From chocoholic to chocophile

Clay Gordon joins the blog

October 26, 2007

Editor’s note: We welcome Clay Gordon, who will blog occasionally on the topic of chocolate.

I’ve just returned from a week’s trip to our nation’s capital to promote my new book, Discover Chocolate. By day’s end I will have hosted 10 tasting events featuring a wide variety of wines and chocolates (plus one with balsamics, Parmesan cheeses, and air-cured meats, and one featuring chocolate ice creams).

One question asked at virtually every tasting event I go to is, “You have the coolest job. How did you discover your passion for chocolate?” I do have one of the coolest jobs — ever. I am a professional chocolate critic and educator, and my job involves tasting a lot of chocolate, writing about it, and educating people about how to better appreciate chocolate, alone and in conjunction with other gourmet foods. Tough, I know, but someone has to be willing to make the sacrifice.

The short answer to the question of how I got my job is that I saw a market opportunity and went after it. In 1994, when I first discovered origin chocolates — chocolate made from beans from a defined geographic region — I quickly realized that no one was talking about chocolate the way people were talking about wine, cigars, microbrew beers, etc. I literally said to myself one day, “I am going to become the Robert Parker of chocolate.”

What I did not know was that while I could take classes to become a sommelier or master of wine, there was no place for me to go to learn what I needed to know to become a credible chocolate critic. I spent seven years educating myself and developing my own rating system because I felt the ones developed for wine did not do chocolate justice. My educational background — I have a BFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design — and my history of working in tech startups having to explain complex technology have both had an influence on the way I approach chocolate and talk about it. My love of — and for — chocolate grew out of my teaching myself to be a critic; I did not become a critic because I loved chocolate.

I have a fond place in my heart for the chocolates of Bonnat, the French company whose chocolate bars propelled me to begin my own journeys of chocolate discovery. Today I still use their bars in my tasting classes, and my own personal favorite among them is the Hacienda El Rosario, a single-estate 75 percent dark chocolate powerhouse made with beans grown in Venezuela.

Care to comment? Please share your favorite chocolates and what you like about them.

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1. by Carrie Floyd on Oct 29, 2007 at 12:15 AM PDT

I have a soft spot for Tobblerone (my first bar was a gift from my first boyfriend). I like Dagoba chocolate, especially the one with rosehips and raspberries (I like the tang, the crunch of the added fruit). I don’t really like the high-percent cacao chocolates—too bitter for my taste. I love Fran’s Chocolates, especially the ones with caramel inside and salt on the outside. And Alma Chocolate, too, is worth noting (the crystalized ginger brittle with dark chocolate is fantastic). As I write this I realize that my favorite chocolates are those mixed with other flavors, and that texture, too, plays a role.

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