3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods

3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods

By Valerie Beck, traveling chocolate expert 

Veteran's Day meets pre Christmas at Rockefeller Center NYC
Veteran’s Day meets pre-Christmas at Rockefeller Center in NYC

Some people call New York City the Big Apple. I call it the Big Truffle, because of its enormous number of top quality chocolate shops and bakeries!

I usually visit New York a couple of times a year, generally in summer for the Fancy Food Show, and in November for Veteran’s Day weekend. It’s always a treat visiting old friends and meeting new ones, and tasting what everyone has been up to.

Before I started my chocolate services business 9 years ago, I was a corporate lawyer (and of course already a chocolate maniac). While employed at a large law firm in Chicago, I once spent a winter in the New York office, doing aircraft leveraged lease deals (don’t ask). I worked more or less around the clock, and what kept me more or less sane was sneaking out of the conference room for a Teuscher Champagne Truffle. Now when I visit NYC, it’s all chocolate all the time – well, not quite: I always make time for New York’s amazing art, architecture, and fashion, so that the overall theme is “sweet and chic!”

I love New York, and my most recent trip this past Veteran’s Day weekend was inspirational. Here are 3 chocolatey NYC neighborhoods I visited, and the shops that make these areas sweet:

1. Chelsea / Greeley Square

Broadway Bites at Greeley Square Park
Broadway Bites at Greeley Square Park

Walking from the Eventi Hotel in Chelsea toward Midtown, I let the Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity lead me to the Broadway Bites outdoor foodstalls market. Once I discovered it, I couldn’t stay away! Favorites at B’way Bites:

Sigmund's chocolate chip pretzel cookie
The pretzel is in the cookie

Sigmund Pretzels not only makes delicious, buttery, soft pretzels in creative flavors such as pumpkin seed, they also make creative cookies, such as the Wancko Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie, which contains a pretzel. Yes, soft pretzel bites are IN the chocolate chip cookie! Delectable.

Chocolate Pumpkin Macaron by Macaron Parlour
Chocolate Pumpkin genius

Macaron Parlour‘s pastry chefs make exquisite macarons with lovely texture. Their combination of pumpkin and chocolate – a pumpkin macaron with chocolate pumpkin ganache – plus the hand-drawn pumpkin illustration on each cookie, won me over instantly. (What’s the difference between a macaron and a macaroon? I wrote a brief post about it; click here!)

Award-winning and award-deserving chocolate babka
Award-winning and award-deserving chocolate babka

Breads Bakery had a sign in front of their Broadway Bites foodstall announcing that they make the best chocolate babka in New York according to New York Magazine. Their chocolate babka was $5 a slice, and it was worth it. Dense yet light, flavorful and not sweet, and ultra-chocolatey, I was tempted to buy a few loaves and throw a chocolate babka party in my hotel suite. I’m serious!

View from my suite at the Eventi Hotel. #empirestateofmind
View from my suite at the Eventi Hotel #empirestateofmind

2. Midtown / Fifth Avenue

Marvelousness at Michel Cluizel
Marvelousness at Michel Cluizel

Michel Cluizel is a longtime favorite of mine, because this family-owned brand believes in chocolate sustainability, fair trade, and traditional French fine-chocolate magic, with no soy lecithin. (For my post on why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate, click here.) Their Fifth Avenue store carries their charming macarolats, macaron-shaped chocolate bonbons with fillings such as raspberry, and also carries an abundance of their incredible chocolates, macarons, and more. They have a chocolate-making facility and museum in New Jersey, 30 minutes from Philadelphia, that we’re invited to visit next time – join me!

"Love Potion Number 9"
“Love Potion Number 9”

Jacques Torres goes by the nickname “Mr. Chocolate,” and his Rockefeller Center store reflects his sense of fun and his love of quality. Once, after chatting with the man himself at a chocolate show in New York a few years ago, I saw that he noticed a scrap of paper on the floor near his booth. He bent down, picked it up, and threw it away, showing in that tiny motion that he has the humility of the great.

Elegant whimsy, outrageous deliciousness, and a Michelin star
Elegant whimsy, outrageous deliciousness, and a Michelin star

Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery has transformed whimsy into a Michelin star. I love Chef Keller’s transformation at Bouchon of well-known commercial candy bar and dessert concepts, into exquisite upscale versions made with premium ingredients. For example, the “Oh Oh” dessert in the photo was a heavenly chocolate-coated swirl of cream and cake. We visited his Beverly Hills Bouchon on the Beverly Hills Bakery Tour that I whipped up for one day only, last spring. Let’s do it again – cross-country Bouchon!

