Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rococo Variations

I have a few swoon-inducing bars of Rococo chocolate in my possession right now. I’m afraid this may make you horribly jealous of me, for if you’ve ever had the good fortune to experience this exquisite chocolate from London, you definitely would be green with envy and might actually come banging on my door, shamelessly begging me to share my chocolate with you. This is some of the finest chocolate I have ever known, and I give Rococo major credit for deepening my understanding of how magical chocolate can be.

I had my first personal encounter with Rococo Chocolate in the fall of 2006, although I had heard about these organic artisan chocolate bars long before that. Apparently Rococo used to sell their beautiful chocolate at Saks Fifth Avenue here in New York, which is how several of my friends had been able to meet their chocolate needs in the past. But for some inexplicable reason, Rococo terminated their account with Saks by the time I was lusting after their chocolates flavored with such exotic ingredients as sea salt, pink peppercorns and geranium. Nowadays it isn’t so unusual to encounter chocolate infused with herbs and spices or other floral flavors, but this was nearly ten years ago before the esoteric chocolate explosion had hit the States. The London shop wouldn’t export their wares, so short of flying across the pond and descending upon the shop myself, there were years when I had no way to get my hands on this legendary chocolate.

But it is a great thing to make friends with Londoners who frequently make the journey to and from New York, and when my friend Rob was visiting his parents in London three summers ago, I gave him a hundred bucks and asked him to buy as much Rococo chocolate as he could with it. He came through for me big-time, returning with a substantial supply of these elegantly packaged bars, each wrapped in what resembled a tobacco pouch. The first bar I opened was the Caramelized Almond, and what an experience it was!

Tears practically sprang to my eyes after I took my first bite. This was one of the most refined chocolates that had ever crossed my lips, as smooth as silk and so achingly pure as it melted on my tongue. Tiny shards of caramelized almonds gave additional depth to this marvel of a chocolate bar, the texture and flavor so beautifully balanced as the taste lingered in my mouth.

Needless to say, it was money well spent. My chocolate bounty was fortuitously delivered to me right before I went on a two-month tour with Barbra Streisand, and while it was a major challenge to pack for a wide range of climates, the Rococo bars took pride of place in my luggage. I was determined to make the entire stash last throughout the tour, and I actually managed to exercise enough willpower to do that, sharing my chocolate with many friends in the orchestra who would truly appreciate it.

I now associate different flavors with the cities in which we tasted them: the exotically perfumed Orange-Geranium (Philadelphia), fragrant Cardamom (Columbus), intoxicating Lime-Basil (Washington D.C.), eye-opening Pink Peppercorn (Montreal), earthy Arabic Spices (Toronto), lively Peppered Mint (Boston), delicate Lavender (Minneapolis), stunning Sea Salt (Ft. Lauderdale), refined Earl Grey (Atlanta), delightful Violet (Chicago), jaw-droppingly exquisite Jasmine (San Francisco), spicy Crystallized Ginger (Phoenix), a revelatory Rose (Las Vegas), and one more giggle-inducing Caramelized Almond bar to finish out the tour in Los Angeles. I can’t help smiling as I think of how happy I was during those months, and while the experience of that tour is worthy of a novel all of its own, I will merely confine myself to saying here that the Rococo chocolate simply added to all of the excitement and thrill of it all.

When the Streisand concerts continued overseas the following summer, I was naturally overjoyed to have more touring adventures in so many of the great European capitals. In between the excitement of the performances, there were many cultural highlights that loom large in my memory. I will never forget seeing Klimt’s “The Kiss” at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna or the breathtaking Gates of Ishtar at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. I’d never seen an illuminated manuscript as beautiful as the Book of Kells in Dublin, and simply wandering around the streets of Paris was a joy. And then, right alongside with all of the aforementioned highlights, there was my first visit to the Rococo shop in London.

You can imagine my giddy delight when I discovered that our London hotel was blocks away from the Rococo shop, and I don’t think I’d ever felt so aquiver upon entering a chocolate establishment the way I was two years ago today. Seeing all of the individual bars all stacked up in the display cases set my heart racing, and the walls were lined with shelves boasting such delicacies as cardamom-orange hot chocolate mix, chocolate-covered caramelized almonds, hat boxes filled with a dizzying assortment of bonbons, etc. I had to pace myself, knowing that I had an entire week left in London, so I merely confined myself to purchasing a Sea Salt milk chocolate bar and a Rose bittersweet bar. As a bonus, I also selected a cardamom-saffron truffle to enjoy on my way back to the hotel.

Now a Rococo TRUFFLE was something I had never encountered before, and when I took that first bite, it stopped me dead in my tracks. This required my full attention as I encountered the cardamom notes first, earthy and warm and blended into an exquisitely smooth white chocolate ganache. But as I let the truffle dissolve on my tongue, I began to experience the saffron, which lifted it to an ecstatic level. In short, it was astonishing. I think it’s fair to say that it was singularly the greatest truffle I had ever tasted in my life, and it was certainly something to aspire to in my own chocolate endeavors.

And aspire I have, constantly refining my recipes and truffle-making technique as I seek to create the most intensely pleasurable chocolate experience with every single truffle. In naming my own little chocolate truffle business CocoaRoar, not only did I want to suggest that this chocolate had the potential to make people roar with delight, it was also a play on the name “Rococo”. How could I not tip my proverbial hat to the chocolate that had provided me with so much inspiration?

If you possess a streak of chocolate obsession and are ever in London, you owe it to yourself to visit one of the Rococo stores. In fact, if you are on this side of the Atlantic but have friends who are visiting London, I strongly urge you to give them money and send them on a chocolate errand on your behalf! (The chocolate bars I have in my hot little hands right now are once again thanks to Rob who made a recent journey across the pond.) Treat yourself to one—or ten—of Rococo’s organic artisanal chocolate bars, and you will thank me after you indulge in that first magical bite.

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