Sunday, January 31, 2010

Delving into the World of Chocolate

Seeing as how I'm more than halfway through culinary school, I decided that it was time to expand my externship experience into other culinary circles. Sadly, this meant that I had to part ways with Paige from Paige's Bakehouse. I truly enjoyed working with her and I learned a lot in her bakeshop, but I need to expand my experience while I'm still in school and not yet looking for a real job. Considering that I'm new to this industry, I think it would be best to get as much of a variety of experience as possible before settling down for my first culinary job.

While I'm still very passionate about cake design, I'm also very curious about the world of chocolates. My friend and fellow classmate Margaret discovered a hidden treasure called Cocoamoda in Calvert, Texas and managed to get us both in as interns (thanks a million Margaret). Cocoamoda is founded by the very talented, charismatic and British Ken Wilkinson (bottom photo)— a man with an impressive resume that includes catering for the royal family and studying with famed chocolatier Eric Berger.

He brought a touch a European style and exquisite high-quality chocolates to the small town of Calvert. He spares no expense when it comes to his business and even imports his ingredients from around the world. His chocolate truffles include such tantalizing flavors as anisette, saffron, cassis, muskat and black currant and are topped with everything from black pepper to gold leaf flecks. His restaurant boasts an amazing spread of rich, French cuisine. It's hard to choose between such choices as the crocque-monsieur (pictured), lobster bisque, lamb chops and the beef tenderloin. Although its (more or less) a two-hour drive from the big cities in Texas, it is definitely worth the trip to experience a bit of Europe in rural Texas.

The best part of Cocoamoda, however, would have to be the people. Everyone there is above and beyond friendly and welcoming. Upon entering the restaurant, you are greeted with a smile and they insist that you sample one of their fine truffles. Who can turn down an offer like that? All of their staff were very kind and took the time to talk with you as though you were from the neighborhood.

I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Ken Wilkinson and learn from his vast culinary experience. He and his assistants have been very accommodating in teaching us about chocolates and have even allowed us to get hands-on experience. That can be a little daunting considering how meticulous they are about their chocolate. However, they've allowed us to help fill and cap chocolates, apply gold leaf to the tops of truffles and even assist in forming a chocolate sculpture.

Having a bit of interest in sculpting chocolate, this was quite a treat for me. They had to create a James Bond-themed sculpture of an umbrella, bowler hat and martini glass for a benefit. The amazing part of this is that he created it in just a few hours and improvising by using only common objects around the kitchen — no molds. Margaret and I helped form the brim and round the top of the hat, shapeed the umbrella handle and suggested adding a ribbon to the hat. We were astounded that they even let us touch the delicate piece, but we were more than thrilled to do so! I can't wait to help out with their secret Valentine's truffle that they will be creating just for the holiday.

It's truly amazing what adventures can unravel when you take risks and follow your heart. To think that I might still be sitting behind a desk and doing the same old mundane tasks. Instead, I'm spending my Fridays sculpting chocolate and making truffles with a group of humorous chocolatiers in a quirky small town. Ain't life grand!

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