Valrhona Chocolate Demonstration Better Than a Trip to Wonka's Factory

A visit to the town of Tain L'Hermitage located in the Rhone Valley of France is on the bucket list of chocolatiers and professional pastry chefs from around the globe. 

Tain L'Hermitage is the home of Valrhona and the esteemed Ecole de Grand Chocolat.

Valrhona and European Imports hosted a pastry demonstration and chocolate tasting at Scottsdale Culinary Institute this week, and no surprise -- the classroom-kitchen quickly filled with Arizona's finest pastry chefs and culinary professionals.

Cold Chocolate Chillers (shooters) were passed to the crowd right off the bat. It was the perfect starter for the half-day workshop lead by Derek Poirier, Pastry Chef Valrhona USA. Derek originally hails from Canada, has represented Canada and the US at the Coupe de Monde de la Patisserie, teaches all over the North America and in France, and surprise, resides right here in Arizona!

The chocolate world mirrors that of coffee and wine. The cocoa bean has a history tied to the people and cultures where it can be grow. Competition for beans and sources is fierce. The proper harvesting and drying of beans takes skill and experience. Processing the beans and transforming them to a final chocolate product is an art and many producers fiercely protect their specific methods.

Valrhona is involved in all facets of chocolate production: planting, sourcing, choosing, and processing the cocoa bean to create superior chocolate couvertures. Valrhona is known for producing the first Grand Cru chocolate, created from single origin beans, sourced from the same geographic region and representing a region's terrior.

Our first taste of the day was Nyangbo, made from 100% forastero beans from Ghanna. Derek noted its soft, long finish. Nyangbo has a pleasantly mild flavor with a hint of spice and Derek commented on its perfect use in mousse and ice cream.

The demonstration began with New Opera cake, a chocolate sponge cake with layers of coffee whipped cream and creamy chocolate ganache. Derek concentrated on a detailed explanation of creating a proper emulsion for the ganache, cold infusions, and crystal formation in chocolate. Pastry chefs are known for precision and attention to detail, the best are passionate about the chemistry behind the technique.

Derek moved on with expertise and a flair for fun to his demo for Hudge, a Raspberry Radish Sorbet mixed with sparkling mineral water and served as a "cocktail" with a square Foam Cube floating a top the mixture.

His final creation before introducing the star of the day, Coeur de Guanaja, was a recipe he developed for Tati, a Praline Sponge served with Passion Fruit Cream, and Namelaka Ivoire Caramel.

Watching the creation of the sponge the crowd saw elements of molecular gastronomy; the use of tapioca maltodextrin, siphon and microwave put to practical use in pastry production. We were wowed by the caramelization technique used on the Valrhona Ivoire, a white chocolate.

Jennifer Butler, sales representative for the western US market, passed out bars of Coeur De Guanaja for the group to taste. This intense chocolate has a lower cocoa butter content than other dark chocolates. It was developed to over come the challenge of adding too much additional fat content to a recipe when going for a strong chocolate flavor.

Ice cream, mousse, pastry cream and some batters already have high percentages of cream, milk or butter, the addition of the cocoa butter in chocolate can negatively impact the texture of the final product. Cocoa powder has been traditionally used as a substitute for couverture, yet it can leave a grainy texture and the taste is more cocoa than chocolate. Coeur De Guanaja can be used for a result that is truly chocolate without compromising taste or texture.

For the passionate home pastry gourmet, Valrhona chocolates can be found at specialty retail stores like AJ's Fine Foods or online at Valrhona's chocolate boutique.

Check back Monday for a recipe for Valrhona chocolate truffles. 

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Carol Blonder