Midtown means Saks, which means 10022 Shoe, which means Ferragamo #sweetandchic
Midtown means Saks, which means 10022 Shoe, which means Ferragamo #sweetandchic

3. Brooklyn / Williamsburg

Skyscraper of macarons
Skyscraper of macarons

Getting off the train in Brooklyn, I turned right instead of left, and found myself at Woops bakery. Thank you, Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity, for leading me to this gem. Not only were the macarons well-textured and tasty, but the alfajores were nicely not-too-sweet, the decor was refreshing, and the staff were helpful with directions. I know Manhattan but was a relative newbie in Brooklyn and clearly lost – yet found!

Bean-to-bar behind the scenes
Bean-to-bar behind the scenes

Among the pioneers of the bean-to-bar chocolate revolution are chocolate-making brothers Rick and Michael Mast of Mast Brothers. I’ve been a fan of their chocolate bars since they began making them in 2007, so what a treat it was to go behind the scenes at their Brooklyn manufactory, where I saw the care that goes into each stage of operations (cocoa beans are sorted by hand, sea salt is sprinkled by hand onto finished chocolate bars), and where I tasted their chocolate in flowing form, straight out of the grinder, where fairtrade cocoa beans are mixed for 3 days with sugar and nothing else. I also felt the love that everyone at Mast Brothers has for the art of chocolate. Their brewed chocolate drinks at their drinking-chocolate shop a couple of doors down were also phenomenal, as were their chocolate chip cookies, bonbons, and of course chocolate bars.

Flatiron Building NYC #onwardandupward
Flatiron Building NYC #onwardandupward

My mission has always been Uplift Through Chocolate, and it was exciting to experience and taste chocolate love in many innovative forms on my latest trip to New York. For more photos, see #NYCNovember2014 on twitter or Instagram, where I post as @chocolateuplift.

With Rick Mast
With Rick Mast

Save the date of next Veteran’s Day weekend, and join me for another set of sweet and chic adventures in the Big Truffle – email me at chocolateuplift@gmail.com to get on the list.

“Keep eating chocolate, and eat real chocolate!”

~ Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Macaron vs. Macaroon

Macaron vs. Macaroon

By chocolate expert – and lover of both macarons and macaroons – Valerie Beck, founder of Chocolate Uplift and Chicago Chocolate Tours 

Red Velvet and Chocolate Pumpkin Macarons by Macaron Parlour in New York City
Red Velvet and Chocolate Pumpkin Macarons by Macaron Parlour in New York City (macarons with 1 o)

Macarons have become a popular treat in the US, and perhaps this popularity is at the root of some confusion over what constitutes a macaron with 1 o, versus a macaroon with 2 o’s.

They are indeed 2 different cookies, though both almond-based:

Macaroons (2 o’s) originated in Italy, and are light yet dense cookies covered in coconut and often dipped in chocolate – the best part, right! They’re usually made from egg whites, sugar, and ground almonds.

Chocolate-Dipped Macaroon at the Kendall College student-run cafe
Delicious Chocolate-Dipped Macaroon at the student-run cafe at Kendall College, where I’m a part-time Professor (macaroon, with 2 o’s)

Macarons (1 o), on the other hand, were popularized in France. They are delicate, meringue-based sandwich cookies made from almond flour, and are usually filled with jam, buttercream, or ganache. They are made in many colors and flavors, including chocolate of course.

Sweet and chic: macaron scarf at Laduree NYC
Sweet and chic: macaron scarf at Laduree NYC

Both cookies can be creative and delicious, yet macarons are definitely having a moment. I’ve started a hashtag to differentiate macarons on twitter and instagram: #macaronsnotmacaroons.

Salted Caramel Macaron Ice Cream Sandwich with Chocolate Macarons, at Francois Payard Patisserie in NYC (#macaronsnotmacaroons)
Salted Caramel Macaron Ice Cream Sandwich with Chocolate Macaron, at Francois Payard Patisserie in NYC (#macaronsnotmacaroons)

What a difference an o makes!

Either way, buon appetito, and bon appetit!

Want more? Click for info on booking me to speak to your group on chocolate history, myths, and marvels!

