Category Archives: Side Trips

Tipsy Turvy @ Chocolate Academy, Chicago

Day 1 ~  My head spun, and I had a bout of sinus and a night of throbbing headache all the way till this morning when I returned for Day 2;

Day 2 ~ My stomach couldn’t take it anymore and I sat in class stoned for the last 2 sampling.  I drank 2 bottles of mineral water.  Now it appeared I have upset my gastric and I am feeling some discomfort back in my apartment.

…  And the interesting thing is:

This could aptly describe my last 2 days in a Chocolate-Wine- Scotch pairing workshop at the Chocolate Academy by Barry Callebaut in Chicago.  For a start, I am a non-drinker;  I loved my 70% cacao dark chocolate and disliked the milk counterpart.   But I enjoyed myself, as almost always.

Back on Sunday 7 Dec, I flew into Chicago for the 2 day workshop on Monday and Tuesday.  The original plan when I first signed up for this course was that I was just stopping over in Chicago en route my UA flight back to Singapore.  Yes, leaving Houston for Singapore after completing and graduating from the Culinary Institute Alain and Marie LeNotre on 21 Nov.  And Barry Callebaut had just opened the Chocolate Academy in September 2008, the first Chocolate Academy in the US, and the 12th around the world.  But alas, I confirmed the course, but could not confirm my UA flight for the Chicago-Narita leg and Narita-Singapore leg till last week.  I decided to ditch the flight plan, fly back Singapore direct from Houston on Singapore Airlines instead, which mean I will fly back to Houston after my workshop in Chicago, and fly out from Houston to Singapore the following day.

I arrived into Chicago on Sunday, the temperature was sub-zero, about -7 deg celsius.  That evening I went for a walk along the river, I was dressed warm with a layer of cashmere, a sweater, a woolen coat and a windbreaker, completed with scarf and gloves.   But my ears were freezing … BK had brought me my woollen cap that didn’t match my coat, so I refused to use it, and I didn’t bring to Chicago ;~  Hee.   That evening I slept at 8pm, accumulated sleep debt again but it was good 8 hour sleep and I was wide awake at 4am.

I arrived at the Chocolate Academy @ W Chicago, a few blocks from my hotel.  I was met by Dora, she is the business manger and coordinator at the Chocolate Academy – Dora graduated from the French Pastry School and had previously worked in a number of hotels.  Then we were introduced to the instructor for the workshop – Chef Paul Feaver from Canada.  He had flown in the day earlier as well. 

Chef Feaver’s Introduction.  Chef Feaver lives in eastern Canada, and he works as a GM and chef at a restaurant.  His professional life revolves around being a GM of a restaurant business, and chef in charge for the restaurant,  instructor and ambassador for the Chocolate Academies in Canada and Chicago, and spend time researching and developing ideas and materials for new courses – he called it crazy schedule but he clearly enjoys the adrenaline rush and like he said or he will get bored.  He is the creator of this course, and this is the first time the course was ever conducted by the Chocolate Academy, so he encouraged us to ask him loads of questions, shared with him how we want to move along etc.  Depending on response, he may be creating advance follow up to the course but that could take at least another year – pairing choc with tequila, with beer etc.  And why chocolate and wine?  It was created by fluke – like all creations and discoveries, isn’t it? – he was at a trade show and the booth next to his was serving wine, he tried some with choc – some worked, some didn’t – and this was how it all started.  Then, he has been learning wine for the last 11 years already.  In his professional life, he was blessed with a 5 month break from restaurants and kitchens … where he spent time learning, and put things together.  He never liked Maths and Chemistry but now he enjoys them in a whole different scale.  Cool!  If our education system can be taught the same way, but again we may not be ready to appreciate the depth till we discover we are ready one fine day.  Now he get paid to enjoy what he likes.

More about Chef  Feaver ~ He is from New Finland(?), the most eastern part of North America.  He is of French, Scottish, and English origin (think I missed another part to this).  He spent 22 years in Opera, and 22 years in the industry, and … by 11 Dec he will be turning 38!    He said, go do the Math.

Six of us attended the sessions:  Jill and Lori from Pair Chocolates – they are already pairing chocolate and wine in their business working for their company but were at the session to learn more;  Eric, Assistant Pastry Chef from Hyatt Orlando;  Neil – a wine enthusiast who would like to own his choc and wine business;  And Rieko – a choc business owner who previously attended the French Pastry School and now supplies luxury chocolate to airlines, corporate and  sales.  Had a chance to speak at length to some of them … inspiring indeed.

