I had a wonderful time speaking to Matthew Schreiner of Barcacaochoclat at length yesterday. I thought I knew chocolate (um, yeah I know chocolate! I like to eat it! Does that count?) Turns out, not as well as I thought. I’ve been schooled on chocolate like I’ve never been before, and my head’s swimming with so much new information, my brain’s going to explode (in the greatest of ways). While Matthew spoke, I scribbled furiously, trying to keep up. Here’s what I learned from this worldly chocolatier:
He started in France; after earning a diploma from the culinary arts program en Pâtissier from the prestigious Ferrandi, L’Ecole Francais De Gastronomie (think the Harvard of gastronomy) in Paris, he fell in love with chocolate. While working at the Ritz, his mentor allowed him to utilize the chocolate lab downstairs.
“I would make sculptures, take photos of my work so my mentor could critique them, and melt everything all down at the end of the night. As long as I left the lab exactly how I found it, I could continue to work there.”
After his experience in France, he wound up working for Nadège Nourian, chef and owner of Nadège Patisserie in Toronto, Canada. He spoke fondly of this fourth generation pastry chef, who hails from Lyon, a French city in the Rhone-Alps region. She has worked in award winning Michelin restaurants such as the Ivy Restaurant in London, so he was able to learn from and work with some of the best people in the industry. Once he sharpened his skills, he decided to open up his shop in Naperville, IL last year.
“What’s your favorite chocolate bar?” I asked.
“It’s always the one I’m currently working on. Jasmine is one of my favorites. I think it’s a flavor that pairs really well with chocolate. Yuzu is another one. It was my last to roll out. You know, I use 100% yuzu powder. I wanted the flavor to be subtle- not overtly citrus. So I use 62% chocolate- it’s not overly bitter, made in the French method. The acidity is higher, and the higher acidity brings out the flavors of the chocolate…”
My God, Sir! You had me at Yuzu! Yes, this is not your Terry’s orange chocolate ball you get around Christmas time. (Does anyone else remember those?) There something to be said about the art of subtlety, especially in the chocolate making world. It takes craftsmanship and vision to make art, and create a unique and luxurious experience for the consumer. As a hairdresser, I understand this, as we strive to provide this for every one of our clients.
What I noticed about Matt was his incredible attention to detail, and the passion he has for his chocolate. All aspects, down to the ingredients, how the ingredients are sourced, the sustainability, ethical responsibilities of purchase- it’s all integral to his product.
“I use single origin beans from Peru. Criolla chocolate is only used in 5% of the world’s production of chocolate, and isn’t seen outside of South America. They have the best tasting notes for my chocolate.”
I mentioned to him the way he talks about delicate balance of flavor was akin to the way a perfumer balances fragrance, and immediately his eyes lit up.
“Did you know that vanilla and cacao rely on little midges for pollination? And cacao trees need banana trees to provide the most perfect amount of shade. There is a balance, a perfect harmony not just in the balance of flavor, but in the actual creation of the chocolate itself.”
Wow. That’s deep. And I mean that in the most sincerest of ways. Because, in a sense, connectivity is a certain truth. Everything is connected- the flavor, the chocolate, how we purchase it, how it’s made, and how it’s grown. You want a crafted, quality product? Look to it’s origin. Sustainability is really important to Matthew Schreiner, who was also the Director of Environmental Sustainability for the Café at Tate Modern, the art gallery, in London. He urged me to look at the true cost of cheap food.
“Push back. Don’t settle for low quality, cheap product.”
He works with República de Cacao (a sister brand of Valrhona). Essentially, the Chiraboga brothers, founders of República, wanted to “produce the most authentic Latin American chocolate, by protecting sustainable fine cacao production.” (Republicadecacao). No middlemen brokers looking to make money- they buy direct from producers that all come from small geographic regions in Latin America. What about his sugar cane?
“My sugar cane comes from less than 1000 acres of land, it’s completely transparent. If you look at West Africa, 71% of chocolate production goes from broker to broker. There’s no accountability. Ask how the cacao is picked? A broker may not care if there’s slave labour involved because they’re making money. I know my growers and producers. My supply chain is like, 4 people.”
He explained to me that the Ecuadorians that grow cacao have been taught how to also roast the beans as well. This not only teaches them a new trade, it also cuts out a large portion of chocolate’s carbon foot print.
“What happens a lot is beans are harvested, then sent to France or Switzerland to be roasted. Since the beans are roasted right at the place of origin, that’s reducing a lot of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation of chocolate.”
Also, a lot of farmers have switched from growing coca to cacao, which can be just as profitable, healthier for the economy, reducing the flow of drug trade. Chiraboga puts a lot of money back into the communities of growers and producers they buy from, helping to fund schools and water treatment programs.
I feel like this is what my soul needs: chocolate that not only tastes delicious, but is made with love and an ethically conscious mindset.
Before I left Matt, we talked about his logo.
He had a vision of what he wanted the brand to look like, and after 6 months working with his designer, he settled on something clean, pure, yet colorful. He wanted the typography in particular to be reminiscent “of Chanel.” Of course, what more could you expect from a chocolatier who studied in France and is inspired by London fashion?
Boutique, Luxury, Modern, but ultimately, Local, Sustainable, and with a conscious; all one, and at ONE, we love that!
Matthew Schreiner will be visiting at Williams-Sonoma in Oakbrook today at 10. You can visit Barcacaochocolat here and shop online, or you can visit the brick and mortar store here: 2764 Aurora Avenue Suite 104, Naperville, IL 60540.
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