There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.
― Linda Grayson
How sweet it is
When two intrepid Okanagan chefs signed up to head to France to design a bespoke chocolate for Okanagan College‘s Pastry and Culinary Arts programs there was a lot of envy and ribbing of the, “tough job, but somebody’s got to do it,” variety. But renowned Chef Bernard Casavant, Okanagan College’s culinary manager says it required a lot of focus despite jet lag, to keep “your head clear for your palette” and quite a few glasses of water.
Chef Danny Capdouca, head instructor for the College’s Pastry Arts program did some homework for the trip in Vancouver tasting 26 different types of chocolate to narrow the field before the 2016 trip to France. (Maybe there is a bit of methinks thou doth protest too much…)
Then the hard work of the Paris business trip (again Paris and business…oxymoron?) began. Cacao has seven identified organoleptic notes such as aromatic and fruity and further 20 secondary notes such as spicy and floral dependent on the origins and treatment of the cacao beans. Decisions had to be made on the percentage of cacao in the chocolate as well.
The goal was a dark chocolate that could be eaten in bar form as well as used in baking. Casavant says the chocolates they developed are “intense … but not aggressive.”
“It’s not abusive of your palate like some 89 per cent chocolate,” he said. “We are in wine country, we knew we wanted the dark chocolate to pair well with the wine and fruit of the Okanagan.
“Cacao liquor, the pure essence of chocolate is pretty all encompassing,” says Chef Bernard. “At times it was like the scene in Big with Tom Hanks when he tries caviar and uses a napkin to wipe down his tongue.”
After four intense days tasting, adjusting and refining at the Cacao Barry lab, a chocolate company founded in 1842, the pair narrowed their choices down to three possible dark and three milk chocolates. Computers are also used during the process. “One of our recipes was too close to that of another custom chocolate so we had to reject that one,” says Chef Bernard. “This is how the recipes are protected. In the end, no one else in the whole world will have our exact recipes.”
In the end, the Chefs chose to use cocoa from Tanzania, Mexico and Cuba and a cocoa percentage of just under 70.
Named after Valley lakes, Okanagan Noir is a 69.8 per cent smooth dark chocolate with intense cocoa flavor and a fruity finish. Kalamalka Karamel is a solid milk chocolate with a high cocoa content (45.1 per cent) with sweet notes of caramel and a smooth honey finish.
Choc one up for Okanagan College
“Okanagan College is the only college outside of Europe to have its own brand of chocolate and only the second in the world,” says Chef Bernard. “Just before we went to Paris, a Belgium post-secondary institute completed their custom chocolate recipes. These chocolate recipes are trademarked and it’s completely custom and absolutely exquisite chocolate for our students to use in their training.
“This is pretty cool to have our own chocolate,” he says. “This is just one more initiative to help elevate our Pastry Arts and Culinary Arts programs and will give students another reason to come and study with us.”
The skinny on why we love chocolate – SPOILER ALERT
It seems that some of chocolate’s ingredients work by affecting the brain’s neurotransmitter or chemical messenger network. Chocolate contains trytophan which causes the brain to make serotonin, high levels of which can produce feelings of elation. Phenylethylamine, also found in chocolate, works by stimulating the brain’s pleasure centres and is believed to induce feelings of giddiness and excitement. And finally anandamide is described as a psychoactive ingredient. Remarkably, this neurotransmitter behaves in the same way as THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. However, many scientists are sceptical that these ingredients can produce mind altering effects because they are present in chocolate in such very small quantities.
For now, the chocolate is only available in limited quantities at the Okanagan College cafeteria on Fridays. Ideas are in the works to partner with a winery to produce chocolate bars incorporating wine macerated local dried fruits. Chef Bernard says a student winner of an annual college competition may also have the chance to travel to France to help design a third custom chocolate.
Check out my Okanagan Noir chocolate sozzled cherry cookie post for my recipe using the special Okanagan College chocolate, local dried cherries from CC Orchards in Naramata macerated in Wild Goose wine.
Your hand and your mouth agreed many years ago that, as far as chocolate is concerned, there is no need to involve your brain.
― Dave Barry