Sunday, January 30, 2011

From Architect to Chocolatier

chocolate ginger bark

Chocolate connoisseurs may well be aware of the superior quality of chocolate from the Caribbean yet it is the Swiss, the Belgians, the French and the Italians who are credited with refining it into fine flavoured chocolate bars and bonbons. That is because most of the chocolate produced in the region is shipped abroad to be crafted into luxury chocolates - until now. Meet Trinidadian Isabel Brash, architect turned chocolate maker and chocolatier.  Her company is called COCOBEL and her chocolates are handmade from the finest quality trinitario beans from her brother’s Rancho Quemado Estate in south Trinidad.


Worldwide it is uncommon to find someone like Isabel who is both a chocolate maker and a chocolatier. Making chocolate is an exacting and somewhat arduous process so most chocolatiers opt to buy their chocolate from chocolate makers. These are the persons who are responsible for roasting and grinding the beans to produce a fine-flavour, fine-quality chocolate also called couverture. Chocolatiers then use the science of confectionary and their imagination to create wonderful confections and other chocolate products.

Isabel’s involvement in the process from bean to bar ensures that her chocolate is of the highest quality and her imagination knows no bounds. Fancy a ponche de crème, sorrel or gingerbread spice? Maybe a cashew gianduja, honey passionfruit or a ginger rum is more to your liking? My personal favourite is the mango pepper. Sweet with a little heat, it captures the spirit and spice of the islands all in one delectable little bite.

COCOBEL chocolate is a completely different experience from the mass produced bars sold in stores where the predominant flavour note is sugar more than it is chocolate.  Who knew that chocolate could have so many different flavours?  I had always thought that chocolate tasted like…well… chocolate. Turns out chocolate can taste like vanilla or berries or bananas or spices depending on the region in which the cocoa was grown.

Isabel’s decision to make chocolate for a living was not a conscious one. In 2005 she returned home from London with her master’s degree in architecture and worked in partnership with another architect for three years before ‘falling’ into cocoa. One day while eating some chocolate she wondered to herself, “When a piece of chocolate melts in your mouth and your eyes close down for a couple seconds… how does this happen? How does it get from that tree to this beautiful thing in my mouth?” 


At the time work was slow and so she started researching chocolate purely out of curiosity. Eventually she asked her brother to bring home some dried beans from his cocoa estate. “I started to experiment with roasting, cracking, winnowing, grinding….just so! I felt like a scientist!" According to Isabel the growth of her chocolate company COCOBEL has been very organic. It started as pure curiosity and it gradually took over her life. “I just started leaning more towards exploring chocolates…then I was leaning harder and harder…then I fell into the same hole that Alice in Wonderland fell into! Down, down, down…curiouser and curiouser! Door after door and I did not look back. I will always be an architect, I am just an architect now of chocolate!”

Isabel designs everything to do with the look of the product. From brochures to packaging, she does it all. The Cocobel logo is a result of her study of the cacao flower. “This flower is very small but extremely intricate and mesmerizing—it almost looks like it wants to swallow you!” She explains, “Only about 5% of the flowers survive to become cacao pods.” Such is her passion for her company and the work that she now does she has even tattooed the logo onto her arm.


At first she was only making chocolates for family and friends. Then the need to name her business came about in 2009 when she attended the World Cocoa Federation meeting. While searching for a suitable name, something that was indigenous-perhaps something Amerindian, her father suggested COCOBEL. Everyone loved the name but Isabel wasn’t sold on it. “It’s a pretty name but I did not want people to think that the brand was named after me." She finally embraced it when her father came back from a fishing trip and told her that his patois speaking friends had said that Cocobel meant, beautiful, brown girl. “I loved it…patois! So that is what it means to me…dark beauty.”


