The other day I had a discussion with a chocolatier who brought into our shop an entire binder of beautiful chocolate and pastry work he had done and photographed. It truly was food art.
Trying to convince me to come aboard, he told me and I quote, "We eat with our eyes." We discussed the possibility of him working for me. He described grandios plans he had for creating wonderful displays of chocolate confections, citing different types of stabilizers he can use to make the products last longer and still look good.
I gave him a two part reply. I said:
People only generally eat with their eyes the first time they visit a restaurant. It's the only mechanism the customer has to focus on something that helps them make a decision, because they've never experienced the food. Once they've actually "tasted" the food, a trust between the business and the customer has begun to develop and the customer is more willing to make subsequent purchases sight unseen. At that point the presentation takes a back seat to taste. Given that I'm interested in RETURN customers, and not a bunch of one-timers, I take the position that taste is more important.
For example: a small subset of our customers complain that we color the whipped cream on our drinking chocolates blue. They don't like how it looks, yet they buy it time and time again because the emotional response from the taste far surpasses the uncomfort they get from the blue whipped cream.
As my daughter so eloquently put it a few years ago: "Daddy, it doesn't matter what it looks like, 'cause when you do a chew-and-show it all looks the same anyway. The most important thing is how the food tastes."
From the mouth of babes..... I couldn't agree with her more. Personally, I don't care how beautiful the chocolatier's creations are when I walk into a shop. The first thing I do is ask what kind of chocolate they use. If I don't like that brand of chocolate, I won't buy a thing regardless of how beautiful it is. (although I DO take time to appreciate the chocolatier's skills with the product).
My second part was pretty blunt: Given my stance that the driving force behind what we do is customer service and product freshness and taste, we will NEVER, EVER, EVER, .....EVER use chemicals or food stabilizers to give our products shelf life. EVER.... If we can't make it fresh, we won't make it at all.
While I truly appreciate his skill with modelling food, that more or less ended the interview.
Having said all of that, what do you people out there in ChocolateLife Land think? I pose this thought-provoking question to you, because in the past couple of years of reading this forum, I've heard many people ask how they can make their confections more beautiful, while at the same time asking questions relating to how to extend the shelf life of their products.
What's important to you as a consumer? How a product looks, or how a product tastes?
I look forward to reading your resplies AS CONSUMERS.
I don't tend to buy chocolates (centres with a coating of chocolate) personally, I prefer solid dark chocolate bars. But I was recently in a shop, it was holidays and I was buying some for my daughter and wife. I knew what flavours they liked and all my purchases were based on my knowledge of chocolate and how certain flavours would be represented in the offerings in the cupboard and there was a great deal to choose from. All my purchases bar one were based on how I thought it would taste, not how it looked. It was also influenced by not wanting to give my daughter artificial colours and flavours and what I thought would have been freshest. Though I did buy one that looked like big red lips which was made of coloured white chocolate with a white chocolate ganache, I bought this because it was cute and romantic and not for taste. I knew it would taste like waxy milk and sugar with vanilla...and it did! What a surprise.
So majority on taste! or rather perceived taste, I knew they used Belgian coverture so I wasn't going to eat any.
"Given my stance that the driving force behind what we do is customer service and product freshness and taste, we will NEVER, EVER, EVER, .....EVER use chemicals or food stabilizers to give our products shelf life. EVER.... If we can't make it fresh, we won't make it at all."
I'm not sure what this means (and I've seen a lot of other people say it other than Brad, so I'm after lots of opinions on this, I'm not just asking Brad here). So for those of you who say "no additives" or "no food stablisers" or "only natural", would you use glucose syrup? It's my understanding that glucose syrup will help bind water and extend shelf life. If glucose syrup, then what about glucose powder? (After all, you're just removing the moisture). Then what about sorbitol powder? (It's just another sort of sugar). Would you use honey? So is invert sugar acceptable (given honey is more or less a natural invert sugar anyway)? Would you use lecithin to emulsify your product? What about if there is lecithin in your chocolate anyway (and I acknowledge that you may not use it Brad, but people who don't make their own chocolate almost certainly do)? What about adding salt?
I'm not trying to be difficult or split hairs here - just trying to understand what people mean. My opinion starts with Brad's above - everything is about taste. If you can extend shelf life without affecting taste/texture/flavour/smell etc etc etc, using some of the ingredients I mention above, why wouldn't you? So then the question is - where do you draw the line on what you will add? I'm just curious to see what people think about this and what others are doing out there in chocolate world.
