Jacques Torres has a lot on his plate, and we’re not talking about cookies.
The world-renowned French pastry chef, who has made a successful career out of all things chocolate, is treating fans to a four-course chocolate dinner on Halloween Eve at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York alongside executive chef Alex Reyes. And while he loves the sweets-fueled holiday, Torres is actually busy all year long savoring new mouthwatering creations at his eight shops around the city.
FOX News Magazine spoke with Torres about his uncanny ability to incorporate chocolate into just about anything. "Mr. Chocolate" also filled us in on his worst experience with a recipe, his secret passion outside of the kitchen, and yes, the one other food he can’t get enough of.
FNM: What prompted you to create a four-course chocolate dinner on Halloween Eve?
JT: I love fun projects like this. I collaborated with Fifth Dining’s executive chef Alex Reyes on the menu, but my main focus, of course, is the dessert. The theme for the event is trick or treat, so my dessert will have some Halloween favorites like M&Ms and Snickers. Halloween is one of those holidays where adults tap into their inner child. It reignites those memories.
FNM: Everyone associates chocolate with sweetness, but this treat can also be applied to savory dishes. What are some unexpected dishes you like to put chocolate in?
JT: Chocolate becomes sweet if we add sugar. It’s actually a bitter product. I like to use ground cacao beans instead of pepper in my cooking. It’s almost like a spice; it will bring a little kick to your food, and brings a nice after flavor to the dish. In France, we cook hare and put a little bit of sauce with chocolate on it. Mexicans have the mole sauce. So it’s not as uncommon in cooking savory food, as you would think.
FNM: How can anyone create their own take on a chocolate-themed dinner for the holiday season?
JT: Thanks to the internet, we can find just about anything. Order cacao nibs to use when cooking. Nibs are 100 percent cocoa content chocolate that you can grate over your food to give it a gentle bitterness. It can also act as a liaison with a sauce to thicken it. Just a teaspoon or two will give it a subtle flavor — your guests will never guess it is chocolate!
FNM: It seems that the salty-sweet combo has been a big trend in the world of chocolate. Why do you believe this is the case?
JT: Simple: The combination of salty and sweet tantalizes the taste buds and makes you want more.
FNM: What do you think the next big trend in chocolate will be, and why?
JT: The consumer is so much savvier now. They have the resources to be educated on any subject. That leads to a request for quality over anything. They want to know where their chocolate is coming from, what the cocoa content is, etc.
FNM: Aside from chocolate, which is your second favorite food?
JT: Anything coming from the water. I love to fish! When I’m not making chocolate, I’m on my boat fishing.
FNM: What has been the best and worst experience you’ve ever had in creating a new dish or dessert highlighting chocolate?
JT: I love the smell of pipes, so I tried to infuse pipe tobacco with chocolate. I went to a cigar shop, explained what I wanted to the clerk, and he gave me a bag of tobacco that smelled great. I tried to infuse that with chocolate to make a ganache. It became so bitter, it was inedible. I like to try new things. Some work, others don’t. This was definitely one of those that didn’t. On the other hand, flavor combinations like cinnamon, caramel and hazelnuts continue to surprise me. I would never think these would work well together, but when balanced properly, they’re truly delicious.
FNM: Chocolate tasting is very similar to a wine tasting, in that it gives people the opportunity to explore a good piece, all while enhancing their experience. Could you describe the correct way to taste chocolate like a pro? What should one look out for?
JT: First, you always have a visual inspection of the chocolate. See if it’s shiny. The shine in the chocolate will tell you if it was well tempered and well preserved. Then smell the chocolate. The smell can tell you a lot. It can tell you if there were any essential oils or sugar added. When it doesn’t have a lot of sugar, it smells very different.
Touch is next. The snap. You’re going to break that piece of chocolate in half. It should have a good snap, which means a good crystallization of the chocolate and a better mouthfeel. Put a small piece of chocolate in your mouth. Chew it two to four times and then let it melt between your tongue and palette. The flavor of the chocolate will expand. The palate is warm so all the cocoa butter in the chocolate will melt.
Next, swallow the chocolate. The flavors will come back in the aftertaste. That’s when the strongest flavor of chocolate will be there. Sometimes you will see natural flavor added to chocolate. Don’t buy it! That means they’re trying to mask the real chocolate. Good chocolate should consist of product that only comes from the cacao pod (cocoa nibs and cocoa butter, etc.). If there’s anything else in it, it’s not a chocolate you’d want to have a tasting with, because it’s not a good quality chocolate.
FNM: What’s next for you?
JT: This year has been incredibly exciting for Jacques Torres Chocolate. I opened four new stores in Manhattan since the beginning of the year, so I’m planning to focus my energy at the store level and present an exciting holiday season to our guests. I also moved all of my production to the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park and plan to put the finishing touches on the factory in 2015. Chocolate production and fishing — what more could I ask for?