Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rebooting Purity of Taste

The year was 2001.
I was in my senior semester of the 18-month diploma for professional cookery at the (then) Prue Leith College of Food and Wine at the start of my menu week.

The format of the college required one day per week of "theory", with the other four days worked in either the hot or cold kitchen, churning out a piece of that weeks changing menu for the on-site restaurant (then The Odd Plate).

While their were numerous examinations standing between me and graduation, a large proponent of that semester's marks came from menu week, a five-day cycle where a partner and myself got to set up the menu (3 starters, breads, 1 soup, 4 main courses, 3 desserts, petit fours) for the restaurant and play "head chef" in our respective kitchens (and all that entails).

At the same time, some where in London, Jamie Oliver was "Nakedly Cheffing" his way into hoardes of peoples' hearts the world over with his TV program and cook books, one of which featured a delightful little recipe for Chocolate Pots.

While my menu week partner and I were as flamboyant and inspired with our flavour combinations as an inexperienced 19 and 20-year old could be, we knew we wanted one thing on the menu which was simple, elegant and entirely refined in its tastes. An item which stood out for being nothing other than a better version of itself....the sum of perfect ingredients, so to speak.

Jamie's chocolate pots fitted the bill.

Since the ingredients were simple, we decided to make the presentation quirky, serving the dessert item in a small demitasse cup with saucer and diminutive demitasse spoon. The chocolate pot itself was topped with a meltingly soft coffee-flavoured meringue the exact circumfrence of the demitasse cup, fashioned to look like the swirl of cream on top of a cappuccino. We thought it was adorably kitsch (the real head chef thought it was just kitsch), but it flew off the menu at a blistering rate and taught me a valuable lesson.

Most people seek purity of taste.

A conglomeration of flavours and textures can be confusing to the taste buds, and aren't always welcome when what you're seeking is something uncluttered and comforting (and not, necessarily, entirely deconstructed).

It's with interest that I notice time and again the empty spaces on super market shelves in the chocolate section where the plain chocolate selections should be located...the milks and 70% and 85% bars. Standing next to these empty spaces in their undiminished glory are the chocolates where a flavour has intervened...chilli or salt or blueberries or crunchy espresso beans. And while these are taste sensations, to be sure, the buyers evidence speaks for itself.

It just so happens, the chocolate pots were a brilliant idea for another reason as well.

By the evening of the fifth day of menu week, my partner and I were so dog tired from working split shifts (arriving long before anyone and leaving only after the kitchens and restaurant were spotlessly clean) that while we were going through the menu with that evening's wait staff, we started laughing uncontrollably. I'm talking entirely hysterical and unstoppable belly laughter that left us crying and gasping for air, while the waiters and waitresses looked at us as if we had lost it completely!

We knew there was only one thing for it: 
we went and stood in the walk-in fridge, shutting the door behind us. We took the tasting spoons stored in the special little pockets on the sleeves of our respective chefs' jackets, and we dug in to a shared chocolate pot from that night's stash.

And we were the better for it as, I believe, the world is the better for having chocolate!

Modified Chocolate Pots

Level: Easy
Time: 15 minutes to make (plus at least 3 hours for setting)
Yields: 6 (using ramekins/espresso cups)

On the night my family visited the restaurant for dinner, my Mom ordered this item off the menu, which unleashed an annual craving.

Every year since 2001, she requests I make a batch of chocolate pots for her birthday. And while I have tried a few different combinations of quantities and flavours over the years, it is to this version I always return, as it receives the greatest number of compliments in the form of: "Hmmmm's!" :-)

P.S. If you're looking for the Naked Chef's original rum filled, egg yolk heavy recipe, it is all over the internet. Just search for Jamie Oliver's chocolate pots.

  • 250 milliliters of cream (1 cup)
  • 200 grams of dark chocolate (68 to 70% cocoa solids)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 100 grams good quality butter (a brand you like the taste of so much that you could eat it with a tea spoon by itself)

Heat the cream in a pot over low to medium heat until steam starts rising from the surface, and a tiny simmer emerges, at which point you must remove it immediately from the stove.

Allow it to calm down for a minute or so, and then break in the chocolate pieces and watch them melt, stirring occasionally.

Now stir in the butter, until it's melted through.

Last to go in (to save you from scrambled egg flavoured chocolate pots) are the egg yolks, which you stir through.

Pour into 6 ramekins or small espresso cups standing on a tray. Cover the tray with cling wrap (so your chocolate pots don't taste like your fridge smells), and refrigerate for at least three to four hours (overnight is best).

Serve lightly garnished with chocolate swirls, orange zest or the like...whatever takes your fancy (and then the person eating it can scrape off the topping if it's too adventurous, just like my Mom did, thereby proving my point perfectly that most people don't like their chocolate fix tinkered with too much) :-)
Orange Zest
Dark Chocolate
Fresh Rosemary
Chocolate Covered Peanuts
Fresh Lavender