August 6, 2006
January 10, 2007
hi there, this is my first post. thanks to everyone for making this site so interesting!
i was wondering, has anyone been to any of the salon du chocolat events? i heard the new york one is pretty good. i'm asking since i'm in tokyo right now and i've been getting pretty excited about the one coming up in a couple weeks. i noticed that mr. pralus is going to be there....
January 10, 2007
March 17, 2005
January 10, 2007
(yes, i have some comments on the japanese interest in chocolate that i'll post later...)
So, i went to the opening day of the 2007 Tokyo salon du chocolat, held at the shinjuku isetan (an upscale department store). The event is being held on the 6th floor, which i saw as both a good and a bad thing. good, because it keeps only-semi-interested people from wandering in and crowding the place up, but bad because they didn't really provide much floor space for the 40 or so booths which were tightly packed into the event hall. However, i guess that's the way the japanese like to do it; everything crowded. anyways, i wandered in at 3pm, and found a chaotic scene with a background aroma of chocolate and vanilla. i pushed my way around, struggling to find space to even look at the chocolates in the cases. unfortunately for choco-bar lovers (like myself), there were only 4-5 serious chocolate makers (i visited pralus, domori, valhrona). The rest were all truffles. and boy were the japanese loving it. lining up to pay $50 for tiny (beautifully-wrapped) packaged truffles. (i realize i'm saying that in a somewhat condescending tone, but i also realize that $10 is a lot to pay for a bar of chocolate [which i do without much thinking]... maybe everyone's a little crazy)
the scene got somewhat depressing after a while, stuck amidst a flood of middle aged housewives out on a wednesday afternoon with their husbands' cash. nobody really seemed particularly interested in the flavors, etc of the chocolate; it's all about the packaging in japan (japanese people are terrible suckers for pretty packaging, more so than any other culture that i know of). the part that really got me was that this event seemed wholly (and very shrewdly) designed to sell chocolate (albeit pretty good chocolate) at high prices to people who don't know a thing about it. oh well, i'll stop my whining for now
anyways, the reason i got there at 3 was that mr. pralus was giving a talk at 3:30. i eventually made my way up to the "banquet room" which they converted into a little lecture area for the event. when i got there, the reception girls had this "i'm sorry, but u're too late" look on their faces, and indeed that's what they said. i didn't realize i was supposed to get a ticket by waiting at the dept. store at 9:30am that morning (because OF COURSE i've got that kind of time...) anyways, after some whining i managed to get in and take the only unoccupied seat - phew.
the lecture involved francois pralus showing us a video of him in madagascar on his plantation making chocolate, and someone translating the whole thing. then we tasted his madagascar, sao tome (and principe) and indonesia 5g squares. i followed along with them and tasted the chocolates when they told us to, but it ended up being a bad idea since i need to taste at my own pace (and without all these people blabbing in french and japanese!). however, i managed to notice the chocolates were profoundly different than the bars of his that i picked up while in san francisco last time (madagascar and sao tome). the store i got em from obviously didn't handle them too well. ah, i wish i could get chocolate this "fresh" all the time. the lecture ended, and when it was time for questions, about 3 people asked some boneheaded questions, and everyone else was either too scared or not interested enough to say anything. i don't speak perfect japanese (and i definitely forgot all my french), but i gave it a shot anyways. he mentioned he loves eating the fresh pulp from the cacao pod (the stuff that surrounds the seeds), so asked him what it tasted like. he said it has the aroma of lychees, the flavor of kiwis and an pleasant balance of sweetness and acidity. man, i'd like to try that!
after the lecture i wandered around the event hall some more, and noticed that domori was giving out samples. nice of them to do so, but man were they stingy... tiny tiny pieces. i then pushed my way over to pralus' booth (where they were selling his pyramide, mini pyramide, and a new pyramide of madagascar choco infused with different natural flavors like vanilla, anise, orange, lemon, etc). i managed to talk to him and tell him how excited i was about his chocolate (via a japanese-french translator) but maybe i came off as a bit TOO excited, and he didn't seem to care much for me. i could understand that he wasn't that interested in having some long conversation with some choco-nut via a translator, and that maybe he was busy and had to go somewhere soon. what disappointed me was that he seemed more interested in signing autographs for some giggling girls who i'm sure had no idea who he was. whatever. even if i didn't get to talk to him at length about chocolate, i got a signature and a picture. good enough.
overall, the salon was less than i had hoped (limited selection of bars, high prices, distracted chocolate makers) -- but about what i expected. as a person who's more into bars than powerfully-flavored ganaches, i guess i could only expect to be disappointed at an event targeted at clueless japanese who needed an excuse to buy something expensive for valentines day. but after thinking about it a bit more, i should be thankful there was enough interest to even have the event in the first place (imagine trying to pull this off in LA, probably wouldn't work). either way, i think i'd have been better off taking a "trip" to chocosphere. oh well. at least i got my samples!
