Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Emily Field showed off her chocolate-covered gloved hands
at "Cuisines of the Sun" at the Mauna Lani. She and seven
other participants created chocolate concoctions under the
direction of chef Marcel Desaulniers, author of "Death
by Chocolate," who is shown on the screens behind her.

Too much chocolate
is never bad

A Cuisines of the Sun chef
conducts a workshop on
making three simple deserts

Books simplify the art

By Betty Shimabukuro

So, here I am in a professional kitchen, faced with an 11-pound block of chocolate that I am supposed to chop into tiny pieces.

The goal here is to make lava -- I assume of the jagged a'a variety -- which will be layered onto 26 chocolate volcanoes, to be carried into the dining room as the grand finale dessert in the grand finale banquet at Cuisines of the Sun.

Cuisines is the annual food-and-drink extravaganza that draws nationally acclaimed chefs and serious foodies to the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows on the Big Island for four days and nights of culinary hedonism.

To pull this off, the Mauna Lani kitchen is packed with an army of white-suited chef's assistants.

An amateur who strides through the labyrinthian kitchens as though infused with purpose will not be thrown out, and in fact those who stand about looking halfway competent may be given something to do.

Marcel Desaulniers says, "You're not a real chocophile
unless you're dipping your fingers into the chocolate."
He is shown leading the "Death by Chocolate"
workshop at "Cuisines of the Sun."

Which is how I came to be chopping chocolate at the side of Mark Okumura, Alan Wong's pastry chef, despite the fact that I am not licensed to carry a knife, and in fact had to borrow one to be part of this enterprise.

But enough about me.

The point in thrusting myself into this story was to note that after a few hours of such close proximity to so much chocolate I began to wonder whether a person who did this every day could grow numb to the substance, even grow to hate it. Because that would be a bad thing. Very bad.

So that was the question put to Marcel DeSaulniers, author of "Death by Chocolate" and its sequels "Desserts to Die For" and "Death by Chocolate Cake." As the owner of The Trellis restaurant in Williamsburg, Va., host of several PBS cooking series and an author, he has won four James Beard Foundation awards, including best chef of the mid-Atlantic states.

DeSaulniers was a guest chef at Cuisines, and conducted a hands-on workshop in making three simple chocolate desserts.

DeSaulniers' love of chocolate goes back to childhood, when his mother -- now 83 and still baking -- would make chocolate chip cookies and caramel fudge.

She was a working single mother of six, and DeSaulnier remembers her doing the ironing at night, while stirring a pot of fudge on the stove at the same time. "I think it was a way for her to sort of escape."

Chocolate as comfort food. Something we can all identify with.

At any rate, these days the chef is immersed in chocolate, although his restaurant has a full menu, not just desserts. "When we opened I didn't think chocolate would be the tail that wagged the dog," he says. But because he loved chocolate desserts and gave them a place of reverence on the menu, they became his claim to fame, which can be a problem for restaurant management. "Sometimes people will make a reservation at 7 o'clock and sit down and say, 'All we want is chocolate.' " (His Death by Chocolate dessert is 1 pound-plus of brownies, ganache, cocoa meringue, mocha mousse and more.)

Chocolate as basic sustenance. Something else we can all identify with.

But getting back to the original question, can a person get tired of chocolate? Perhaps yes in the short run, DeSaulnier says, but overall, never.

When you're writing a cookbook and tasting three or four versions of the same chocolate dessert at a time, "you start going on overload," he says. At a certain point you must taste without actually swallowing. "When we're testing, you have to -- excuse the expression -- spit."

But he remains a committed chocoholic and insists his love for the sweet stuff is a permanent part of him. He admits to a personal preference for M&Ms with peanuts. Chocolate pursuits drive a busy travel schedule and he always takes this "candy indulgence" along. "There's always M&Ms in the car. We call them power pills."

Back, for a moment, to Mark Okumura's chocolate volcanoes: They emerged from the kitchen smoking (dry ice magic). Inside were sorbet bonbons (coated in chocolate) and around the slopes were chocolate palm trees and petit fours.

Chocolate redundancy. Something more we can all identify with.

Chef DeSaulnier’s books
simplify the art of
cooking with chocolate

By Betty Shimabukuro

Marcel DeSaulnier's cookbooks simplify the art of chocolate cooking, to the point that all his recipes are tested with common supermarket chocolate. He says American brands are just fine and it's unnecessary to go through the time and expense of procuring the expensive imported stuff for a good, homemade dessert.

He suggests Ghirardelli brand for milk chocolate, Hershey's for cocoa powder and Baker's for semi-sweet, white or unsweetened chocolate.

Other tips: Always use block chocolate, not chips. Chips just won't melt right. Use unsalted butter and fresh eggs, and use a serrated knife to chop. Don't be afraid to substitute. Use dark chocolate if you prefer it over semi-sweet, or use another kind of nuts or fruits. He also recommends a microwave for melting chocolate, although you need to check on your chocolate frequently to be sure it doesn't burn.

Finally, always taste as you go. "You're not a real chocophile unless you're dipping your fingers into the chocolate."

Here is a very simple recipe he demonstrated in a class at Cuisines:

Chocolate Tropical Fruit & Toasted Almond Bark

12 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cups whole toasted almonds
1/3 cup EACH dried apricots, mango, papaya and pineapple, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Melt chocolate over a double boiler on medium heat, stirring until smooth, about 6 minutes. Or, use a microwave. Set aside to cool in a 4-quart bowl for 5 minutes.

Fold almonds into chocolate, using a rubber spatula. Pour mixture onto a nonstick baking sheet and spread evenly with the spatula. Sprinkle fruit over chocolate and press lightly into the chocolate by hand.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until bark is hard, about 25 minutes. Cut into pieces and store in a refrigerated in a sealed container.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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