Dessert for Dinner: 1 Night, 7 Desserts

Dessert for Dinner: 1 Night, 7 Desserts

By Valerie Beck, founder of Chicago Chocolate Tours – rebranding to Chocolate Uplift chocolate services

Have you ever had dessert for dinner?

How about 7 desserts for dinner?

I’m excited to tell you about an evening of pastry paradise at top-rated NoMI restaurant at the elegant Park Hyatt Chicago last month. Star pastry chef Meg Galus generously invited 6 of her pastry chef pals from other Chicago restaurants to join her in creating exquisite dinner courses made of scrumptious desserts! The event – part of the Park Hyatt Masters of Food and Wine series – was called “Dessert Degustation,” and it was magnificent. Thank you to NoMI and Chef Meg for the invitation!

With Chef Meg of NoMI some months earlier at her chocolate Mother's Day pop-up
With Chef Meg of NoMI some months earlier at her chocolate Mother’s Day pop-up

Here are the delicious details:

I brought my mother (chocolate mania runs in our family!), and joined around 20 other dessert lovers at NoMI. After a delightful appetizer reception with savory hors-d’oevres and a lovely cider, Chef Meg greeted us warmly. She is incredibly talented, hard-working, and innovative. I loved chatting with her at the chocolate pop-up she’d created at the Park Hyatt for Mother’s Day, and was excited to see what she’d been up to recently.

I’ll admit that when I saw the elegantly printed Dessert Degustation menu, I was surprised at the lack of chocolate. I’ve always said that dessert without chocolate isn’t dessert – it’s salad! For example, what does my family do with perfectly good apple pie at the holidays? We pour chocolate sauce on it, naturally! Chef Meg mentioned too that she was surprised at the general absence of chocolate when the other chefs told her in advance what they were going to create. Her plan was to let the other chefs send in their ideas first, and then she would fill in any gaps. The gap was chocolate (I know: still shocking!) and she filled it in magnificently.

Dessert Degustation
Dessert Degustation

Of course, each dessert was delicious, chocolate or no. The chefs were amazing, and thoughtful, and creative, and it was a pleasure to hear each of them describe their dessert-as-dinner creations. Plus, each dessert was paired with wine, and the sommelier was there to answer any questions about the beautifully-matched choices.

My 3 favorite desserts of the evening, in order of presentation, were:

1. Grapefruit Meringata by Amanda Rockman of Nico Osteria

Grapefruit Meringata
Grapefruit Meringata

This course consisted of grapefruit sorbet, white chocolate, basil, and Turkish delight. It was light and airy, with just the right balance of sweet and tart. Is white chocolate really chocolate? That’s a topic for a separate blog post (short answer: yes, if it’s premium white chocolate made from real cocoa butter as this was; no if it’s commercial white chocolate made from an oil and chemical concoction). This dessert-as-dinner course was so refreshing it could have been dessert-as-breakfast!

2. Chocolate Mont Blanc Tart by Meg Galus of NoMI

Chocolate Mont Blanc Tart
Chocolate Mont Blanc Tart

Chef Meg’s dessert was the delicious and gorgeous grand finale, and provided the first milk or dark chocolate all evening. It was worth the wait! Her dessert was composed of milk chocolate cremeux, chestnut-rum mousseline, and Tahitian vanilla, topped with edible gold leaf. The chocolate-chestnut combination was pure autumnal genius, and the dessert was rich, flavorful, and satisfying. Did I finish each of the desserts that evening? No, because when tasting professionally I’ll often have just one bite to taste, and one more bite to develop. Then, if I want to eat more of the item personally instead of professionally, I may do so. Did I eat this particular dessert personally after tasting it professionally? Absolutely!

3. Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Macaron by Toni Roberts of The Wit

Chocolate Hazelnut Peanut Macaron
Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Macaron

What comes after the grand finale? The thoughtful take-home dessert! This mega-sized macaron-shaped dessert was filled with a pumpkin caramel hazelnut center, coated in chocolate, and presented on a bed of gold-leafed crushed peanuts. I sliced it open to a cross-section and plated it so that you can see all of the elements. Did I then eat the entire fun and delicious super-cookie? One guess!

Chocolate wisdom
Chocolate wisdom

At the end of the evening, we also received a delightful chocolate-themed mug filled with Chef Meg’s housemade hot chocolate mix and marshmallows. When I sampled a bit of the mix dry, it was so delicious and luxurious that I could have eaten the entire bag dry, without adding water! (I like my hot chocolate with water, though you could certainly have blended this mix with milk, almond milk, etc.) My mother loved the hot chocolate – and the rest of the Dessert Degustation – too, and commented that the evening provided something for everyone.

