When Art Pollard and Matt Caputo were in town last week for the Academy of Chocolate Awards they very kindly brought me a box of bonbons to try from Chocolatier Blue, a US based chocolatier ran by Chris Blue. (The website was not working at time of posting.) Chris was previously the chocolatier for Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago, but now has branched out on his own, setting up shop in Berkeley, California.
Chris exclusively uses Amedei chocolate, and according to his promotional blurb, is the only chocolatier in the US allowed to do so. This makes him the counterpart of London’s William Curley, who has a similar relationship with Amedei, though William also specialises in patisserie.
By the time I got to review the collection, the chocolates were at least two weeks old, so the flavours might not be as sharp as when freshly made, but I didn’t detect any signs of the fillings passing beyond their shelf life.
WordPress, bless it, ate my first version of this post, so this is a little truncated from the original, and rewrites from memory are never quite the same. Luckily, I still had a few of the bonbons left at the time of reconstruction.
Orange julius – a double reversed triangular shape and a shocking sparkling red colour. We’re told that the colours are all natural and made by Chris himself. Quite an achievement. The orange is delivered in a white ganache, which takes off the citrus edge and makes the filling rather sweet. Reminds me of orange cream biscuits. Well made, but a little tame – gently orange rather than sharply citrus. Again, the after taste indicates the quality of ingredients used. Nothing bad here.
Pistachio – a soft marzipan. These are roasted Scicilian pistachios, and you can smell the roast in a very pleasant way. The filling is really, really creamy, not at all grainy. I’m not overwhelmed with pistachio flavour – it’s rather light, but this is more than made up for by the creaminess of the centre, which is quite remarkable. The after-effect is yet again very pleasant and lingering.
Oreos in milk – a cheeky one this. The filling is said to be crushed Oreos, white chocolate and fresh farm cream. Crushed Oroes. You don’t find that listed in the ingredients of many fine chocolates! Kind of works though, creating a straightforwardly chocolate and cream flavour.
Espresso – a rather high tall oval, dark shell and sprayed on top like a cappucino. Good coffee flavour here, the quality most felt in the after taste, but could be a little stronger.
Ants on a log – one of the more bizarrely named chocolates I’ve come across, and a quick check of the description card was needed to be sure this wasn’t some novelty ‘I dare you’ filling. The name actually refers to a childhood healthy snack Chris ate after arriving home from school – peanut butter and raisins on a celery stick. We didn’t have that kind of wholesome snack where I came from, round our way it was ginger nuts and milk all the way! (Can you make a bonbon out of those, please Chris?)
Fortunately we are spared actual celery, and the filling is home ground peanuts, currants and the celery part comes from celery seeds. From humble beginnings, this is an outstanding chocolate and for me the best of the set. The celery seeds really work in the length, with a lingering flavour that surprises you by its persistence and delicacy. Neither does this ensemble filling seem too sweet. A definite winner.
Caramel – every chocolatier has a salt caramel these days. It’s like vanilla ice cream or steamed rice in a Chinese restaurant. If you can’t get those right, you’re in trouble. They all make a great baseline to judge by. Chris’s is a little heavy on the cream for my taste and sweeter than I’d like with the milk chocolate shell, but the fluidity is just right – runny enough to deliver the salt and caramel flavour quickly, but not enough to feel messy. The flavour is very clean and correct and works just right.
Passion fruit caramel – light full flavoured caramel with a crisp thin shell, a good delicate balance of flavours, though my taste would have been for a dark shell and punchier fruit.
Pine nut – pine nuts are one of my favourite foods, but I’ve only seen moderate success with them when used with chocolate. Chris’s approach is a soft marzipan ganache, similarly creamy to his pistachio. Just smelling the bonbon after cutting, you get a lovely delicate roast pine nut aroma, which bodes well. The filling delivers on its promise, the only possible complaint being that it is a little fatty, but then pine nuts are. I could eat quite a few of these.
Hazelnuts – very, very, good hazelnuts, quite roughly ground. A filling with a crunch rather than a soft gianduja. The shell is milk, but a little salt makes the effect not too sweet. In the length, the nuts dominate, with delicate rose and lavender, you only get that from really good nuts.
Caramel apple – the most interesting of the caramels, with more zing and zest than the passion fruit version, sliding into milky toffee at the end.
Peanut butter and jelly – in general I hate jelly, as some of my chocolatier friends will confirm. The top layer of this glittery dark red heart shape bonbon though is very soft and fluid, complimenting the fine, sweet, peanut butter below. Most US chocolatiers seem to have a go at this American classis, Chris’s is one of the more enjoyable.
Overall Chris’s range does very well, the only criticism would be a strong leaning to milk over dark chocolate and hence a sweeter flavour range than most. The chocolates are more in a Belgian than French style, but made with high class ingredients and Amedei chocolate. Given that, the flavour balance can’t be faulted, even if not to my exact taste. I had no trouble finishing the box though. Well worth checking out if you are resident in the Berkeley area or merely passing through.
1964 University Ave.
Tel: (001) 510 705-8800
Web: www.chocolatierblue.com (not running at time of posting)