Imagine this dipped in chocolate. Go on. (Photo: Adam Gasson)

One of the best things about blogging about chocolate is the chance to share enthusiasm and exchange views and discoveries with people from all over the world (see below, I hope). So it was exciting to meet a bunch of chocolate fans from a particular online grouping last week at a highly sociable demonstration/party/pig-out in a central London kitchen organised by the social media phenomenon Pinterest and Great British Chefs.

The star of the evening was the chocolatier Paul A Young, who has won umpteen national and international awards and recently opened a fourth London shop in Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road.

Young occupies a unique position in the UK chocolate scene because he and his team (now 36 strong) make everything that they sell completely by hand and he doesn’t use any artificial additives or preservatives. He is particularly celebrated for his truffles and caramels – a reflection of the six years he spent as a chef/patissier with Marco Pierre White in MPW’s heyday – but Young also has an encyclopaedic knowledge of chocolate itself, and a passionate concern for the people that grow it.

He is utterly plugged in to the chocolate world, not least because he uses chocolate from suppliers who are enthusiasts themselves: Duffy’s, Menakao, Dandelion, Mast Brothers — people who make chocolate that is a joy in itself, even before Young gets to work on it. The Valrhona 70 per cent that he used as a base for the evening’s recipe was more straightforwardly delicious than many a smart £5 bar.

I loved talking to Young about the excitements and challenges of growing his business and raising awareness of the excellence of British chocolate. He recalled a conversation a few years ago with Paul Hollywood in which the two agreed on the potential of their cookery niches, baking and chocolate. We all know what has happen to baking, and surely it can’t be long before chocolate, with all its enticements, challenges and rewards, follows a similar path…

Young is a terrific demonstrator, and soon had the Pinteresters and me up to our elbows in blood-warm molten Valrhona and blue cheese — yes, blue cheese. The recipe we were tasked with was a Stilton and Port Truffle, and while the early stages were a little gruesome (and green, to be honest) and the latter stages were epically messy, the finished product — even those made by me — were frankly gorgeous.

If you want to have a go the recipe is here and if you want a short-cut the truffles (made by Paul, not me) are often to be found in his shops. The important thing to emphasise though is that although he is justly famous for his salted caramels, and for their compellingly evil cousin the Marmite truffle, Paul A does not mess around for the sake of it, and would not dream of putting out a flavour combination for shock value alone.

But the evening did put me in mind to experiment at home, and I wonder if others out there may be similarly inspired to mess around with unusual combinations… any suggestions?

Recent discoveries

On a visit to the Prestat factory recently the co-boss Nick Crean shared a prototype of a new truffle and I adored it. The Red Velvet, now released, is not one for purists, comprising “classic icing enrobed in milk chocolate, dusted in crushed raspberries” but for me it is an intensely moreish combination… £11 for 175g,

I have been meaning to write about Carpo for a while. Technically this is really a preserved fruit and nut emporium, but they enrobe, encase and otherwise imprison their goodies in vast quantities of decent chocolate, and giant slabs of the stuff reside beneath the spotless glass surfaces in the Piccadilly HQ. You can order online but the shop is a terrific snack stop-off if you are down that way (and if you are, pop into Maison du Chocolat a few doors west for chic French delights).

As well as pretty and delicate ganaches, the untypically switched-on Belgian Pierre Marcolini makes single origin bars from around the world in smart limited editions. The presentation errs on the side of the plutocratic, but there is good stuff in those slender silver boxes if you can find an oligarch to indulge you. I thought the Finca la Joya, a 78 per cent Criollo Porcelana from Mexico, was a thing of great beauty. It’s £9.50 for 80g in Selfridges.

Also recently enjoyed, and due for further attention soon, Cocomaya’s New York Sea Salt Pretzel dark bar, Hasslacher’s Colombian Drinking Chocolate — and Duffy’s incredible Corazon del Ecuador Camino Verde bar, good grief…


DECEMBER 26, 2014

Bazaar Meat BY JOSÉ ANDRÉS is nothing less than the most spectacular new restaurant to land in Las Vegas in 2014. The innovative Spanish superchef was already a prominent force on the Strip with Jaleo and China Poblano. But at the hip new SLS Las Vegas, risen from the ashes of the iconic Sahara on the northern end of the Strip, Andrés creates a signature and singular culinary experience that must be eaten to be understood.

