The Makings of Chica
If you know Chica, you know that we craft each truffle with our own hands before we package them up and send them to you. This week, we reflect on this process, and what the cocoa facet of Chica means to us.
Image via Robin Chocolates
Elise: To My River Rat:
I am currently in Brooklyn, where a cat keeps yawning at me as if I don’t already know I should be going to bed. Yesterday, my stepsister Karessa suggested that I study chocolatiering in Paris for a year, to truly learn the craft, and strengthen the story of craftmanship behind Chica. I countered that spending a year in Paris might not be the best place to spend our time, as I feel much more of a desire to grow my expertise in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This still feels true, as the chocolate of Chica is nothing more than the delivery system for the herbs themselves. Without the herbs, Chica ceases to exist.
And yet, Karessa is raising a great point. When we eat Chica, we are immediately only considering our experience of eating a chocolate truffle. I’m thinking about how and where the shell breaks when I bite down, the consistency of the ganache, how the ganache melts in my mouth, whether I feel a separation of oils, how the inside of the Chica looks after I’ve taken my first bite. (That’s right, our new truffles are bigger and they can be eaten in not one, not two, but four bites, if you choose). A stellar truffle eating experience is not achieved by a knowledge of herbalism, but rather a know-how of oils, butters, emulsifying, melting, tempering, pouring, and more.
While it does not feel practical to move to Paris, we at least have the fortune of working besides Robin, who herself has studied in Paris and can pass her knowledge on to us. When Robin and I work side by side, she often shows me how she makes her truffles, and it’s up to me to take or leave what advice she gives.
This is a love note to my learning process. To the moment when I know I did everything right, and the moment where I figure out just where I went wrong. To the flings of chocolate off the table onto my shoe that I hope Robin doesn’t notice, and the numerous formulas I have scribbled in my phone that I continuously tweak to get everything right. I love flipping chocolate into its tempered state. I daydream more in that shoulder-wide stance than any other time in my days. Ladling the chocolate is our dare to dream. Spreading the chocolate is our dare to plan. Flipping the chocolate together is our dare to execute. Scooping this back to the bowl and stirring is our dare to collaborate. Executed over and over again, this process leads to the correct state–the state that gives us shiny, delicious chocolate. It makes me think that if we keep following these steps in this business, it’s inevitable that we’ll reach our perfect state.
Cassidy: To My ‘Some Kind of Radical’ Chocolatier,
Would you believe me if I told you that I was almost finished writing this letter before I got your reference? Even after all our hours trialing batches in your mom’s kitchen, when we kept half an eye on the screen while we stirred chocolate to the right temper; even though I had rewatched Chocolat the weekend before and still had Johnny Depp’s ponytail fresh in my mind.
I would feel nostalgic for that era, if I couldn’t see how far we’ve come. As amateur confectioners self-educated via YouTube who now share counter space with one of the Top Ten Chocolatiers in North America (my emphasis, here’s the article), we couldn’t still watch a movie during our truffle-making process if we tried. When I think of our first truffle–an experiment in enrobed chocolate before we even knew what that term meant–and our most recent batch, the difference in process astounds me. What has remained surprisingly consistent is our flavor profile, and the reaction of people who taste it.
This is why the Paris question is intriguing to me. A year of classical training in the chocolate industry could revolutionize the Chica form, in a way that a year of medicinal education might not–earning the right to dispense herbal information without the support of our consulting acupuncturist would require a much lengthier timeline of medical school. Now, I am not suggesting that we should neglect our dedication to providing accurate Traditional Chinese Medicinal insight to our customers, nor am I implying that the chocolatiering craft is an easy one to learn–it can take a lifetime to master great chocolate. And, as we should know, there is a difference between good chocolate and great chocolate.
Robin is proof of this. During my shift at the Chica kitchen this weekend, she offered two rejected samples for me to try. One, a Lemon Basil truffle, and the other, a sort of apple cream situation that was peppered with Pop Rocks. Usually, when an extra tidbit gets shunted my way (like the Mexican Mole Caramel, do you remember that one?), there is nothing stopping me from putting it in my mouth right away. This time I saved them. I was fully in my meditative rhythm, and I wanted time to savor each bite. When I finally broke my fast, it was like that scene in Ratatouille–where he pairs a strawberry with a hunk of cheese and fireworks explode in his head.
When I imagine someone popping their Chica cherry with a truffle of that caliber, it changes things. People would recommend us not only because it works, but because it is the best truffle they have ever tried in their life. Is this realistic? Maybe not. But I think it is something worth striving for, especially because I don’t want to take the chocolate for granted just because it is chocolate. It is more than the delivery system–it is an excuse for indulgence, and thus where the mental shift of celebrating your period begins to occur.
What remains to ask is: to what extent do we invest in ourselves as the makers of Chica? And how can we keep our product affordable as we do?