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When I was in culinary school back in 2000, and we spent barely a few hours learning how to temper chocolate, I really had no idea what it was all about. This was my first introduction to chocolate and despite our instructor’s explanation, I left school with little to no understanding of how to work with chocolate. It was a total mystery. We used a bain marie to melt the chocolate and an ice bath to cool it. There was a brief explanation of the temperature curve and the need to cool and then rewarm it, but no explanation of the science behind it. I left the class feeling baffled and sure that I was missing a whole lot.
Nonetheless, chocolate had grabbed my attention and a few years out of school, the chance came up to work part-time in a chocolate shop. The only way you can really develop the intuition and ability needed to temper chocolate quickly and easily is by working with it day in and day out on a constant basis. That’s how I got to know it. But there wasn’t much room for experimentation at the chocolate shop, so I got myself a small warming unit and began to play around at home. I also got myself a couple of molds and started making filled chocolates at home. Sometimes there would be problems with the chocolate where I worked, and I often knew the cause of the problem, but couldn’t implement the solution because the owner or the store manager had their own ideas and wouldn’t risk allowing me to implement a different procedure. So in addition to seeing problems with tempering where I worked, I had a chance to fool around at home and figure out exactly what was going on.
I also got myself a cheap airbrush on eBay, and began to play around with coloring molds. Numerous books and hundreds of hours later, I had taught myself just about as much as one possibly can about the science of chocolate. Airbrushing, decorative pieces, butter vs. cream ganaches, percentages-I learned all these two and developed a decent command of the various techniques and methods for making different kinds of chocolates. I made chocolates one year and delivered them to several clients of the personal chef business I was running at the time, and my start as a chocolatier had begun.
It wasn’t until I got to Ecuador and learned more about Ecuadorian chocolate, Nacional and Arriba, CCN-51 and the little bit of Trinitario and Criollo beans the grow here, that I delved into learning about chocolate making from bean to bar, the cacao trade, and other aspects of the cacao and chocolate industry. I’ve visited most of Ecuador’s mainly chocolate production facilities, been to several farms and brokers’/traders’ patios, and toured the country learning about beans, fermentation, and Ecuadorian cacao and the chocolate industry in general.
As my business has grown here, we invested in a small enrobing unit. That alone was a whole new universe of learning-it’s a simple machine, but takes skill and practice to operate. Since I painstakingly agonize over ever piece that rolls of the belt, it took me several thousand pieces before I was able to consistently and constantly achieve the results I am looking for.
Learning about every aspect of chocolate-from the farm to the bar and beyond-has been one of my most rewarding pursuits, and my knowledge is something I enjoy sharing with anyone who’s willing to listen. I always look forward to meeting people who share my interest, so please, stop by the workshop next time you are in Quito!