Friday, March 13, 2009

A New Chocolate Adventure

The chalkboard at Park Kitchen pays tribute to the magic of Xocolatl de David.

Ever since I started working at Park Kitchen four years ago, David Briggs has been there with me. A few years ago, David started a chocolate company called Xocolatl de David. Now, this created some confusion, since my name is also David. Many people thought that I was the chocolatier. This month, David left his position as the restaurant sous-chef to focus on his chocolate business, so let there be no further confusion. Park Kitchen will miss David, and we all wish him well in his new adventure.

David has a very original perspective on chocolates and confections. He does not limit himself to traditional ingredients. He has a very creative palate, and integrates flavors that can be surprising. There is often a very savory element to his sweets, and he sources many of his ingredients from local farms and dairies. I interviewed David at his workshop this week to find out what he's doing now, and where he's going in the future.

Padberg: When did you first start working with chocolate and what was your inspiration for Xocolatl de David?

Briggs: It started about four years ago, mostly out of boredom. I was experimenting with different foods, I tried baking breads, but my small apartment was too drafty. I forget where it came from, but I read about a peanut butter ganache, and I wanted to make that. I made the ganache and rolled it in a simple, untempered chocolate, and just kept them in my fridge. It was a simple beginning.

Padberg: What is your most popular creation so far?

Briggs: I'd have to say the salted caramel featured at The Meadow. The esoteric flavors may get people talking, but they don't necessarily sell a lot if people have a staunch viewpoint about them.

Padberg: You have created some unexpectedly delicious confections, like the bacon caramel popcorn and the pig's blood chocolate you served at the Cochon 555 events earlier this month. During your testing of new ideas, what was one of your biggest surprises?

Briggs: About how good it was? Well, the pig's blood chocolate was a surprise. Once I had the base formula for the pig's blood chocolate, it was pretty damn good. I suppose the bacon chocolate was exciting, too, because the ganache could hold all the smokiness of bacon fat and not break the emulsion, and I nailed it on my first try, which is always exciting.

Padberg: I know you were surprised with the roasted white chocolate technique we used at the restaurant. Do you have any other plans for that application?

Briggs: I liked that because I've always hated white chocolate and this was the first time I had actually found a way to like it. It works as a sauce, but I'm not sure it would work texturally with my products, so right now, I don't have any plans for that.

Padberg: Last year, you prepared a five-course chocolate dinner at Park Kitchen. There were several great techniques used, like the cocoa butter confit of pork belly, and the chocolate consomme. What events are you planning now?

Briggs: I'm working on a dessert style tasting menu with Jenny Cook (the secret pastry goddess of Pine State Biscuits). I don't want to call it a supper club, as if it were an entire meal. We plan to do an event here at Meat Cheese Bread once a month. With this format, I can feature innovative flavors that I couldn't serve in stores. I also talked with Steve (of Steve's Cheese) about pairing cheeses for the events.

Padberg: Do you have a name for these events?

Briggs: We haven't decided on anything yet. We're waiting for Spring.

Padberg: We've talked about Hershey's plan to close the Scharffen-Berger plant in Oakland. What do you think that says about the future of artisan American chocolate?

Briggs: I think the future of artisan American chocolate is in good hands. Scharffen-Berger is a name everyone knows, but in the last few years, more people are looking to a younger generation. As far as bean to bar production goes, Theo has a good reputation in Seattle, and there is Rogue Chocolatier in Minnesota, Askinosie in Missouri, Amano in Utah, Steve De Vries in Colorado, and I've heard Mast Brothers in New York is supposedly doing bean to bar work.

Padberg: On your website, I have subscribed to be a Xocolatl lab technician, which means that I will be an objective taste tester, so what are we going to see next from the Xocolatl workshop?

Briggs: The newest thing, once the packaging is done, will be my chocolate bars. I don't make my own chocolate, so the only way for me to market a product is with interesting flavors. I have a Piment D'Espelette (from Viridian Farm) and Sea Salt Bar, the Aji Dulce (from Your Kitchen Garden) Pepper Bar, and the Salted Caramel Crunch, and a few others I am still testing. The first will be the Raleigh Bar, a chocolate pecan nougat with bacon caramel (commissioned by Kevin Atchley for Pine State Biscuits, who also features David's Champs Chocolate Milk). Kevin will get the first case of bars, then they will be available around town.

In Portland, you can find David's chocolate workshop tucked away in the back of Meat Cheese Bread, at 14th & SE Stark. Park Kitchen always features Xocolatl de David on their menu. Retail stores featuring his chocolates include Steve's Cheese, The Meadow, Pine State Biscuits, Tea Chai Te, Cacao, and Foster & Dobbs. If you enjoy adventurous chocolate, it is worth seeking out. Expect great things from David in the future.