My first job when I graduated from culinary school was a temporary position at the historic 21 Club. I was hired to work during the busiest time of year (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Restaurant Week), at times serving between three and four hundred desserts during a single dinner service. I gladly took the position, knowing that it would be an amazing opportunity to test my skills, and learn some industry tricks. The position lived up to my expectations; I learned how to pipe 2,000 meringues in 30 minutes, the secret to opening an industrial-sized can of pistachio paste, and how to keep a white jacket clean while working with chocolate. I also learned a few things I hadn’t anticipated.
On one particular afternoon, I arrived at work around 3:30 pm. The lunch rush was over and, despite the fact that there were more than four hundred people on the books for dinner that night, the staff seemed to have fallen into an “afternoon slump”. The waiters weren’t even trying to look busy as they sipped their cappuccinos; line cooks were huddled into groups recounting stories from the night before.
I climbed the stairs to the second floor and was surprised to see that even the pastry kitchen was moving slower than usual. In fact, the two full time pastry cooks were standing with the pastry chef by a stainless steel prep counter…eating. When they saw me, one of the pastry cooks waved her hand for me to come over and join them. “I brought good chocolate,” the pastry chef announced (shows what I know, I thought the Valrhona we used for the chocolate mousse was good) as she offered me a square. I smiled, picked up the chocolate, popped it into my mouth, and started to chew. A look of horror passed over the three faces in front of me. “Hasn’t anyone ever taught you how to eat chocolate?” the pastry chef asked, insinuating that I had somehow missed a fundamental life lesson.
So, much to my embarrassment, I learned how to eat chocolate like a gastronome that day. I learned to rub it a little with my thumb and smell it before putting in my mouth and letting it melt slowly. I learned to savor each individual note and the way that they were balanced to create the overall flavor. More importantly, I learned that it’s not just what you eat, but how you eat it.
Though my experience with the chocolate smacks of the elitism that I seek to disassociate from good food, the lesson I learned isn’t necessarily a bad one. How we eat food is important. It says a lot about who we are and what we value… a thought well worth pondering over some “good” chocolate.
My favorite way to savor “good” chocolate these days? Read on.
¾ cup 2% milk
¼ cup heavy cream
heaping 1/3 cup semi sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
Heat the milk and heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. (Note: if you don’t have heavy cream, you can replace the ¾ cup milk and ¼ cup heavy cream with 1 cup of whole milk).
As soon as the milk starts to bubble around the edges, add the chocolate and whisk until fully melted.
Reduce the heat and simmer the drinking chocolate for 1-2 minutes until slightly thickened.
Drinking chocolate can be served immediately or can be stored in the refrigerator and reheated later.
Try topping your drinking chocolate with nuts or crushed peppermint candies or flavoring it with cinnamon, chile pepper, curry powder, or coarse salt. Drinking chocolate is also delicious when combined with coffee or espresso.
A special thanks to my friends at the 21 Club, you’ve taught me many, many valuable lessons. A special thanks to David Lebovitz, my drinking chocolate is an adaptation of his “Parisian Hot Chocolate” recipe.