When you have worked as a pastry chef in several starred Michelin restaurants, it’s not hard to become a bit jaded regarding ingredients. Only the best will do. For Roger Rodriguez, whose experience at Del Posto, Gramercy and Jean Georges restaurants as well as Gucio Chocolatieri in New York City, exposed him to many chocolate sources, the search for exquisite and exclusive could prove to be daunting.
When Rodriguez couldn’t come across any chocolate sources from his native Dominican Republic, he began researching the matter more intensely. His search led to Cacao Prieto, a company that, for years, had been pioneering the “bean-to-bar” process, roasting single-origin, organic cacao beans from the Dominican Republic in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In discovering Cacao Prieto’s chocolate, Rodriguez also found out that CEO and founder Daniel Prieto Preston, was looking for a head chocolatier. The timing couldn’t have been better.
In an interview by Kathryn Gordon, Co-Chair, Center for Advanced Pastry Studies, Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) — Rodriguez graduated from ICE with a pastry arts and baking degree in 2006 — he explains his move from pastry chef to vice president and head chocolatier at Cacao Prieto.
“For me, becoming the head chocolatier at Cacao Prieto was a return to the flavors, aromas and traditions of my native Dominican Republic,” Rodriguez says. By joining the team at Cacao Prieto, I’m involved in every step of the process. As a pastry chef, it offered me a different view of the product and an opportunity to go back to the basics.”
Cacao Prieto produces a variety of fine chocolate items.
If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one kind of candy, what would it be?
Butterfingers are pretty cool. They’re crunchy, and I could never finish the whole bar in one sitting, so it will last me longer. I really like those Korean plum candies too, so it’s a tough one.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Batman. A millionaire vigilante, you know? He seemed to have everything: the tool belt, the car, the mansion… and he doesn’t have a curfew — he goes out at night.
What issues concern you most about the confectionery industry and why?
The amount of sugar and artificial flavorings/preservatives that go into making them, because it’s just not good for our system in all ways. I think the federal labeling should be stricter, like with cigarettes. It’s certainly not what I want my kids to eat.
What’s the last book you’ve read?
The Art of War by Sun-Tzu. It’s treasure of a book that has answers to managerial skills and business strategies as well as much more.
What is your pet peeve?
Working messy in the kitchen and dirty uniforms. Because you must show respect to the ingredients you work with and to the craft.
If given the chance to choose anyone, whom would you like to collaborate with?
NASA. I would love to make some astronaut Dominican hot chocolate.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Never forget where you come from. For me, it helps me stay focused as a chocolate maker. When developing new flavors, for example, I try to draw inspiration from the flavors of Dominican Republic, where I come from. It also helps me to stay grounded as a professional, to remind myself that I’m always learning.
What excites you most about your job?
On any given day, a range of problems can arise at the factory from faulty machines to sudden temperature changes to figuring out the right hashtags for social media. You never know what you’re going to get that day until you walk into the factory, and that’s ironically what I love about my job — there are always new challenges to solve.