What we learnt during the 2 days?  Nosing and tasting, more nosing and tasting, and more …  The first thing in eating is nosing, as the smell goes over the tongue first, Chef Feaver said.  The hardest is getting over something we personally do not like but it is not all about Me?, it is about the consumers we are serving.  In learning, Chef Feaver reinforced there is never a failure, never a mistake if we learn from it, it is always a learning process … quoting Thomas Edison in his discovery of light bulbs – we will learn the ways not to do to make it work.  In the process of teaching, he shared that he does not know everything, he is learning continuously from his students too, so he is also a student at the same time, he will continuously learn or he will get bored.

The 5 Primary Elements of Tastes.  1.  Sweet.  2.  Salty.  3.  Bitter.  4.  Sour.  5.  … and he excluded Rieko and me from the question he posed to the class as Asians has the taste in our culture.  Huh?  The 5th basic taste is Umami– a Japanese term – a fresh, cleansing taste … Chef Feaver said it is a clarifying taste, the process of blending things together, a negative spice …  To me, I have always accepted as part of our cooking and I never thought it was unique to Asians and I must have heard of this term but I don’t remember it.  Now I do.  He gave us a secret ingredient – a negative spice – to neutralize the taste if we add too much of one component in our recipe (so it shall remain a secret here!  I am not telling unless you are my worthy friend ;p).  Like Rieko, I enjoy and will continue to experiment with pairing Asian ingredients to the basic recipes I have learnt.  It is fun.

Day 1.  After a morning of theory on Chocolate and profiles of specific grapes … Chef Feaver said “Let’s go for lunch now, before we come back and … drink!”  To laughter.  And it was the beginning of more laughter the whole afternoon through and a hilarious session.  For choc-wine pairing, we were to pair both choc and wine profile that balance and equalise.

“Nose the wine, nose the choc, then eliminate, then tasting them, it will be more accurate” … ‘Don’t make it too complex in taste” … “Always pick choc, then pick the wine” … “First sip to cleanse, second sip to taste” … “2 ways to clear and refresh your senses – 1. coffee beans.  2. … smell yourself” (oh!! … Reason being that our body smell is something we are used to and is neutral to us, so when we smell ourselves, it makes the mind go blank and relax, which numbs and clears our senses from other smells … interesting!) … “if you are serving a flight of wine for tasting, always starts from mildest to heaviest … if you put champagne, that is the first thing to taste”…

By 5th testing of white wine, and 1 more to go … I was sniffling.  Chef Feaver said the wine must have set off my histamines and my sinuses started acting up.  I was feeling cold, my face flushed.  “You ok?”  Chef Feaver asked, and the class laughed.  Neil, seated next to me, asked me to drink more water.  In getting our response to a question he asked, the Chef said to the class, “What did you see in front of me?”  I see *Stars!… to more laughter, he was expecting us to say “chocolate”.  Then we have 3 red wine tasting to go, the first one must have set off an allergic reaction – my skin showed red pores, and my skin started to itch.  Chef Feaver identified that I may be allergic to the sulfide, the preservative which is not present in white wine or melalactic acid, which is present in red wine.  Other than these differences, the white has no stem, no seed, and no skin added.  

For someone who doesn’t like milk chocolates, you are doing pretty well.”  I think my mind is confused, chef… more laughter.  He explained that our concept of milk chocolate come from candies … he would let children eat directly from a bag of chocolate anytime – will not set off any hyperactive reactions etc, choc being 10x more antioxidants to red wine and berries.  During the pairing session, I tried 3 types of milk chocolate – Ghana Milk (Cacao Barry 40.5%), Arriba (Callebaut 39%), Java (Callebaut 32%), still can’t say I like them on its own compared to the dark chocolate but I do like specific wine and milk chocolate pairing.  I actually enjoy them.

By the end of the session on Day 1 … “Chef, I can’t hear you…” … “Chef, whatever you say, can you say it again?” … I was no longer thinking … and I guessed I repeated the requests a couple of times, to more laughter.  I will, and next time I’ll record it, referring to the sames classes he will be conducting again twice in April.  Jill joked that she wished she could put me on candid camera or YouTube.

Then I noticed that other than the 6 + 3 + 1 wine glasses we each had a set and used, there was a carafe left untouched at the end of the session.  I asked “Chef, why did you give us a carafe?” … It is meant for you to spit in it!Huh? None of us did, we had tasted and drank the wine.  Referring the the Choc-Scotch session we would be having the next day – “I would need to repeat more times for tomorrow“, more laughter.  Chef, I would not be here tomorrow though I will be physically here… again more laughter.  As Chef Feaver does this as part of his job – wine tasting and pairing, he usually noses the wine and chocolate for pairing elimination and decision before he actually tastes the wine and chocolate for confirmation. 

The class laughed a lot on the first day, I was not sure if we were drunk, or we were happy and enjoying the session, or we laughed in reaction to words said … a combo, I guessIt was hilarious!