You're not splitting hairs at all. In fact I'm glad you brought this up. I'm talking about ingredients that don't exist in nature without some alchemical process being applied. Propylene Glycol for example is a poison. I use it in my race bikes as anti-freeze. However, the FDA and CFIA have deemed it to be safe for use in minute quantities in food to stabilize whipped edible oil products (aka the white whipped crap on mass produced cakes and pastries that some call whipped cream). Stuff like that.
While I have modified our milk chocolate recipes to no longer use lecithin, it does exist in nature. It just has to be extracted from its source.
With regard to glucose syrup, I would expect that even though it doesn't at first exist in nature, currently it IS created through the process of enzyme hydrolosis, whereby naturally occurring enzymes and bacteria are added to a mixture of corn starch and water, to break down the starch and produce the glucose.
I think to determine whether or not the use of glucose should be used would be splitting hairs. However propylene glycol's a pretty blatant one. "Don't drink anti-freeze! (but you can use it in your whipped white crap! HAHA!).
So, Gap... Just to ensure this stays on track, am I to understand that you too believe that everything is about taste as well? I think I read your post that way.
thanks for clearing that up - I would agree with you on the not drinking anti-freeze!
As for the argument that "you eat with your eyes": I do think taste is the ultimate trump card and beats all in the end - your example of repeat customers is a good one and entirely appropraite. However, I spend an equal amount of time with patisserie as I do chocolates and visual appeal does have an impact, it just can't be denied - you just need to look at what is being done in Paris with Easter eggs this year. I would happily pay 50% more for an Easter egg that looks like one of those over a standard looking egg made with the same chocolate.
Coloured chocolates/bon bons/confections are another example of how the industry has moved forward with presentation. As are the new modern range of polycarbonate moulds. So for me, while taste is the ultimate trump card over ANY visual aid, presentation/eye candy does have it's role. I guess in my mind the size of its role is probably determined by what your competitors are doing. Where there is a lot of competition and the level of "taste" is similar across the competitors, people want visual appeal. I think visual appeal can also help people justify a higher price in their own mind for a product (eg., taking it to someone as a gift, you want to hear how beautiful your gift looks).
Actually propylene glycol is not considered toxic in humans at levels that aren't extremely excessive over a short period of time (ie drinking a gallon of the stuff in one sitting) - it's used in a huge variety of pharmacutical and food products that you might actually use in your business (check out the blue food colouring you add to your cream). It's also in the Angostura bitters you may add to your cocktails, the valium you might need when you are having a really bad day, it's probably in your toothpaste too. Ethylene glycol is much more toxic.
So cat's shouldn't drink antifreeze - but humans actually can in smaller quantities.
Just because it's deemed "safe in small quantities" doesn't mean we should consume it. Chlorine is even MORE toxic than Ethylene Glycol, and it's put into our drinking water! 10 years ago I started drinking purified water, because the tap water here in Calgary smells and tastes like the water from a local swimming pool. Yuck.
Who wants to try this experiment? Drink a glass of Propylene glycol, a glass of clorine, and a glass of ammonia, and let me know how you feel in the morning!
Oh... and ammonia.... here's a good link to peruse: http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/pinkslime-ammonia-ground-beef.htm
In the meantime, I'll stick to cream, sugar (processed without bone char), fresh butter, and my chocolate. Oh... and the blue powder we add to our whipped cream is naturally derived and not man made - just an FYI.
I personally do not eat blue foods unless it is made with blueberries. For sweetening agents, I prefer those that have been pressed, or lightly processed rather than cooked. Honey, pure grade b maple syrup, agave and evaporated cane juice are my choices. I am unclear if any these can be added to chocolate being they are liquid. I have used pure cane sugar and honey powder so far and bought a stevia sweetened chocolate the other day which I did not like. My concern is taste and health. Presentation is important but not primary. I find I have to pay more if it has obviously taken more human labor.
When I look to buy chocolate bars, I prefer no lecithen for no reason than if it is not necessary, why use it. A minimal approach is preferred for my own personal consumption.
When I buy chocolates as a gift, I am more concerned about presentation, only after taste.
After Bryon Kirk's Sunday update, I guess we are eating pieces of cockroaches.