Considering the rest of SLS’ exciting restaurant lineup, it’d be easy to assume Bazaar Meat is the latest in a series of celebrity chef-powered steakhouses to join the carnivorous competition on Las Vegas Boulevard. But if you think José Andrés is simply going to char a steak, bake a potato and call it a night, you don’t know José Andrés. Bazaar is a celebration of meat, specializing in animals that graze or swim, served raw and cooked over fire. Most steakhouses might offer one massive, shareable ribeye or roast that could feed the table; Bazaar offers a variety of Spanish-style, bone-in beef rib steaks priced by the pound and fired over oak as well as suckling pig served in quarters or, if you order ahead, the whole thing.

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Heston Blumenthal looks back on nearly 20 years of The Fat Duck in Bray, before heading to Australia to open the three-Michelin starred restaurant there

What a difference nearly two decades of sweat, blood and frequent tears makes. Heston Blumenthal has certainly come a long way from the round faced ingénue who transformed a former run-down pub into a future three Michelin-starred restaurant, to today’s shaven-headed master of molecular gastronomy.
And when he shuts the door of The Fat Duck on Sunday he will be bringing to a close, albeit temporarily, a revolutionary chapter in British cuisine.
Since its opening in 1995 the restaurant, in the Berkshire village of Bray, has gone from refurbished pub to groundbreaking laboratory for cutting edge cooking, topped with what he calls a “typically British sense of humour”.
Now he is transferring the Fat Duck lock, stock and smoking pans 10,000 miles to Australia, bringing with him the wonders of snail porridge, salmon poached in liquorice gel and jelly of quail on oak moss and truffle toast.
While the 17th century cottage near the River Thames, which houses the original Fat Duck, undergoes a six-month programme of refurbishment and renovation, Blumenthal and his team will be running a reconstructed version of the restaurant at the award-winning Crowne Towers hotel in Melbourne.

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Brett Graham’s understated west London restaurant breaks into the top 10

Discreet, welcoming but quietly outstanding – the same epithets can be used to describe chef Brett Graham, his food and The Ledbury itself. The restaurant, tucked away in a corner of west London’s fashionable Notting Hill neighbourhood, still retains a loyal local (if distinctly well-heeled) following, with long-time regulars sitting harmoniously alongside the increasing number of international visitors.

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A true temple of French cuisine that puts garden produce centre-stage

Alain Passard has cooked at L’Arpège for nearly 30 years. In that time he has achieved living-legend status as one of France’s greatest and most influential chefs, but this giant of Gallic gastronomy has a surprisingly light touch. The cooking at this Parisian superstar revolves around a 2.5 hectare biodynamic garden just outside the city where a team of gardeners grow produce to exacting briefs.

All meals here feature a simple salad named after his head gardener, a tangle of esoteric herbs and leaves dressed with oil, a little Parmesan and chopped hazelnut praline. Such is his dedication to garden produce that a decade or so ago Passard removed red meat from his menu. At the time it represented a controversial though forward-thinking comment about the top-end of the restaurant industry’s obsession with flesh. But carnivores shouldn’t despair, as the Brittany-born chef has now reinstated red meat (if in very small measure) to a menu that also features exceptional game, poultry and seafood options.

The chef, who began his career back in 1971, has a complete grasp of classic French techniques; having worked with some of the nation’s most esteemed chefs in his formative years, including Alain Senderens, from whom Passard purchased L’Arpège in 1986. It is these well-honed skills along with a healthy dose of playful creativity that set him apart from the crowd.


Minimalist, high impact plates in Alicante

Valencian food gets the techno-emotional treatment at Quique Dacosta’s eponymous restaurant on the Costa Blanca. While Alicante might be more usually associated with package holidays than cutting-edge gastronomy, the tiny city of Dénia is far removed from the all-day breakfasts and mainstream lager of the area’s numerous tourist resorts. Formerly El Poblet, the super-sleek restaurant makes a fine and suitable backdrop for the team’s striking plates and also houses some first-rate contemporary art.

