As we close in on Valentine's Day, my focus is on the sweet stuff. ChocXO opened late last year, offering delectable desserts in the form of chocolate bark, cocoa nibs and customizable boxes of beauties. If you get a chance to visit their factory/retail shop in Irvine, you may spot Richard Foley working on their newest treat. I took a tour (look for the spouts that dispense pure chocolate!) with him to learn more about the dessert science.
Most frequently asked question by guests: Where's Willy Wonka and the Oompa Loompas?
Where do your beans originate from? Our cacao beans are sourced directly from growers we know in Central and South America. Our farmers share our philosophy of growing fine flavor cacao beans rather than bulk cacao. Guests of our behind-the-scenes factory tours get to see, touch and taste these beans in various stages of production. It's a pretty fun way to learn all about the chocolate making process.
Best tip for the home baker. What separates good baking chocolate from the rest, aside from the quality of the chocolate itself, is that it needs to perform consistently in recipes every time. Our sophisticated technology allows us to control for humidity, acidity, viscosity and other variables that affect chocolate. One of the easiest things to make at home is chocolate bark. Melt your dark chocolate (temper it, if you can), and top it with your favorite nuts and fruit. Let your chocolate crystalize, break it apart and eat!
What are the most popular items sold at ChocXO? In our cafes, the most popular item is the ChocXO mocha. It's the perfect blend of our two areas of expertise-- freshly made chocolate and freshly roasted espresso. We recently procured and roasted a special microlot of Columbian coffee, and that flew off of the shelves in three days.
Why add coffee to your repertoire? Coffee and chocolate have some many similarities in the way their beans are grown, harvested and roasted. And let's be honest; they taste great together! We wanted customers to experience the combination of these two great beans under one roof.
What makes ChocXO different from other chocolatiers? Many great chocolatiers start with chocolate coverture, but our process starts with raw cacao bean. We roast, minnow, grind, mix, refine and conche [Editor's Note: This is explained in depth when you go on a tour.] our beans in our state-of-the-art factory one small batch at a time to make our fresh chocolate. We are one of the few chocolate makers in North America that are committed to the painstaking level of quality and detail required to produce some of the finest chocolate in the world.
Favorite places to eat. My favorite restaurant in the entire world is Julian Serrano at Aria in Las Vegas. But when I'm home, I keep it pretty casual and close to our Irvine factory. I go to Pieology probably more than I should.
What's your favorite chocolate to snack on? When I'm in the mood to be healthy, I love our Fortunato #4 Single Origin Dark Chocolate. When I'm in the mood to be indulgent, I can't get enough of our milk chocolate bark topped with caramelized hazelnuts.
Are there items/services at the cafes (Costa Mesa and Lake Forest) that one cannot receive at the factory? Yes, definitely. The cafes are a modern and fresh take on a local coffee shop, with the unexpected (and delicious) addition of fine chocolate. We call ourselves "Bean to Bar and Bean to Barista," meaning we roast our own coffee locally in Lake Forest, and make our own chocolate straight from the bean at our Irvine factory. At the cafes, you can enjoy an espresso, a latte or your favorite coffeehouse drink alongside our chocolates. In our Lake Forest location, you can watch our coffee being roasted, too. Our factory is more about the chocolate education experience, and does not offer all of the beverages our cafes offer.
Your bio states you have "a deep understanding of cocoa bean genetics." What does that actually mean, and how does it help in the chocolate-making process? We are committed to making chocolate with the with the best flavors, and preserving this fine flavor in the cacao bean gene pool. Unfortunately, the trend is to sacrifice some flavor for higher yields. We are consciously choosing beans from farmers that are committed to growing cacao with heirloom genes.
Your earliest food memory: I think it was eating a Big Mac for the first time. McDonald's was running a commercial about having to be big to eat a Big Mac. I was glad I was a tall kid.
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Most undervalued ingredient: Fine flavor cacao beans. These are the beans that represent the top 10-15% in the world for quality, and are the only beans we use. You can't make great chocolate without great beans.
I heard you're launching a single origin collection. We have been working hard to develop our first five single origin bars, which will offer a completely different chocolate experience for our customers. Our first chocolate is called Yaguachi. It's a 70% dark chocolate with a fruity and complex flavor profile. We will be launching four additional single origin bars throughout January and February.
To learn more about ChocXO, please visit www.chocxo.com.