With Valentine's Day around the corner, chocolate is in the air. But chocolate was a more tangible thing on Monday at Chocolate Secrets, when legendary San Francisco chocolatier Michael Recchiuti sat down with Dallas' top chocolatiers to talk about their favorite subject.
Organized by DallasChocolate.org founder Sander Wolf, the event drew Chocolate Secrets' Kate Weiser; Stephen Smith of Nib Chocolates; Troy and Bliss Easton of Sublime Chocolates; Sue Williams of Dr. Sue's Chocolates; Zach Townsend of Pure Chocolate Desserts by Zach; Jeanine Stevens of Dallas By Chocolate tours; and cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum, who happened to be in town for a cooking class.
Recchiuti brought two of his favorite chocolates to sample: one with tarragon and candied grapefruit, and a cardamom nougat with chocolate nibs. He shared highlights from his career as a chocolatier and the evolution of his San Francisco store.
The big trend Recchiuti has noticed is a fondness for "big, clunky desserts" — the more decadent and sloppy, the better.
His two top-selling chocolates are his burnt caramel truffle and fleur de sel caramel. It was 1994 when he blazed the trail with salted caramels, a flavor combination that has been copied by millions and remains massively popular today. "I was inspired by chocolates in Brittany, and [the use of salt] was happening in France and Portugal," he said.
A former drummer, Recchiuti began his food journey when he trained with the ex-chef of the Shah of Iran. He worked as pastry chef at Twin Farms, a luxury resort in Vermont, where he met wealthy guests such as Bill Gates. When Recchiuti moved to San Francisco, he scored a contract to make customer gifts for Gates, and it helped launch his business. Bit by bit, he expanded his production facility in San Francisco to the 12,000-square-foot footprint it has today.
Because chocolate is such an intensely seasonal business, Recchiuti opened a cafe in 2012 to fill in the gaps between Valentine's Day and Christmas. Called Chocolate Lab, it has a full menu with sandwiches and savories, as well as a dessert list with 12 items.
The big trend he's noticed is a fondness for "big, clunky desserts" — the more decadent and sloppy, the better.
"Everybody wants s'mores, brownies, graham crackers," he said. "Whoopie pies, I became interested in the '80s when I was still living in Pennsylvania. I'd go to every Amish stand. I loved whoopie pies. The good ones had vegetable shortening and bad devil's food cake. I noticed that making sophisticated versions aren't as interesting to people. Everybody wants something simple and basic."
Whatever he makes, he stays true to the chocolate. "My goal as a chocolatier is to be able to taste the chocolate throughout the whole experience," he said.