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Reviewed by Maitre Gajjar   
Wednesday, 11 February 2009

By Stéphan Lagorce

ChocolatYou’d be forgiven for picking up chef Stephen Lagorce’s 'Chocolat‘ and thinking you were about to unwrap the biggest bar of chocolate you’ll ever see. Lagorce’s book is an effective and equally delicious two sided affair with Chocolate. One side is the methods and styles of the tasting and evaluating experience itself, and the other side explores the various foods that partner well with chocolate, like certain fruits, vegetables and believe it or not even cigars.

Lagorce begins by trying to wean the average taster from the initial conditioned “I like or I don’t like” response to a more educated and objective assessment of chocolate. After the first few pages I could separate my 'Gustatory, Olfactory and Physical’ sensations, the three sensations that combine to result in taste. We are even treated to a “tasting glossary” helping us to start labelling these new sensations with words I’d never think of describing chocolate with such as 'Aggressive, Animal, Grilled or even Acid’.  

'Chocolat’ shows us exactly what criteria to use in rating a good piece of chocolate and the tools that we need to go about it. I was presented with the entirely new idea of tasting with my eyes and ears, and until now was completely unaware that one of the ways a chocolate could be judged is on the sound it makes upon being broken. In fact, even half way through I was very confident I could plan and execute a perfect chocolate tasting event from my own home. Every last detail is taken care of, from how many bowls might be needed, spatulas, spoons or forks, what temperature to serve the samples, and even the best time of the day to carry out an event. The early chapters certainly provide an informative peek through the door of professional tasters and chocolate veterans.

'Chocolat’ also opens our eyes to the major types of chocolate and their forms found in the culinary world. The descriptions are written with the sweet-toothed food lover at heart, the layout is simple and yet even after the first few pages I was left feeling I knew everything there was to know about the tasty treat. I am now thoroughly impressed I can tell apart my 'Specialty’ brands from the 'Single estate chocolates’ as opposed to making my selection based on which looks the more appealing. What a pleasant surprise that such a favourite food most of us take for granted can be viewed in such a delicate and cultured manner.

In the “Good Things To Go With Chocolate” chapter you’ll find an unusual assortment of foods and drinks you never thought could be paired with chocolate without a sense of humor. It even tells you which cigars will go well with certain types of chocolate, the description of the taste and aroma alone gave me the urge to light up my nearest Montecristo. I was also surprised to find that everyday vegetables such as fennel, red pepper and avocado amongst others go very well with an injection of chocolate though I haven’t quite the courage to try these combinations just yet. So for the brave adventurers out there, there are some gems hidden away in this particular chapter.

The recipe part of the book consists of around 40 ridiculously sinful ideas to satisfy the sweetest palate, ranging from a mouth-watering ganache to butter chocolate squares. All to be enjoyed of course while sipping on a decadent Viennese hot chocolate. The recipes are quick and easy to follow, and those of us who like to see what the end result should (or might look) like will surely not be disappointed by Éric Fénot’s stunning full page eye candy photographs. There are many chocolate books on the market but never have I come across one that so shamefully exhibits the tempting and delicious lure of this humble little bean, the countless pictures almost melt from each page and invoke all the senses required to bring them to life.

The final chapters of Lagorce’s book gives good practical advice on how to buy chocolate, looking after it and also what types of strange and tantalising varieties of chocolate you’d expect to find in different parts of the world. Lagorce has given us an easy to use and fairly complete book with fresh takes on the subject of tasting and cooking with chocolate, accompanied with plenty of recipes and great tips to turn the average 'just give me any old chocolate now' person into a real connoisseur. Be warned however this book could be seriously hazardous to the cleanliness of your kitchen. The aroma of this wonderful little bean will start permeating through your home in no time at all, and no more will that bar of chocolate disappear before you’ve tuned into all of your senses. I would highly recommend this fascinating book to anyone who’s ever eaten a bar of chocolate but as for me, it’s time to unleash my three taste sensations on a chocolate roulade!

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