Horizon at Sandy Point

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Apprenticeship begins

The apprentice arrives - late on the first day. The plan for early afternoon slips to early evening. The chocolatier is anxious, running on little sleep, maybe also anxious about what an apprentice's expectations might be.

I am just here for a couple hours. It's my first time. I'll just watch today. Relax into the moment and do what I do best - observe.

She says she's making bark. These are shards of dark chocolate with generous sprinklings of flavor toppings: desiccated coconut and pineapple; candied ginger; nutty nibs of pure cacao. Liquid chocolate is going around in a large vat, recycling smoothly from a spigot. The timed fluctuations in temperature deliver the sheen and hardness that give the "snap" to well-tempered chocolate. The smooth semi-liquid is released - by foot pedal - onto trays prepared with silicone mats. In one practiced movement, she tips the tray to spread the chocolate then taps it firmly on the marble countertop to break up and release any bubbles. Braba-dap brap-dap braba-dap brap...  firm as a tap dancer's rhythm.

Before the chocolate sets, she scatters the topping heavily over the surface. In a few minutes, she deftly lifts the mat, transfers the now hardened chocolate slab to a board, and cuts elongated triangles with a big knife.

Her process is organic and habitual, the flow of movement easy, unaffected and efficient. It's hard to figure where an apprentice could insert herself. She's relieved not to have to make work for the apprentice. 

The chocolate triangles are weighed into cellophane bags. She's hardly over or under weight. As my mother would say, her hands are like the scale.

The next day is a small lesson in packaging. All labels and tags are printed, scored and cut on the guillotine, folded down and stuck on the individual packages, quarter inch from the bottom.

Nibble nibs on Cocobel bark

Cocobel pina coco bark
pineapple and coconut

Another day, the chocolatier is making moulds - tiny dark chocolate shells for fillings that are bursts of intense flavor, caramel, coffee, passionfruit, mango pepper. A foot pedal on the tempering machine controls the flow into the mould. Vibrate the air bubbles out of the mould. Du-du-dud-du-dud-dah... Tip the mould against the heated bars of the tempering machine and let the still molten chocolate in the middle drip out, creating the cavities for filling. Scrape extra chocolate off the sides and bottom, no waste, no mess. Deliberate steps, no panic. The chocolatier has choreographed mould making. She is patient but instructs the apprentice firmly. Scrape it off the bottom, sides and top. Hold it over the tempering drum. Forget the drips on the floor. A test of coordination?

The tempering machine has become one of the chocolatier's dearest friends. For old time's sake, she says wistfully, she might still temper a batch of the Cocobel single estate dark chocolate by hand.

Chocolate coats the apprentice's hands, drips on the floor, and hardens. It's a start.
Cocobel ginger bark

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