The Chocolate Life

Discover Chocolate and Live La Vida Cocoa!

The swirling snow through Chicago’s bare trees seemed a long way from the humid breezes and thick leaf canopies of chocolate’s growing regions. Yet when I arrived at the new Barry-Callebaut’s Chocolate Academy in Chicago, I found the fragrant bags of chocolate from Costa Rica and Tanzania and Mexico ready for action. I had heard that this facility was the best of all chocolate work labs in the country, and maybe even the world. Could it be true? This was no ordinary candy kitchen - the kind with a greasy copper kettle and a few cracked marble slabs around. And it was not quaint in the way you imagine a storied kitchen of a European boutique. No, this was a long, well-lit room with a state-of-the-art granite workspace the size of a basketball court (OK, I exaggerate, but you chocolate people have spent plenty of time in the corner of a too-hot kitchen with nothing more than a bowl and a broken tempering machine. You’d love this! It was huge!). We had induction burners, ganache frames, guitars, temperature and humidity control, sunshades, convection ovens, Robot-Coupes, heat guns, pallette knives and a wall of chocolate from which to choose our flavors. We worked with automatic enrobers, continuous enrobers, chocolate warmers, molds, racks and pans all specified to the precise needs of chocolate practioners. If you could take your eyes off all this gleaming equipment, you could ponder the views of Chicago’s snowy rooftops and river traffic below. My chef/instructor, Derek Pho, is also the technical director for Barry-Callebaut, and he chose most of the equipment in the place. Ask him anything about the Chicago facility, water activity in ganache, sugar density, the Canadian facility, beta crystals…you name it, this guy knows it. Plus he can explain it to you in any of the 6 languages he speaks. My chocolate biz & tech skills got a work out, my pastry chef skills got a work out, my student skills got a big work out becuase we were given lectures, hand-outs and detailed chemistry information along with our confectionary recipes. But now I have a problem. My tabletop tempering machines look like old vacuum cleaners to me now. I’m just not living right. I need one of those $25,000 enrobers and a basketball court full of granite in my workspace. My aspirations may have a big price tag, but the inspiration from the Chocolate Academy was priceless. or 866-443-0437

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