Del Posto, one of the grandest of the Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich restaurants, is all marble, mahogany, soaring ceilings, and grand entrances. Dinner there is classic Italian bounty at its most sumptuous, with regional dishes, luxe ingredients, and an enviable wine cellar. Lavish dinners are ended with beautiful assortments of cookies, biscotti, and chocolate.
Recently, Del Posto has expanded its dining experience with a series of classes that take you more deeply into the culture of Italy and its kitchen. I attended the first of the series last week, "Like Wine for Chocolate: Chocolate-Making and Wine Pairings with Del Posto," led by sous chef and chocolatier Roger Rodriguez and sommelier Josh Eisenhauer.
The class started with a sampling of hot chocolate, buckwheat sablés, and hazelnut biscotti and continued with an introduction to chocolate, from planting and harvesting to manufacture, and ultimately, its appearance at the Del Posto kitchen. Chef Rodriguez guided the class in tempering technique, a critical first step in working with chocolate.
Once in the kitchen, class participants donned aprons and watched as Chef Rodriguez gently melted chocolate in a double boiler and explained how solid chocolate is heated to 120°F then cooled down to 82°F in order to emulsify the cacao solids and butter, which would otherwise separate. The cooling down process is achieved by deft, quick work: Chef Rodriguez poured the glossy, melted chocolate onto a marble pastry board and quickly worked it with two offset spatulas, effectively agitating and cooling it. The chocolate was now ready to be incorporated into a recipe.
One of Del Posto's signature treats is a chocolate tree, garlanded with delicate chocolate shards, cocoa-dusted twigs, and "rochers," buttered bread crumbs coated in chocolate.The class got a step-by-step tutorial on how to make the fairy tale-like tree. First, a small container is filled with ice and a lemon is inserted to act as a place holder. Once removed, a well is left in the ice, which will soon be filled with chocolate. A generous ladle of melted chocolate is poured in and drizzled in the well and over the ice and allowed to set.
Once set, the chocolate, by this time chilled into a hard shell, is gently removed from the container and turned over. Each piece is unique, much like an edible and three-dimensional Rorschach stain.
Sommelier Josh Eisenhauer worked with Chef Rodriguez to come up with wine and spirit pairings for an assortment of chocolates ranging from white to dark. Among these were Venchi Pure White and Amadei Toscano White—unctuous white chocolates with notes of honey—paired with "Pineto" Branchetto D'Acqui Marenco 2011, Piemonte; Donori Sambirano 70%—an intense, chalky bite high in cocoa solids—paired with Basil Hayden's 8 Year Kentucky Bourbon; and an all-around favorite, L'Artigiano Milk Chocolate with Sweet Sea Salt and Olive Oil 38% paired with Marco de Bartoli Marsala Superiore Riserva "10 Anni" NV Sicilia. The Marsala, whose grapes are grown in a region that washes them with brine-laden air, made the olive oil and salt in the chocolate stand out and truly allowed them to come into their own.
A note on tasting chocolate: don't be greedy and start chewing as if it were a piece of gum. Instead, let it to sit on your tongue, the warmth of your mouth will slowly melt it and allow the flavors and aromas to unfold. All chocolates at Del Posto are sourced from The Meadow.
For snapshots from the class including tempering chocolate and making chocolate trees, click through the slideshow above.
Upcoming classes include: The Art of Fresh Pasta (2/24/13), Lidia Presents: Philharmonic Taste - an Austrian Tasting (3/4/13), and Vini Del Posto: The Best of Our Tuscan Cellar, 2004 (3/12/13)
Tickets for all events can be purchased online at Eventbrite.