Do you remember the first time you discovered chocolate? No, not a Hershey bar, but real chocolate, dark, intense and with a billion notes tantalizing your tongue. Maybe not everyone experiences near euphoria when slowly letting a truffle dissolve in your mouth. Or absolutely gaping at the sweet sight of bricks of chocolate divided by percent and country of origin. But almost everyone likes a little choccy.
So what does it take to be a chocolatier? I asked a unique and budding chocolatier that question while visiting his home in Victoria, British Columbia. The setting: Jonathan Granfar opens his door to me on a typically overcast day on the Island, and I enter his family’s modest townhome. Ahead of me is quite a site: the living room is transformed into a chocolate lab. A folding table placed precariously between the living room and the kitchen is teaming with supplies: cacao nibs, cocoa butter, slabs of chocolate, various fillings, and his newest tempering machine, a Chocovision Revolation Delta.
I’m excited to make some chocolate bars for the first time. But first, the interview. Jonathan grew up in Spain which has a long history with cacao- “they were the original thieves” he says. Growing up he wouldn’t call himself a chocolate fan, until he discovered the Sampaka shop in Barcelona 15 years ago. The sample he tried inspired him: Swiss, dark, 65%, with roasted almonds. Not too sweet with a hit of cacao flavor. Eureka!
Fast forward several years to Victoria, and Jonathan’s father, an experimenter in the kitchen, made a chocolate bar. Jonathan points out that it is not conventional for a Persian/Spanish man to be in the kitchen (except for top chefs), but thanks to this influence, Jonathan’s creations have obvious hints of both spicy New World flavors and those of the East,- cardamom tea, rose, saffron, and pistachio.
We begin work on the “holy trinity”- Jonathan’s staple concoction inspired by the Incas: black pepper, red pepper and cinnamon. As we’re melting down the chocolate Jonathon explains the chocolate making process. In a nutshell, chocolate is made from dried, fermented and then roasted cacao beans that are crushed, liquefied and blended with sugar and vanilla before being heated and cooled. Most chocolatiers do not go through all these stages, but rather buy their chocolate wholesale from companies such as Lindt, Callebaut, or Valhorna.
According to Jonathan, chocolate making is all about texture and smell/taste (smell/taste are essentially the same sense) and should be approached in a similar manner to fragrance and tea blending. It takes a good nose (and practice) to know which aromas will go well together.
In the world of chocolatiers, there is a lot of talk regarding types of cacao beans (there are 3 main types of cacao trees) and their accompanying flavour profiles. For the sake of cost and convenience, however, most large companies only use a world blend. This is a basically, a mix of beans from different cacao trees in varied locations. Jonathan uses a world blend from a well-known and highly respected brand of chocolate from Canada: Bernard Callebaut of approx. 60% cacao.
ESL teacher by day, chocolatier by night. As we wait for the chocolate to temper, Jonathan speaks about teaching English and his exposure to East Asian culture. He started pushing the envelope by including varied ingredients from Korean and Japanese culinary traditions: fermented spices, chili, soy, wasabi, and sesame.
Jonathan’s students kept challenging him. One Korean student gave him Gochujang sauce- the main spice in kimchi. The first time he worked with it was failure when he tried to combine it with dark ganache. Then he added his failsafe- toasted almonds- to take the edge off. After several tries he came up with an enrobed truffle- a ganache square dipped in white chocolate, and dipped again into medium dark chocolate thinned out with cocao butter. “It’s a salty, smoky flavor that keeps you interested”. He knew it was a winner.
Jonathan’s creations are far ranging. There is the Asian batch: dark chocolate ganache with okara (soy pulp) and roasted sesame, almost burnt to crystalize sugar. The Middle Eastern batch: dark chocolate tempered with saffron and rose water. And Euro batch: an inner layer of medium, dark chocolate, infused with sage and organic, dried, blueberries, and an outer white chocolate jasmine coating.
Jonathan is a global citizen, chocolatier, and entrepreneur. He has no business location yet, but he’s working on marketing and retailing to other stores and online. No doubt the business aspects of chocolatiering are a challenge. And as for the chemistry of tempering chocolate, Jonathan says, “If everyone could temper chocolate easily, everyone and their mother would be making chocolate”.
So maybe I won’t buy my tempering equipment just yet. I didn’t realize there was so much chemistry involved. But thanks to Jonathan for inspiring me to do amateur runs in my kitchen. Must. Have. Chocolate.
Visit Jonathan on his blog: http://jjshotchocolate.blogspot.ca/ or Facebook page “JJ’s Hot Chocolate.”