocolate in the creameux to create a rich, deep flavoured cream, easily moldable, yet stable enough to stand for hours without melting. Dried black olive was also echoed in the delicate tuile, that topped the final presentation along with a drizzle of a high quality olive oil, dashed on top.
That sexy little drop that looks like blown glass and liquid gold is actually olive oil encapsulated in isomalt. A sugar-beet derivative that withstands more heat than regular sugar, isomalt was heated to just the right temperature and stretched across a ring mold as olive oil was then dropped into the thin film of liquid sugar. It’s weight stretched the isomalt into delicate a teardrop shaped orb, designed to be broken, and drizzled by the diner at the table.
Each layer of flavour was created to lead the palate in a fresh taste experience, giving each bite a different notes, and making chocolate a superstar. The balance of licorice against the white chocolate, a touch of grape in the concorde syrup, a dusting of hazelnut with the gianduja (nutella)-snow, and tiny orbs of mint-cilantro set against chocolate … milk, dark and white.
Several small batches were tested to get both taste and texture in balance then we were forced… to taste… a great deal of chocolate. The pastry department fairly reeked of the stuff. It was heaven to just wander through, and breathe. Brigade members (left to right) Chef Devin, Sylvia Spears, Wil Cadavid, Chef Benoit, Lizanne Bégin consumed chocolate without ever complaining. (Until the Nutella snow tried to kill me. Don’t inhale.)
Inspired by Normand Laprise in Montreal’s Le Toqué, who plates on stainless steel and Grant Achatz at Alinéa in Chicago, who offers a dessert, plated on the table, family style. “Imagine the kitchen coming out from behind the curtain to plate an extraordinary dessert, on a huge steel plate, right in front of you,” smiled Chef Devin.
Days before the competition, they began melting chocolate for their table display, featuring chocolate coral (made by pouring melted chocolate over ice cubes) and perhaps my favourite thing he’s ever done, Chef B’s Chocolate Art. This canvas was painted entirely with chocolate (milk, dark & white) for the Carefor Chocolate Competition, we were not allowed to lick it.
Both Chef Benoit & Chef Devin have a background in French Cuisine, they also share a similar approach to ingredients, a love of the classical approach with a modern twist on old favorites. While they have common passion, they are the yin and yang of the commercial kitchen. Chef Devin is laid-back and relaxed, nearly unflappable and calm. While Chef Benoit is a high-energy, opinionated, driver in the kitchen. As a team, they are a dichotomy that works well when they work together.
Working on this project brought out the strengths and diversity of each Chef, as they planned, experimented and plated in the kitchen. While their entry may not have taken home a prize, the execution of a joint project brought together two strong personalities on one plate, in a stunning presentation and extraordinary taste.