Typically, it’s an intense week whenever the National Confectioners Association’s ALL CANDY EXPO® rolls into town in the middle of May. Let’s face it, the former candy capital of the world understands the importance of having confectioners in town to showcase the latest treats, thus facilitating a bit of sweet and savory wheelin’ and dealin’ on the shores of Lake Michigan.
This year was no exception, although my week kicked off a little earlier with a visit to Barry Callebaut’s Chocolate Academy on a late Sunday afternoon just prior to the show opening on Tuesday. Chef Paco Torreblanca, recognized as the Best European Pastry Chef in 1990 and also an Ambassador of Cacao Barry Chocolates, was being feted by Barry Callebaut with a cocktail and dessert reception.
Not being that familiar with Torreblanca, I decided to not only accept the invite, but also to secure an interview with the 3-star Michelin master so we could talk about his approach to chocolate artistry.And while Torreblanca only speaks Spanish and French -- by the way, a big thank you to Barry Callebaut’s Miriam Madrigal for translating -- his passion for the art transcends language barriers. For the reception, Torreblanca and his crew prepared a wide range of mini pastries and chocolate treats, all exquisite.
As I started wrapping up my interview (look for it in the July issue of Candy Industry), Torreblanca asked if he could test my palate, noting that I had a better-than-average familiarity of chocolate confections.
And while I agreed with him about my chocolate knowledge, I pointed out that my taste buds were rather pedestrian. But hey, since he was kind enough to patiently answer my questions, I thought I should at least return the favor and respond to his request.
The first truffle he had me taste imparted a truly earthy and distinct taste, but for the love of Paco, I couldn’t nail it down. Torreblanca tried to provide some hints, signaling that I should make the connection between what I see -- a classic truffle -- and what I comprehend (pointing to my head): the flavor of the chocolate ganache.
Unfortunately, I failed to make the obvious connection. With a somewhat sad smile, he explained that the ganache was made using white truffles. In my defense, I don’t often have white truffles, so I believe Torreblanca gave me the benefit of the doubt on that one. So much for being a food critic.
Undaunted, I continued on, trying a crispy onion chocolate -- the onion is caramelized for its sweetness, not for its savory flavor -- and a goat cheese truffle. And while I was surprised by the choice of ingredients, the tasting confirmed Torreblanca’s overriding philosophy, that of simplicity, definition and balance.
From my perspective, the chef’s selection of ingredients is combined in such a manner so as not to overwhelm, but rather, to elevate. Typical of all great masters, Torreblanca has a passion for his art, one that reveals itself both visually and sensually in texture and taste. And his books are works of art in and of themselves. Check out his Web site, www.torreblanca.net/index_en.php, and find out for yourselves why he truly deserves a party wherever he goes.