At the end of the class, I was already stoned.  I had walked closer to the chef to take a closer look at his full name to research on him, I looked at his chef jacket, then I looked at it again.  He laughed, it appeared that I had to repeat my actions twice to focus.  Then I took another 10 minutes to get dressed into my warm clothes, my head throbbing.  I decided to walk back to the hotel, the cold air did some good to clear my head.

Back in my apartment, I was sneezing, my head was still throbbing.  I had wanted to update my journal entry … I couldn’t think, … my eyes were puffy from the sinus reaction.  I knocked out, sitting in front of my laptop.

~

Woke up at 5, then 6, then finally at 7 … my head was heavy, and I just felt I need to sleep more.

Day 2.  More questions.  I asked about wine as a filling in choc … use fondant with the alcohol … suspension and syrup to reduce alcohol % … ganache … buttercream … gelatin etc.  I have to read more on this, as I don’t quite get the chemistry.  Chef Feaver also introduced us to Choc-a-latte, which we can use for sorbet, cream, liquid etc – it is a thick liquid form of chocolate.

A morning on theory of Scotch.  My eyes were still having a handover from the previous day.  All Scotch are whisky, and not all whisky are Scotch, Scotch being whisky produced in Scotland, just like how champagne and cognac were named.  In US, there is an “e” in “whisky” which made it “whiskey”, identifying its origin in US.  In Canada, there is a whisky called Rye(?) – the only whisky made from 100% rye grain. … The biggest markets for whisky are China and Japan.  Hmm.

Chef Feaver demo briefly on chocolate tempering before we proceeded to have lunch.  I got to see for the first time the types of machines available in the chocolate lab at the Chocolate Academy – Tempering, enrobers, robot-coupe vacuum machine, cutter.

After lunch, more nosing and tasting of Scotch … and nosing and pairing with the “right” chocolate.  “Right” being subjective, though an ideal pairing will enhance the taste and feel and there is usually one that has the best fit.  The nosing of Scotch hit the sensory hard, some sting my nose, my eyes teared, one shot to my head … and tasting, I didn’t like the burning sensation as the liquor triggered down my throat, and literally I only tasted with the tip and my tongue and I hardly swallowed.  There were 8 Scotches but 9 whiskys, I stopped at #6 … even though I thought I did pretty well in the nosing, tasting and choc-Scotch pairing initially … my stomach was burning and I didn’t feel very well.  Ate more bread, more chocolate.

The class was very enriching with loads of information.  I have so much to learn.  At the end of the session, we were each presented with a certificate of attendance, a tour of the store, and our choice of 1 x 2.5kg pack of chocolate – nice, my choice – Togo (Callebaut 61.3%), a dark choc balanced with a light gingerbread taste and a goodie bag of more materials on chocolate, machines and molds.  Nice!

~

Before I left for the day, I had a chat with Rieko, I would have loved to visit her business and learn from her.  She spoke to me briefly about the chocolate machines she uses too – she had preferred the machines which were French made, but the after sales service were limited in the US, so she uses Italian made.  Then Dora arranged for me to have a machine intro session with Chef Jerome Landriau.  Chef Jerome is the technical advisor for the Chocolate Academy, he joined the Chocolate Academy direct from Paris.  During our brief introduction and conversation, he introduced me to the use of the machines and their applications in the chocolate business, and the best way to learn is to learn from a great confectionary shop which uses the machines to produce the chocolates in quantities and possibly move to another for a few months, he provided me a contact to learn more about chocolate in Paris. 

When I left the Chocolate Academy, it was snowing heavily.  There was apparently a weather advisory issued for schools this afternoon.  The heavy snowing weather was a good experience for me though, yeah I was out there only for a short time since I hopped into a taxi after a 5 minute wait, couldn’t say I liked to have my head wet once the snow melted.  Got back to the hotel, rested a little to make sure my stomach was ok, and I went out to catch a quick dinner.  This time round, it appeared to be raining lightly instead.  The cold didn’t bother me much, as again I was layered comfortably except for my head.

Then I knocked out soon after and woke up at 11pm.  Now is 4am, and I hope to catch a wink to enjoy the bed a little before I wake up in an hour to pack, have a good waffle or biscuit meat pattie & egg breakfast before I leave for the airport at 7.15pm.

I am glad I made the trip here.  Being in downtown, even though I didn’t move around much, I enjoyed the walk, the weather, and the experience here.  Trust I will be back another time to actually experience the place and the pastry business.  One negative though – the drivers here are worse than those in Houston Ha.  I am looking forward to be back in Houston, my last chance to pack everything into my baggage allowance and intended excess baggage, clear my apartment and be all ready for my flight home to Singapore.  Yes, and hopefully a relaxing breakfast date before I leave Houston for home.

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