Artisans

Mochi Truffles

Mochi Truffles

This is a good time of year to reflect upon one’s blessings, and among the very many things I feel grateful for is the way this blog connects me with remarkable people whose path I might never have crossed otherwise.

Case in point: Colins Kawai, the marketing director of the University of Hawaii Press, but also an artisan chocolatier and the founder of Choco Le’a (“chocolate pleasures”), a small chocolate company based in Hawaii that he started to raise funds for charities and non-profits around the world.

I met Colins and his wife Joan when they visited Paris in November: Colins and I had exchanged a few emails, and he had told me about his company, which does mostly catering for weddings and other receptions, and about the truffles he makes for those events, garnished with such exotic flavors as lilikoi (passionfruit), haupia (coconut creme), or lychee liqueur.

We arranged to meet at the Salon du Chocolat, the Henri Le Roux stall serving as our rendezvous. We chatted for a little while, and Colins and Joan handed me a few boxes of their truffles, which they had, amazingly, hand-carried from Hawaii for me, along with a few other gifts, including the most adorable onigiri-pattern bib for Milan.

Maxence and I enjoyed the chocolates a great deal (read: we inhaled them), and the ones I was most taken with were the mochi truffles, which came in four flavors: plain, strawberry, honeydew (my favorite), and orange.

I adore mochi in all its forms, as evidenced by my posts on the strawberry daifuku mochi and the warabi mochi, but this was the first time I’d witnessed its encounter with chocolate. I have since researched the subject, and while I’ve found many instances of chocolate truffles wrapped in mochi — delicious too, I’m sure — I haven’t found references to truffles with a piece of mochi inside.

Curious to know more about this novel treat, I asked Colins to answer a few questions.

Mochi Truffles

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Chocolate Naive: A Q&A With Domantas Užpalis

Domantas

Today I bring you an interview with Domantas Užpalis, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker from Lithuania who contacted me a few months ago to tell me about his project, Chocolate Naive: he and his team roast, winnow, grind and temper their own chocolate in a manufacture based in the Lithuanian countryside.

He offered to send samples of their new collection, which includes a 43% milk chocolate, a 68% Uganda chocolate with fleur de sel, a 71% Grenada chocolate, and a 63% cinnamon-orange chocolate. I received the bars, tasted them, and was truly impressed: this was excellent chocolate, complex and refined. I was also wildly intrigued by the story behind it, and asked Domantas if he would answer a few questions for me.

It turns out this self-described chocolate lunatic is quite a character, and I hope you enjoy reading about his chocolate-making adventures as much as I did. I know I would love to fly to Lithuania and visit his dacha and chocolate factory!

And if you want to taste his chocolate too, it is distributed in select stores in Europe, and can be ordered from the Chocolate Naive website.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

My name is Domantas Užpalis — blue-eyed, medium height, big smile. Seriously, I am the founder of this weird project called Chocolate Naive. We have been manufacturing fine chocolate in the middle of nowhere for one and a half years now. We are small-scale chocolate makers, who create chocolate from scratch, and by that I mean we roast, winnow, conche and temper chocolate ourselves in the countryside, in Lithuania. I will add that, at this very moment, I live the dream!

What sequence of events inspired you to create Chocolate Naive, and what is your vision?

All my life I was involved in corporate careers — finance, marketing, or insurance. I graduated with a master’s degree in Urban Development in London and 2008 was the year I came back home to Lithuania, all arrogant and self-confident. I was expecting high recognition and a full-speed career, but the international crisis turned everything upside down. And here I was — jobless, socially isolated, with no personal life, in poor health and with savings running out. When I look at that period in retrospect, I can clearly say that it was the lowest point of my life. For more than two years I literally struggled to survive.

The solution was obvious: what else if not chocolate? Shall I go from uber negative to super positive paradigm? I bought one ton of cacao beans and threw myself into chocolate very spontaneously. The beans arrived at my warehouse: a bunch of jute bags full of aromatic cacao beans. I had no idea how to process them, where to process them and what machinery I needed, but from that very moment on, we started assembling the puzzle very quickly.

First of all, we moved to the beautiful countryside near the lake. We secured a business loan and the first machinery started arriving to our rustic dacha in the middle of nowhere. Robust chocolate bars were born with the help of our local employee Kristina, a mother of seven, who is now the head of production. Some time ago her daughter Sabina joined the team, so now we can say that it is a true family business.

Twenty tons a year — that is our end goal. We have set this upper limit for the total Chocolate Naive production and we will keep that promise. The upper limit is to remember that the project started as a getaway from the corporate world, and if we exceed the limit we will run the risk of throwing ourselves back to the office (no way!).

Here is our end vision: to develop our farm and to acquire one in a cacao growing country in order to develop full vertical integration of manufacturing; to manufacture the most sophisticated chocolate and bring back the crown to the Food of Gods; to spread joy, peace of mind, and to educate people about the importance of finding their Chocolate of life.

Chocolate Naive

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On Meeting Sadaharu Aoki

Sadaharu Aoki

Let me tell you this: girls aren’t what they used to be. Present them with a spiffy British actor who knows how to bake an apple crumble, and they will smile, shake the actor’s hand (twice), and walk away with a good story, yes, but their heart unstirred.

Allow them to spend half a day with a famous pastry chef, however, and you will get a rather eloquent embodiment of glee.

This opportunity was brought to me on a dessert plate by my friend Louisa: she was in Paris with a television crew to film an episode for the upcoming season of Diary of a Foodie, and she asked if I’d be willing to appear in the segment on Sadaharu Aoki.

At this point, I feel compelled to state that I am vehemently opposed to the use of the term foodie, a word that makes me cringe so deeply my fingers refuse to type this combination of letters and I have to copy-paste it. But I love Louisa, I had met part of the crew last summer, and hanging out with them in Aoki’s lab while he showed us stuff sounded like a fine use of my time, so I said yes.

And indeed, a terrific afternoon it was: my role was simply to be curious, ask the chef about his work, his pastries, and his creative process, and translate our exchanges from French to English for the camera.

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