There’s something for you too, because the Park Hyatt, NoMI, and Chef Meg are always creating something new and delicious. Check out their schedule of Masters events here, and for details on their Sugar and Spice holiday chocolate pop-up click here.

Park Hyatt Chicago
Park Hyatt Chicago

See you next time, and keep eating – and drinking – chocolate!

Why I Don’t Want Soy Lecithin in My Chocolate

Why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate

By Valerie Beck, founder of Chicago Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift, the “Professor of Chocolate”

What's really in your chocolate bar?
What’s really in your chocolate bar?

I was asked the other day why I’m against soy lecithin in chocolate, even if it’s organic soy lecithin. I replied that it’s because I’m against industrial sludge in any of my food, including my chocolate!

What is soy lecithin, and why is it in chocolate?

Soy lecithin is an ingredient used by commercial/industrial chocolate makers, to keep chocolate moving through their pipes. It’s an industrial waste product made from the sludge left after crude soy oil is processed with hexane and acetone. Soy oil refining companies found a way to sell their waste back to the food industry in the 20th century, in the form of lecithin. Whether that waste is organic or not isn’t the point. True, I prefer organic food to GMO food. But in the case of soy lecithin, even organic soy lecithin is still industrial waste, and there are whisperings that when it’s labeled as organic it still isn’t because there isn’t enough demand for an organic variety to actually produce one, but in any case it’s not part of the clean-food / artisan chocolate movement.

What does soy lecithin do to chocolate, and to us?

Cocoa beans + sugar + nothing else = pure delicious chocolate
Cocoa beans + sugar + nothing else = pure delicious chocolate

In addition to being processed waste sold back to the food industry for further industrial purposes, soy lecithin alters the taste and texture of chocolate, making it slicker and more standardized.

I love the pure flavor and rich texture of unadulterated chocolate, and I love delicious, complex-flavor artisan chocolate bars with just 2 ingredients – cocoa beans and sugar – such as bars by Askinosie, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, and so many others. Depending on how the cocoa beans are developed through the chocolate making process, chocolate makers can express different stories and provide different flavors. Without additives, the chocolate can tell a more nuanced story.

Moreover, there are other serious issues surrounding soy, as some studies show it can lead to thyroid problems, infant abnormalities, and cancer. This is the case whether the soy is organic or not.

The soy industry and Big Food industries are obviously massive, and some people will tell you that a small amount of soy lecithin in your chocolate won’t make a difference to your health. But even if you didn’t mind the flavor and texture reductions or alterations, the amount of soy lecithin that many people are eating may not be so small after all. That’s because it is in so many processed foods ranging from salad dressing and mayonnaise, to bread and cake mix, and even tea bags.

Do you want hexane-processed sludge with that?

Even if you steer clear of most processed foods and fast food, do you want any hexane-processed industrial sludge in your food at all? Imagine you were at a fine restaurant, and the server asked if you would like ground pepper, parmesan, or a few drops of hexane and soy sludge on your meal. Yikes!

Isn’t it an upside-down state of affairs when industrial waste in food is the norm, and we have to explain why we don’t want it?

What we can do about it

Don’t despair! How can you make sure there’s no soy lecithin in your chocolate bar? Read the label! If you see something you don’t like, or can’t pronounce, you can back away from the bar, and make a different chocolate choice.

Discussing and sampling the goods at a bean-to-bar meeting I held with one of my chocolate consulting clients
Discussing and sampling the goods at a bean-to-bar meeting I held with one of my chocolate consulting clients

Happily, there is a chocolate revolution happening right now, with wonderful bean-to-bar chocolate makers such as the ones I highlighted above and many more including those in my distribution and broker portfolio, creating amazing chocolate deliciousness with cocoa beans. By controlling the entire chocolate making process, from sourcing the cocoa beans through controlling the steps such as fermenting, roasting, and mixing or conching the cocoa beans, they can draw out different flavors based on differences within the steps of that process.

More good news: artisan chocolate makers who use pure ingredients are generally the same artisan chocolate makers who use fair or direct trade, slavery-free, sustainably grown cocoa beans. Chocolate that’s delicious, ethical, and full of health benefits? That’s how it should be!