For Isabel one of the challenges in an endeavour such as this is has been in getting out there and educating the market about her chocolates. Initially, “I was being compared to commercial chocolates and people were not aware of the difference or why my prices were so much higher.” Recently there has been a wave of interest in the health benefits of dark chocolate and people are more appreciative of her efforts. Isabel is optimistic that she won’t be the only one with this kind of business for long, “We do have some fine cacao, that is for sure and more and more people are going to get into chocolate production now, you will see!" In the meantime great things are in store for the continued growth of COCOBEL.

If you are thinking about ordering Cocobel chocolates for Valentine's Day then you would do well to order early. Over the Christmas season Isabel was forced to close in order to fill existing orders. You can contact her at cocobelchocolates (at) yahoo (dot) com. A website is in the works and in the future Isabel hopes to ship her pure dark bars internationally but for now her filled chocolates will only be sold in Trinidad. “I would love if people came here to sample Trinidad’s cocoa estates and come by and visit COCOBEL to get a taste of our island sweetness!”


Asked about her inspiration for the soft fruit fillings and spices in her chocolates, Isabel says that she starts with what she loves and tastes that she grew up with. “As far as the flavour design process goes, the only reason that mango and passionfruit and local hot pepper sound strange to be put with chocolate is because chocolate is hardly made in our region. We have so many amazing fruits here. Many that you never see in the supermarket…the possibilities are endless really.” She goes on to say that locally people associate chocolate with “foreign” and cocoa as local. Isabel is of the opinion that if we can grow some of the finest cocoa beans in the world then surely we can make fine chocolates too. Having tasted her chocolates I’m inclined to agree.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nifty Nutmeg Chicken-From Grenada with love

nutmeg chicken wings 1

Most people think of the seed when they think of nutmeg but did you know that lots can be done with the yellow, fleshy, outer fruit that covers the 'nut' of the nutmeg?

Image used with with kind permission of Jon Clarke

De La Granade Industries is a company in Grenada that uses the fruit of this famous seed to make Morne Délice syrup, jams, jellies and even a liqueur. In 2009, guess which product won Grand Gold medal?  That's right the Caribbean's very own Morne Délice syrup.

Image used under Creative Commons from Teesha Dunn

The Monde Selection institute was established by the government of Belgium in 1961 and it's goal is to help encourage and maintain high standards of beverages and foods. Each year experts subject products to rigorous laboratory tests in order to choose quality products of the highest standard. Monde Selection awards three categories of medals, Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Above this, products of absolutely superior quality receive the Grand Gold Medal.


Frankly, given the proximity of the island of Grenada to Trinidad, I'm surprised that I'm could not find this readily available locally. However, it was absolute good fortune that Tracey, a friend returning home from Grenada for the holidays was able to bring me a bottle of Morne Délice syrup and jelly.

To my surprise neither product had that characteristic spicy nutmeg warmth. I was expecting a strong punch of nutmeg but instead found the flavour to be more of barely there perfume and quite delicate. Think crushed orange blossoms and rose peals that have been steeped in honey.

Were it possible I would mail a bottle of this ambrosia to all of you my loyal blog readers. Sadly, the best that I can do is assure you that it was divine on my morning oatmeal, yoghurt, pancakes, toast, and fruit. My one tiny complaint was that I found the syrup to be a bit on the thin side. I would prefer it to be thicker - a little less runny.

I  decided to test a recipe from  De La Granade Company's website. I have adapted it here because  I found that the quantity of syrup called for in the original recipe was too much. These wings are the perfect bite for family and friends at a party or in my case those of us who gather around the Wii on family game night.


Nifty Nutmeg Chicken
8 Chicken wings
1 Teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper sauce ( I added 1 tsp but it depends on your taste really)
1/4 cup grated onions
2 cloves garlic (crushed) 2 tablespoons cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Morne Délice Nutmeg Syrup
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Season chicken with salt, pepper, crushed garlic and onions.
Bake for 15 minutes at 400 F. In a small bowl mix the soy sauce, nutmeg syrup and ground ginger. Remove the chicken from the oven from oven, baste with Morne Délice soy syrup , ginger mixture. Lower oven temp to 350 F and continue baking for one hour basting frequently. Serve very hot.