As a consumer: I use my eyes to determine the signs of care and attention a chocolatier puts into their work. I'm looking for the sheen that indicates good crystallization and correct storage. I look for an absence of bubbles (unless they are an intentional part of the work.)
As far as style goes, shape counts whether it's enrobed or moulded, not just for style but for what the ganache to shell ratio is likely to be. I'll accept the use of a transfer sheet, lustre, or coloured cocoa-butter but they must be used with discretion and purpose, in a way that accentuates the work, or hints at the flavour. Ditto for garnishes. I've seen many a 'dressed up' chocolate that to me is a hot mess visually, and makes me less inclined to try tasting because I'm already sensing a "style over substance" thing going on. Fashion is a tricky game for chocolate to play.
In a competitive market (for example, Paris, London, or Brussels,) I use the (presumed deliberate) absence or presence of these visual cues, hints of attention, and indicators of quality making/handling to try and determine how much of a perfectionist the chocolatier is, as well as whether they might lean more to the natural side or artificial side. This of course helps me to decide if I'd like to buy a taste. When in doubt, I'll usually still pick one or two "benchmark" bonbons... ones that anyone should be able to do but that are inevitably done either incredibly well, or just 'meh'. Stuff like salted caramel or an earl grey infusion.
I personally prefer that a chocolatier rest faithful to "food", (rather than chemicals,) and though you can ask about such things when in a store or do a little digging on your own, you may not get the 100% truth as to whether preservatives are used, etc. In some parts of the world you might not even have the language abilities to ask or understand the answer. If I KNOW a chocolatier is relying on non-natural substances for taste or an unreasonably long shelf life, I automatically don't think of them as a 'fine' chocolatier, and don't expect to pay 'fine' prices.
It doesn't mean I won't try the industrial tastes of the market wherever I go though... as this will tell you a good deal about the local palate for sweets & commercial standards of 'quality' - all things that local chocolatier has to deal with and take into account while trying to sell to their market.
But ultimately, as you've said, taste (and also for me, texture) is king. If I've tried something that shows a good deal of 'promotion' put into the visual aspect, and the product isn't living up to its 'extremely high promise' in my mouth, I'm disappointed. On the other hand, I've had my socks knocked off by small town guys who didn't have anything flashy or colourful on the external display, but just had stuff that looked well made, or possibly some intriguing flavours in their case of plain-but-seemingly-well-constructed bonbons.
Make it well, make it neatly. This is I guess my base standard, with the rest being frills that determine how high you're telling me I should set the bar for you before I've even tasted. Double edged sword, that...
Thanks for the feedback Jessica.
Fun discussion. We believe taste is paramount. Taste first, looks second. We don't do shelf-life, life is too short to sit on a shelf. Enjoy what you like come back later for more. We try very hard to source seasonal products from our region for our flavors and then step outside that when necessary. It's all a very pain in the ass when it comes to trying to get our product out to retailers as we have to switch it out every 2 weeks but it's who we are. If you want something that can sit on a shelf for a year go eat a flavored candle. ;)
Our cakes are the same way, we don't believe in fondant--if you want an architectural masterpiece that tastes like cardboard go elsewhere. If you want a real buttercream, cream cheese, fudge icing that makes you drool--step right up.
I was at a show the other day where this company had all molded chocolates and they were the most vibrant of colors and sparkles. They were beautiful in one regard but it was also very scary to me on another. I was thinking they had their work very process driven but it didn't seem very artisanal. Tasting one of them it was a thick shell with an air gap where they had pipped in the ganache and the ganache was stale and a bit waxy. Well wasn't that right on target. Looked great but hollow and stale. Kudos. hehe.
I'm a lover of all food, as long as it's good food! :D
Interesting discussion Brad,
I think both are important. I like chocolate that engages multiple senses. That said, taste is the most important to me. But I have trialled chocolates that are identical in flavor profile (same ganache) but presented differently, and one totally outsold the other. So I think as consumers, people eat with their eyes first. If you can back that up with great taste, then you have a winning combination.
Assuming that your customers build trust, and are happy to buy on taste I still think well presented chocolates should not be over-looked. Despite the fact they will be more likely to buy because they like your product, you still want to entice new customers to keep your business growing - and I think if you can engage the eyes AND the mouth in terms of impressing people, this is better than just focusing on taste and not worrying too much about the final look. So I believe the more senses we engage well, the better.
That's my two cents worth, and only because that is what seems to work best for me