“No, no!” he corrected, “We are not chocolatiers. We are chocolate MAKERS. We MAKE the chocolate here.”
Ahhh. Apparently there’s a big difference: Chocolatiers make stuff out of someone else’s chocolate, like Hershey’s or Varlhona or Guittard or Ghiradelli. A chocolate MAKER, such as Coleman & Davis, is where those people get the chocolate from.
“Yes, that’s right,” he nodded, relieved I was finally getting it, “We have a whole chocolate factory in back. We roast the cacao beans, grind them, conch them, blend the chocolates and form the bars. That’s us.”
Mom and I were on University Avenue in Provo, Utah, spending the morning outside the Mormon temple there, watching my niece get married. Or, rather, NOT watching her get married.
Mormon weddings are curious things to non-Mormons (they call us “gentiles,” by the way): They have all the trappings of conventional weddings, i.e., bridesmaids, ring bearers, flower girls, best men…but in a ceremonial way; at least some won’t be allowed to attend the actual wedding.
Mormon brides and grooms are married inside a Mormon temple. Since Mormon temples don’t allow anyone without a recommendation from their bishop to get in (and even then, seating at temple weddings is very limited), the actual knot-tying is an extremely small and private affair. The public celebration part takes place after the wedding.
In the meantime, the invitees hang out in the temple’s “gazebo,” a thankfully air-conditioned waiting room, until they are notified that THEIR happy couple is about to emerge from the temple. (In June, temples become a bit like wedding factories; while we waited for Melissa and Tyler, another couple emerged, to much happy cheering and videotaping…until someone discovered they had the wrong bride. “Ooops!” said the ringleader, and the group retired to wait for THEIR couple.)
Anyway, once the ceremony is over, the wedding pictures start, on the temple steps. They’re beautifully architected and landscaped, I suspect for exactly this purpose. The photo shoot can take hours. In 96-plus degree heat, full sun, on highly reflective concrete.
Can you say, “dripping with sweat and rapidly dehydrating?”
Still, it was beautiful, and my niece looked wonderful. Better still, since Mom and I weren’t needed for most of the pictures and had an hour to kill before the family lunch celebration, we took off down the streets of downtown Provo, looking for anything that was (a) out of the heat, (b) awash in cold beverages, and (c) interesting, in that order.
I wasn’t expecting much–Provo is typically more tuna casserole than foodietown–but the place we found, “Taste Chocolate Bar,” can hold its own with the foodiest of Bay area artisanal shops.
It looks like a cross between an old-fashioned ice cream parlor (think Judy Garland in “Meet Me in St. Louis,”) and a French bistro, with big mullioned windows looking onto…a chocolate factory.
A real chocolate factory, not someone dipping fondant into melted chocolate. Raw beans come in one end, and chocolate nibs, drops, and bars come out the other. The place also stocks a bunch of fine chocolates I haven’t seen since I left France, olive and other oils, real balsamic vinegar, and drinking vinegars from (drum roll) PokPok’s in Portland.
It’s a popular choice for first dates, because, my niece explained later, “Other people go to wine tastings. Mormons go to chocolate tastings.”
Right then the place was deserted, so Mom and I got a LOT of attention. “Have you been before?” asked Phil Davis, one of the owners, lighting up when we said no.
“Ahhh, then you’ll have to TASTE this. This chocolate was the best in the Salon du Chocolat in Paris.” He opened a bar of dark chocolate, whacked at it with a cleaver, and handed each of us a bite-sized piece of Coleman & Davis chocolate.
It was dark–very dark–and about 75% cacao. I started to pop it into my mouth. “STOP!” Phil said.
“THIS is how you taste good chocolate,” he said, demonstrating, “You don’t put it in your mouth, you taste it with your fingers first.”
Hmmm. I’m not really much of a chocolate person (which sometimes causes my mother to question my origins), but even I could see that there were far fewer calories involved in finger-tasting. Obediently, I rubbed the chocolate chunk between my thumb and forefinger.
Not tasting a helluva lot here, Phil.
“Patience,” he said, rubbing his own chocochunk with abandon, “Now, hold it to your nose, close your eyes, and scent.”
It smelled like… chocolate.
“You’re smelling bananas, the rich, ripe odor of bananas,” he crooned, picking up speed, “Now…NOW…we’re tasting banana nut bread. Catch the notes of walnut and banana, the richness of cake? Now, put it into your mouth.”
“Don’t chew yet,” (drat) Hold it against the roof of your mouth with your tongue for at least three seconds.”
“Excuse me,” said Mom-the-chocoholic, “But when do we get to EAT the chocolate?”
“Soon,” he promised, “Right now you just let it sit there, melting…
(Total silence while we concentrate on melting-not-swallowing. I wonder if applying significant hydraulic pressure with my tongue will accelerate the melting process. For the record, it does.)
“Now, chew the chocolate into a mass and keep rolling it on your tongue. You taste the walnuts, gaining strength. Then, as the chocolate seeps through your mouth, you’ll taste new topnotes of cherry.”
“You add cherry juice to the chocolate?” I asked.
Phil looked horrified. “Oh, no, no, no! We don’t add ANYTHING to our chocolate. It’s the genetics of the chocolate doing that, from the beans we choose.”
Clearly, I’m a chocolate Philistine. The cherry topnotes eluded me, but it was still really good chocolate. Since the only chocolate I can really stand is milk chocolate, that’s saying a lot. Mom also gave it her stamp of approval, which means something.
Phil chopped a second bar, and handed out the chunks. “Try THIS chocolate, but first, cleanse your palate.”
OK, so this I knew about from wine tasting. I guzzled down water, swishing and gurgling it like mouthwash (which earned a reproving look from Mom). Tasted the stuff with my fingers, smelled it, melted it on my tongue, rolled it around, all that stuff.
Still tasted like chocolate, but not to Phil.
“THIS time,” he predicted, “You’ll be tasting citrus. This is a different bean, more acidic, with lots of orange and grapefruit permeating the chocolate.”
Apparently I have an underdeveloped chocopalate; all I could taste was chocolate. However, I did detect a waxier, harder texture and mentioned it. Phil beamed, “That’s because we grind the beans much finer.”
So we tasted. And tasted. Somewhere along the way Phil and his assistant served us what we came in for, an ice-cold beverage. They recommended iced chocolate, which turned out to have about as much in common with cold chocolate milk that Velveeta has in common with the perfect Wensleydale.
Tasting chocolate? Pfueeeey. I’d much rather drink it.
Phil & company could bottle this iced chocolate stuff and make a fortune. They don’t, so I ordered a bunch of chocolate as a thank you for my cat-sitter, Carol. She’ll turn it into some unbelievably heavenly dish that she’d better share. With me.
Anyway, if you ever have reason to visit Provo, Utah, give Taste a try. Order the iced chocolate, and see if you can get me the recipe.