Monday, January 17, 2011

An aside and lots of dots


Over the last two months this blog has been on a mini hiatus of sorts. Do not worry, I've been busy in the kitchen as always but life at times spills over and overwhelms. Something had to give and that something was this blog.

So here it is already the 3rd week of the new year. It's a bit late to be dusting off the cobwebs, looking back and reflecting on the past year. Still I can't help it. I find myself fascinated by a Facebook application called, A Year in Status which pulls together all posts to your status from the past year.

I have always wanted to journal yet over the years my efforts in this regard have been haphazard. With all that I do it has been difficult to stay committed to journalling. That's why I love this app. I shows that you don't have to write reams and reams. A collection of one liner's and simple jottings can be an effective way to record your thoughts and various goings on.

Here is a glimpse of my past year in one line snippets,  superfluous exclamation marks, serious grammatical errors, occasional dialect and many dots....

...going crazy trying to remember a password-let me in. It's me goddammit......... lols, people need to stop talking in this meeting. Matthew that's u. Good, matthew done talk. loooooooooooooong weekend here I come......... sis just cuss off d airline for losin' she chile. Yuh done know  a West Indian real vex when all pretence of standard English done gorne. Is rank dialect in dey tail now. Pappayo. Duck and run for cover airline peeps......... dear manager  you advertised blueberries on sale at $38.00 with a huge sign that clearly says blueberries $38.00. I waited while the 10 other customers behind me rolled their eyes while you did a price check to tell me that the sale was over. Blueberries now $48.00. WTH. Steups take West Indian cuss and keep yuh stinking blueberries..........  From my first born before leaving for school. " Mom, I'm giving you this kiss now for you to remember that when I come home I will give you a hug"........ Same 5 yr old on another day. "Boy do I miss the good old days".......... rabbit rabbit....... DS MRI moved to 5:00pm....... PTA meeting-son's teacher told us that parents shouldn't let children look at shows that present gays and their lifestyle as normal. Using the same logic I guess he shouldn't be allowed to be an alter boy or go to church for fear that he might think that being a paedophile is okay. Hmm, I wonder does this mean that Uncle Ray can no longer visit? Uncle Steve, you  Uncle Scott and the kids can no longer visit cause apparently I missed the memo that said I need to first clear these things with son's First Year Infant teacher. Wow Catholic school! .............Drove home to the tune of screaming 2 yr old and a 5 yr old singing (full shriek) to comfort his baby brother. Sweet right? Why yes, of course there was traffic and two year olds can scream for a really, really, loooooong time ya'll.......... Now accepting condolences for the untimely demise of Sharktooth the Siamese fighting fish who will be buried (not flushed) latter this pm............ "Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle." thanks Carissa by way of Lisa.......... Sharktooth's funeral was 'officiated' by Canon Knolly Clarke. RIP Shrktooth. God I hope the cat doesn't did him up................ "Teachers do real work for little money. Famous people do little work for lots of money." My five year old is a sage........... Looking for my courage. Have you seen it?.............2nd night in tooth fairy saga. Tooth put in envelope and placed under pillow. Envelope still there but no tooth. Listen bub if ya don't want the money just say. This tooth fairy needs her beauty sleep. Stop hiding de damn teeth!.............arrrgh socks!........... According to Wikepedia,"residual graphite from a pencil is not poisonous and graphite is harmless if consumed." The last part of that sentence is so comforting................. So what happen to your belly are you having another baby? This from a woman 300lbs heavier than myself. No! Are you?!!!..............My son (yes the sage again) explaining a game of tag. "You have to run. You know the thing that adults do for exercise but children do for fun?"..................... This is a moment this is not the rest of your life...

So much for my trip down memory lane. Next post a nifty recipe for a family game night. Stay tuned.