Part-chef, part-botanist, Dacosta occupies the same culinary perch as Ferran Adrià and the Roca brothers and is a big name in Spain. His plates are minimalist and always memorable, featuring two or three ingredients, making for great clarity of flavour. A meal here may begin with a single rose supplied with a pair of Quique Dacosta-branded tweezers. On closer inspection, the middle of the flower has been painstakingly constructed from pickled apple. Another dish shows the chef’s willingness to reference other cuisines – his black truffle mochi is an extraordinary little cake stuffed with a creamy cheese filling and dusted with black truffles.

Although there are other references, his tasting menu is billed as an edible landscape of the Costa Blanca, seeking to evoke the aroma and texture of the environment as well as the taste. As such, his restaurant is a hub for food research as well as unashamedly top-end dining. Dacosta is an expert on the local vegetation in addition to the cuisine, and is an authority on the use of rice in Spanish cooking as well as being an expert on aloe vera, micro-greens and sprouts.


Restaurant magazine’s annual “San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants” rankings have been announced and there are some notable developments from 2009′s list:

Noma, in Copenhagen, Denmark, previously #3 on the list, now sits atop the rankings. For more about Noma, including photos, go here.
El Bulli is no longer #1 after four consecutive years atop this set of rankings, perhaps not surprising as Ferran Adria recently announced he would be shuttering El Bulli for two years. El Bulli is now ranked #2.

Alinea, previously #10, is now #7, but more interestingly garnered the top American spot overall. This just two weeks after being named the best restaurant in Chicago, ever. To see photos of Alinea’s signature courses from Chef Grant Achatz, go here.
Alinea overtook Per Se as the country’s best restaurant. Per Se is now #10, and the third best American restaurant on the list behind Daniel, new to the top 10, at #8. Thomas Keller’s other restaurant, The French Laundry, in Napa, fell a whole 20 spots from last year’s list to #32.
Four of the top ten restaurants in the world are in Spain: El Bulli in Rosas, Girona, El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Mugaritz in Rentería, Guipúzcoa, and Arzak, in San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa.
Danny Meyer-run Eleven Madison Park, with Chef Daniel Humm at the helm, rounded out the top 50 in its first appearance on the list.
Here are the top ten restaurants (from #1-#10) from the 2010 San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants rankings:


Mario Batali’s thanksgiving will involve a turkey porchetta, ravioli, and a whole lot of ’97 brunello.

Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family and loved ones, and even some of the country’s busiest chefs know that. It’s a chance for them to take a step back from the everyday hustle and bustle and relax. But while you might think that this is a good opportunity to let someone else do the cooking, it’s pretty hard to pull a chef away from their stove, especially when their family is depending on them to whip up something amazing. These chefs might not have had a day off in quite a while (more than one is in the middle of opening a new restaurant), yet they’re taking the time to do Thanksgiving right. “I love the process of cooking Thanksgiving with my family every year,” Tyler Florence told us. “We can really get into the ceremony of it, and it’s a lot of fun.” Chef Jeff McInnis, who’s hard at work on a new restaurant in New York, will be heading down to Florida to be with family, including his daughter Bryce, before moving her up to New York.
And while many chefs brine their turkeys, two very notable ones — Bobby Flay and Tom Colicchio — don’t, and rely on basting instead.


(Reuters) – In an unfashionable part of Oslo, head chef Esben Holmboe Bang’s minimalist creations are stirring up food culture in a country where, a generation ago, the height of fine dining was boiled cod and potatoes.

At Maaemo, a restaurant squeezed between the city’s bus terminal and railway station, Bang uses exclusively local ingredients to rustle up the likes of langoustines with spruce, mackerel with wild garlic, and butter ice cream with brown butter caramel,

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The starred chef “signature” card at the new restaurant in Manhattan, Meregalli of “Mulino a Vino.”
The simplicity of Italian conquest of the Americans, already reviewed in the NYT GIGI PADOVANI

Some flat door the words “Courtesy Combal.Zero”, and are the great classics of David Scabin as the “King of Savoy’s Veal with tuna sauce” or the famous “Skyline salad” or “Street-Style Spaghettoni.” Other courses are designed to raise awareness of the true Italian cuisine to New Yorkers, more and more fascinated by everything that comes from Italy, as far as the kitchen: “Octopus Luciana”, “Soup & Green green soup”, “Rack of Lamb the Romanas.

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