Chocolate Dinner: A Beautiful Marriage of NYU’s “Materials and Experimental Design” Course and Mast Brothers Chocolate
Bear with me as I describe the provenance of a “Chocolate Dinner” I attended in late December. NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Graduate Program (a “Center for the Recently Possible”), has some of the most interesting course choices on the planet, including: “Animals, People and Those In Between,” “Making Pop-Up Books,” “Time,” and the somewhat normal-sounding “Materials and Experimental Design.” Last semester, the professor of this Materials class chose a most peculiar material– chocolate! I scored a press pass to their final presentations, which were held at their chocolate supplier, Mast Brothers, in Williamsburg.
The presentations were extremely diverse, and only a select few produced edible chocolate (which I couldn’t help enjoying the most).
One team created different types of paper out of cocoa bean husks. You couldn’t eat the paper, but the team kindly prepared a side of Hungarian chocolate truffles (a student’s mother’s recipe!) which were made with paprika and thyme.
One student created chocolate cups that held what appeared to be rainbow sprinkles. On biting into said cups, however, I discovered that the sprinkles weren’t sugary, but were instead not-unpleasantly tasteless, and blew around everywhere like beautiful sparkles.
Another team distilled chocolate down to its essence using a perfumer-looking setup with beakers, funnels, and tubes. The result was a chocolate-smelling water that they put into tiny individual corked tubes– would one be the perfect talisman for a dessertatarian to wear around her neck? I think so.
Another team created a box which could hold a chocolate inside and was equipped with a GPS system. The catch was that the box could only be opened once the GPS indicated that it was at a certain destination. I suppose you could use this box to creatively propose to someone, or perhaps to kick off a great scavenger hunt. Since I have no will power whatsoever, I would probably smash the box with a hammer to try to get at that chocolate as soon as possible.
One team produced an amazing contraption that I would imagine would be popular as a party game. Directions: take lots of foodsafe light bulbs (if there is such a thing); melt some chocolate, then dip the bulbs in; let the chocolate cool and harden, then suspend the bulbs in a line on cords connected to a giant pipe; support that pipe with two other pipes; place a bunch of plates of strawberries in a line underneath the bulbs; flip the switch; wait a bit; and lo and behold: chocolate covered strawberries! It was a messy contraption, to be sure, but if any restaurants are looking for some last-minute Valentine’s Day decorations, this would be a good choice.
The last project of the evening showed how our experience of chocolate can be manipulated physically to create different textures and by pairing it with unexpected foods to enhance, even change, its taste. The student first showed us how to create tiny spheres of chocolate using calcium chloride. She dropped a chocolate mixture into a chemical bath, and the chocolate immediately became a ball, which she called “caviar.” The balls tasted like absolutely nothing when just sitting on the tongue. Only a bite would release the taste of the chocolate inside the suspension, kind of like biting into a fish egg. She also made chocolate “chantilly” by whipping chocolate, water, and an emulsifier. The resulting taste was similar to chocolate ganache, but without the heaviness of cream. Her weird pairings spread included anchovies, mushrooms, and black truffle oil, all of which you could place upon chocolate tongue-shaped tuiles. Each ingredient helped to bring out different unknown notes in the chocolate. My husband enjoyed how the mushrooms highlighted the earthiness of the chocolate. I couldn’t help but like the somewhat less adventurous combination of Madeira wine and chocolate.
What a fascinating evening– and all within the gracious setting of Mast Brothers chocolate tasting room, where sacks of cocoa beans from Belize await their roasting, grinding, and tempering, and a kitchen awaits people hungry to try out the resulting treats.