Keith Ayoob

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OK, enough already with price gouging

By Keith Ayoob, 2012-02-14

I just received an offer, as I'm sure many others did, for "beta testing" of a new chocolate from a particular company. Cool. Get to sample 3 different types, provide feedback, yada, yada. Then I saw the price. For3 "shipments", eachcontainingtwo 25-gm samples (total of 150 gm, or about 5 oz.) it was about $50. That figures to be about $160 on a pound-for-pound basis. To me, that's really pushing it, especially given that the stuff is totally untested. For a "beta test" the price should be way less, since the whole point of a beta test is to get the kinks out of a developing product.

For this price, I can do far better, and for proven quality.

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First off, I have to say I've been remiss in writing this post, as we did a self-guided tour of Clay's recommended spots back in late October, but I have to give him credit for what was an absolutely awesome 3 days. Clays' recommendations greatly expanded the list we had and he helped make it one of the nicest trips we'd ever been on. We got to nearly all his recommended spots, and here are my own throughts about the places we visited:

  • Pralus: Loved it. Love their little bundle of 10 50-gm single origin bars. (Perfect for "portion control, too!). Bought a lot of stuff here -- all fantastic.
  • Pierre Marcolini: Small ganacheswith very diverse andoutstanding flavors and the staffcouldn't have been more helpful.I found myself liking the smaller pieces, too. Let's me try more at any one time.
  • Victor et Hugo: Smaller variety, but very intense chocolate. LOVED the "hardcover book" box they came in. (Had an elastic strap and all, and I pictured myself keeping this one and re-using it to safely take chocolates with me when traveling.)
  • We didn't spend much time in Michel Cluizel, Richart,or La Maison du Chocolat, as there are shops here in NY, and we wanted to devote our time to new places.
  • Michel Chaudun: incredible truffles. Period. Other selections also good, nothing bad about this shop, but the truffles stood out. This was our last stop on one day, and the cashier saw all our little bags from all our stops and was even kindenough to offer us a large bag for all of them. We'd dropped a reasonable bundle at the place, so we didn't feel too embarrassed.
  • La Chocolaterie Jaques Genin: DON'T MISS!!! There was NOTHING I didn't like about this place. The pastries were top drawer and if I were moving to Paris I'd want to live next door to his shop. The chocolates are packed in tins that are flat as a pancake but they're fresh as can be and I found them to have layers of flavor and notes. The staff were helpful and friendly. Also --normally, I can take or leave caramels. Take them home. They're about 1 Euro apiece and worth it. I had never tasted a truly fresh, made-last-night-right-upstairs caramel and these were the best anywhere. The smoothness was almost indescribable and there were about 10 different flavors. Plain and ginger were personal faves, but that's nit-picking. The guy knows his caramel -- and his chocolate.
  • Sadaharu Aoki: OK, of the places we visited, this is one that was interesting, but probably one I wouldn't visit again. The chocolates were displayed like art pieces and looked very good. Most of the chocolate flavorswere Asian-inspired (yuzu, etc.) and I'm definitely glad we went, but once was enough. The chocolates were good to try but didn't leave me wanting more.
  • Christian Constant: We'd visited here before and the best is their wide selection of single-origin bars. There's a cafe that normally has fabulous pastries but it was closed the day we went and even the case of chocolates was a bit sparse and missing some selections. We returned this time because our experience was very good at the first visit a year or so ago, and I'd recommend it. We probably just hit it on an off day. It happens.
  • Pierre Herme: Pastries that belong in the Museum of Modern Art. Chocolates from a master. Lines always out the door and justified. Enough said.
  • Patrick Roger: Terrific chocolates, fantastic selection of bars, with varied origins and percentages, and I bought a lot of them.If you like chocolates filled with marzipan, this place hadgood ones. Not my thing personally, but there was a good diversity of flavored ganaches. A good stop.
  • Chocolate Jean-Paul Hevin: Another good place for bars.
  • L'Etoiloe d'Or: Clay sindicated that this place was considered the best chocolate shop in the world. We liked it very much, but that's a high bar to set. Smaller selection of chocolates, but very good, LOTS of stuff to look at, bars, etc., and the non-English speaking staff was SO NICE! I'd say this was the HAPPIEST shop we visited and I'd be happy to return.
  • Cafe-wise, we hit Laduree (always a mob) and Jacques Genin as indicated above, didn't hit Angelina this time, but we loved -- loved Patisserie des Reves. Smallsit-down place in the back and we had to wait and it was worth it. The pastries displayed in thre front of the shop are a whole scene, each selection either raise or lowered on a fancy pulley or in cases embedded in the wall. Fantastic cafe.

I should say that, while this was a lot to do, with a lot to eat,in three days, we WALKED the entire trip. It was about 8 or 9 miles each of the first two days, with less walking the third day, which was Sunday, so fewer shop were open.

Interestingly, other than a pastry each day, we didn't actually eat a huge amount of chocolate. We sampled, but didn't overdo it. Instead, we tended to buy things to bring home (bars, in my case!) to savor. of course, all the places we visited were expensive. This was absolutely NOT chocolate to be gulped, and I don't like to do that with chocolate anyway. My chocolate philosophy is to buy the best you can and savor it, or wait until you can. Less is more when it's really good.

I'd recommend such a trip to anyone, and even better if you can go on one of Clay's trips, do it. We didn't hit the restaurants where he did his chocolate and wine pairings on his trip, but one has to save SOMETHING for next time!



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2011 NY Chocolate Show

By Keith Ayoob, 2011-11-14

I'd never been to one of these gigs, so it was interesting. The first aroma I encountered was that of tons of spices. I thought they'd be related to some variety of chocolate bing made or sampled, but they were just spices being sold by a spice vendor. A little odd, especially at the entrance.

I actually thought there would be more vendors, but perhaps I had more grandiose expectations. Favorite was the Praus booth. They were sampling every bar they had and they'd really speak at length with you. The Cluizels and Guittards were there and the upstarts as well, including one who loaded her bars with all manner of antioxidant ingredients (cranberries, acai, nuts, herbs, chili, etc.) and seemed to enjoy giving mini-lessons on the nutritional advantages/sustainalility/eco-friendliness of her bars. They weren't my favorites but she was nice to speak with.

Anyone else have a similar experience? Is this typical of chocolate shows? Just asking. BTW -- there were some bargains to be had on Sunday. Lots of places offering 20-30% off. I picked up a 72% bar of Payard for $6 (usually $8) and even then the associate offered me 2 for $10. They're decent sized, so I went for it. The Pralu folks had these bundles of about 9 or so of their 50 gm samples that were $40 and they had them going for $25. I think I paid 30 Euros for themin Paris, so it was a bargain if you like them (I did).

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