For an educational and entertaining seminar on deciphering chocolate bar labels, come to one of my "Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny" presentations
Hello from one of my “Eat Chocolate, Be Skinny” seminars, which are educational and entertaining presentations and chocolate tastings on how to decipher chocolate bar labels and gain maximum chocolate health benefits.

Remember: chocolate comes from cocoa beans, which are the seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree. Yes, chocolate comes from fruit! Keep the chocolate pure, and you have wonderful health benefits, wonderful flavor opportunities, and benefits rather than harm to farmers and the planet. That’s chocolate uplift indeed.

To sum it up in hashtags that you’ll see if you join me on Instagram or twitter at @chichoctours: #eatrealfood and #eatrealchocolate!

#chocolateislove

“Professor of Chocolate”

“Professor of Chocolate”

By Valerie Beck, “Professor of Chocolate” 

Kendall College's newest Adjunct Professor
Kendall College’s newest Adjunct Professor, yours truly Valerie Beck

The title of this post refers to one of my nicknames, because I’ve studied chocolate all my life. Meanwhile, I’m a new “Professor of Business” and I love that too! Here’s what happened:

As the creator of Chicago Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift which provide a variety of chocolate services from tours and travel to consulting and importing, I’ve always enjoyed speaking about chocolate and business to universities, schools, corporate groups, women’s clubs, and of course tour groups. My mission is Uplift Through Chocolate, which means basically I’ll talk about fine and fairtrade chocolate to anyone who will listen!

Learn what's really in your chocolate bar, and how to discern fairtrade chocolate from slavery chocolate, in my chocolate seminars
What to eat, and what not to eat: learn what’s really in your chocolate bar, and how to discern fairtrade chocolate from slavery chocolate, in my chocolate seminars

My speaking engagements about chocolate and business began in Chicago not long after I started Chicago Chocolate Tours in 2005, and followed me to Boston, Philadelphia, and beyond when I opened chocolate tours in additional locations. Popular topics that I speak on include Chocolate Wellness, Eat Chocolate Be Skinny, and ABCs of Business Success. I also love sharing chocolate and business stories on television.

With other speakers at our alma mater Harvard Law School
Right, with other speakers at our alma mater Harvard Law School

Recently, I began thinking that in addition to giving one-off talks, I wanted to teach whole semesters. I love academic, culinary, and business environments, and love giving back through knowledge, and working with students.

So when I found myself sitting next to the Provost of Kendall College at an Ecuadorian dinner to which I was invited by my chocolate consulting client the Ecuador Trade Commission, I was fascinated as she described the new and innovative programs at Kendall. The college is known for star culinary grads like Rick Bayless and Jose Garces, and has added international business programs. I told her I would love to be part of it if there were a place for my contributions. After going through the interview process, I became the newest Adjunct Professor at Kendall College, and started teaching this Fall!

View from my Adjunct Professor office at Kendall College
Sweet home Chicago: view from my Adjunct Professor office at Kendall College

That means I’m a part-time professor, which is perfect because I can share my knowledge and practical experience with students, while still being an entrepreneur and continuing to develop my businesses.

I’m thrilled to have created and to be teaching a new class at Kendall, called Growth Strategies and Franchise Management. The course is about scaling a business, and opening in multiple locations. I’m impressed with my students, who are creating new franchise concepts as their class project.

I’ve created an Entrepreneur Speaker Series as part of the course, to bring in guest speakers to share their stories and add value. Kendall’s leadership has been kind enough to open the speaker series to the full Kendall community plus interested members of the public, so you’re invited! Click for dates and speakers, and let me know if you’ll be my guest. And, we post inspiring business quotes using hashtag #growthquote; join the social media gathering at @kendallcollege and @chichoctours.

#growthquote
#growthquote
Chocolate confections by Whimsical Candy, shared at my Growth Strategies and Franchise Management class
Chocolate confections by Whimsical Candy, shared at my Growth Strategies and Franchise Management class

Finally, naturally I’ve added a chocolate component to the course: at the start of each class, we sample chocolate or pastry that I’ve brought, and we discuss how the owner of that particular business is growing the enterprise, such as for instance through opening multiple locations, or by selling wholesale to grocery stores or specialty markets. My students are keeping a chart of such growth strategies, and are creating a list of factors to assess scalability and growth viability. Our chocolate tastings support the educational process, through real-world examples of business challenges and successes.

Student-made cupcakes at the Kendall College Fall Picnic.
Student-made cupcakes at the Kendall College Fall Picnic.

Delicious education!