January 10, 2007
sorry for another long and somewhat non-chocolate bar story, but i thought i'd report a little more on my experience at the salon du chocolat in tokyo
i was somehow blessed with the good fortune of winning a raffle for two tickets to a seminar called (translated from japanese) "50 person party and a chocolatier: A chocolate seminar for men!" i was searching for more info about the salon du chocolat a couple weeks ago, and stumbled on a page which was apparently for readers of the magazine "esquire japan" and noticed there was a place to enter into a drawing. why not? i thought, and entered. when i got notice that i won, my slightly paranoid buddy half-jokingly said that everyone wins, and that we were going to get a sales pitch for timeshares in florida. but he came with me anyways.
we arrived at the meeting room (which was the same room that i had listened to mr. pralus' lecture earlier that week). we got there a bit early, and found out that there was a change in the event; the chocolatier who was scheduled to host our little "party" couldn't make it due to bad weather, and was being replaced by the Salon du Chocolat's organizer (francois jeantet) and none other than mr. francois pralus. so now i get another chance to meet you eh, mr. pralus? (i wasn't particularly excited about this due to the awkward circumstances of my previous encounter with him, see previous entry). regardless, at the insistence of my friend we sat near the front. (sorry for the long story, i'll try to keep it short). anyways, the event began, and the two guests came out along with our "eccentric" host, an editor from the magazine.
now for the interesting stuff. the event consisted of them talking while we tasted four different combinations of chocolate and alcohol. (it was funny to watch a couple of the other guests turn bright red after the first or second drink. some japanese people tend to do that...)
round one: pralus madagascar and moet and chandon Brut Imperial Champagne (NV)
round two: mas amiel 2004, fabrice gilotte ganache (something with blackberry gelee )
round three: pralus indonesie, 1997 vin jaune (arbois)
round four: "rhum neisson" , a bernacion ganache (banana confiture/bean thing)
1) this time i wasn't going to be fooled into tasting at the same time as everyone else, so i held on to my chocolate. they mentioned they thought madagascar in particular was a great match for the champagne due to the acidity, and the fact that it doesn't overpower the champagne itself.
2)this was definitely a pretty well matched combo. the mas amiel was a very dark, viscous-looking red (i'm not so sure exactly what the deal with this wine is, i didn't listen too closely since i was paying too much attention to the taste and smells). Powerful aromas of orange liquer, spice and berry jam(blackberry?) as well as porty-smell were hints enough that it was probably not going to be a dry wine, which it was not. it was incredibly rich (and sweet), and matched quite well with the chocolate from fabrice gilotte - a blackberry gelee sandwiched between a blend of various single origin chocos.
3)this was an interesting pairing. i'm not familiar with vin jaune, but it's apparently aged for over six years, and develops some rather interesting and strange characteristics not found in normal whites (see wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vin_jaune). the aromas were definitely what i classify as "interesting but not necessarily pleasing" - roasted walnut oil was a dominant theme mixed in with a blue-cheese fruitiness. Another interpretation might be aged chinese rice wine character with fruit and a touch of something floral. The wine itself is extremely dry and acidic, however is quite clean and nutty, leaving a sort of smoky finish in the mouth. aromatically, this was a great match for the woody-smoky-mushroomy indonesie, but i don't know how i feel about pairing something so (relatively) staunch and dry with something that's ~30% sugar by weight...
4) this was a fun one, especially since they were quite generous with respect to the alcohol in the previous "tastings". (it was interesting to notice the background noise level gradually pick up...)
anyways, the rum was extremely exciting aromatically as well as flavorally. it sort of reminded me of expensive tequila. pretty citrusy in character, notes of raisins, whiskey and something i call "the diner smell" (like denny's or something, that cleaning chemical smell, which in this case was a positive thing, oddly). after letting it sit for a bit, i picked up aromas of black tea an dried apricot. very exciting. The taste definitely lived up to the aromas. As for the chocolate, it was a two layer dealy with banana confiture and something called #12488;#12531;#12459;#35910; paste. not really sure. regardless, the thing as a whole smelled of caramely-cinnamon wafers that are sold at trader joes, as well as a pleasant smokyness. again, another great aromatic match. this time, due to the high alcohol content of the rum, there was a pleasant "apparent sweetness" that somehow matched the chocolate quite well. defintely a very fun combination.
after that, they asked a few questions and sent us on our way. free stuff is great. thanks esquire...
August 6, 2006
March 17, 2005
January 10, 2007
i'm here for... a while. can't be sure how long. (but that's a long personal story involving my "work", which isn't that interesting)
in terms of good food, the longer i'm here, the better. japan is worlds beyond america (probably owing to a long, cultural obsession with food). however, as far as good chocolate bars go, staying here is no good, especially considering chocosphere doesn't ship internationally. good thing i go home to CA occasionally.
i guess i consider japan a "developing nation" when it comes to dark chocolate. to explain what i mean by the previous statement will involve a long story. i don't really feel like sleeping right away, so here we go.
(i spent a year or so studying abroad here a couple years ago, and have just returned to "work" about 4 months ago. i'm definitely by no means an expert in japanese culture, but i'll tell you what i think, reminding you that everything i say is biased from a californian's point of view.)
anyways, as of late, japan has been hit by a dark chocolate "boom" of sorts. go to any supermarket and you'll see many different brands selling chocolate with cocoa percentages proudly displayed/embossed on the package. at first you might think, well that's a great sign, there's lots of interest in dark chocolate, so there's bound to be some quality stuff out there. however, this does not seem to be the case (admittedly i haven't done an extremely thorough search of the internet to find where the good chocolate is, as i'm about half as effective in japanese vs. english net searches)
japanese people go crazy over foods that are alleged to contain chemical compounds which promote health. crazy. you should see the shopping channel. ridiculous. blueberry extract for hundreds of dollars. this really drives me nuts. now that being said, this is also a major problem in america, it just seems even more outrageous here. here's why this whole thing drives me crazy: as a scientist by training (i worked at a pharmaceutical company making drugs), the poor logic of all of these "healthy food chemical" statements is being used (unethically, in my opinion) to drive sales. here's a typical example (i'm kinda just making this up, it's not from a specific source): "isoflavones are a class of chemicals which in laboratory tests were proven to have anti-cancer activity" ( = it kills cancer cells), "tofu, which is made from soy beans contains isoflavones" -- therefore (this is sometimes not stated explicitly) "tofu will probably stop you from getting cancer!" (or whatever). the problem of course being that it is quite rare for them to actually give any sort of evidence for the 3rd statement. #1, the amount of isoflavones required to exhibit anti-cancer activity is not mentioned (it may have been tremendously large), #2, the amount of isoflavones in tofu is not given (possibly quite small relative to the amount used in the study). you might have to eat 30kg of tofu a day to have any sort of positive effect (assuming that the active chemical isn't metabolized/destroyed completely by your body and therefore has no effect no matter what levels are eaten [this is also not mentioned]). in the end , it's just a rather despicable way of increasing sales via bad science/logic.
i realize i really strayed on that one. sorry about that.
anyways, what this means for the japanese and chocolate is that because it's been proven that chocolate has detectable amounts of polyphenols, and that because polyphenols (perhaps in pure form) have been proven to have positive health effects, chocolate is a health food!
another factor to consider is the japanese love for odd chemical flavorings. despite their wonderful food culture/history, there's this strange tendency for the common japanese to like aspartame, acesufame k, msg and weird artificial aromatic chemicals. i think (purely speculation) that historically, japanese manufacturers have put odd flavorings (aromatics) in their chocolates since early times, and now the japanese are used to it, so when they don't get that flavor, it doesn't taste right.
anyways, in terms of the domestic mass consumption scene, the end result is that you get bad tasting chocolate with purported positive health effects being touted all over the wrapper.
on the other hand, in japan (tokyo esp), there are plenty of people with a lot of money to spend, and some with decent taste. this means that there should be a decent amount of quality imported chocolate. however, for some reason or another, brands i can get a hold of even in america are rare, and when i do find good chocolate, it can be prohibitively expensive.
this may be an extreme example, but let's have a look at the case of amedei. i can pick up their chuao 50g bar for $9.95 at a certain store in san francisco. (if u're not that lucky, u can still pick it up for about $13 on chocosphere). at the only stores in japan that i've seen the exact same product, it was selling for 2300 yen (approx 2x the us price, depending on exchange rates, blah). they really play it up like it's some extreme luxury product, putting it in cases and displaying it like jewelry with bright lights shining on the boxes (i think they're just display models).
there's a real scarcity of anything decent in between (in price). i see some lindt, some occasional valhrona, bulk pralus. but those are definitely rare.
my conclusion is that while there may be a dark chocolate boom going on in japan, due to the prohibitively high price of imported quality chocolates and the abundance of lousy domestic chocolate, very very few japanese are aware of the "real chocolate" movement which seems to be picking up in other places around the world
(this definitely sucks for me) [:p]
March 17, 2005
January 10, 2007
i haven't had the chance to go to the actual shop downtown, but they had a rather large exhibition/sales space at the salon du chocolat. i want to avoid passing judgment before i taste any of their chocolates, but i'm a bit... suspicious. they're run by meiji, a producer of mass consumption chocolates and sweets. this doesn't preclude them from creating good chocolate, it just makes me think they've probably spent a few extra yen on marketing, and a few less yen on producing the product than companies that are run expressly for the purpose of creating fine dark chocolate. (their offerings at the shop include various chocolate flavored cream filled pastries, hot chocolates, and 56 different chocolates, about 20 or so of which seem to be single origin). so while their focus may not be exclusively on creating a gourmet dark chocolate, i should probably give them a chance. they even have a "chuao" (62%). next time i'm in the area i'll pick some up.
(forgive me if i seem to be griping/whining about japan's chocolate situation all the time. i really love this place and all of its great cuisine, i'm just having a hard time dealing without a few of my favorite foods from back home: almond butter, dark chocolate, wine, straus yogurt. plus, complaining about how things are different tends to make a good conversation topic. i really don't mean to be so snobby sounding)