For the Love of Chocolate, Indeed
By Laura Oppenheimer in Food on Feb 8, 2007 3:00PM
On West Jackson Ave., just down the street from the Chicago Board of Trade is Chicago's French Pastry School. Open since 1995, the school's mission is a noble one; to educate students in the fine art of creating wonderfully delicious sweet things to eat.
We stopped by earlier this week for a behind the scenes tour of the school. The French Pastry School is housed in a 100-year-old building that we never would have suspected holds three kitchens, multiple master chefs and a tremendous aroma of chocolate — all behind a revolving door. The school has kicked it into high gear this week in preparation for their annual blockbuster event, For the Love of Chocolate, which occurs this Saturday, February 10. Benefiting a culinary training program for high school students, For the Love of Chocolate features chocolate apparel, chocolate sculptures, edible chocolate and even something that was described to us as the Cocoa Sutra Room.
We met three of the chefs, who are also instructors at the French Pastry School, Bob Hartwig, John Kraus and Sebastien Thieffine. The three were putting the finishing touches on a number of various chocolate creations when we arrived. When we asked them how long they had been preparing for For the Love of Chocolate, Chef Thieffine looked up and shrugged, saying "A few weeks, a few hours of a day for a few weeks." As said this, Chef Hartwig put the finishing touches on an intricate chocolate hat, complete with a perfect chocolate rose perched on top.
Chef Theiffine then took out a different chocolate creation and showed us how they make the magic happen. He carefully wrapped almost the entire sculpture in saran wrap, minus one chocolate heart, and then sprayed the heart with ruby red chocolate mist. Afterwards, a swift dusting of gold powder finished the embellishment. At the end? "Now I am going to remove [the saran wrap]" he explained to us,"and you will see how the red stands out." And when he was done, there was one perfectly red heart.
As he sprayed the chocolate, we noticed the intense concentration on Chef Theiffine's face. This was no hack tossing a saute pan over a stove; Chef Theiffine and the other Chefs are artists, they just happen to work with chocolate instead of a more traditional medium.
We then got to see one of the secrets of the pastry school — a chocolate tempering machine. As we tried to figure out if there was way to position our head under the endless stream of liquid chocolate flowing out of a spout, Chef Hartwig explained the rational behind the ingenious machine.
"We teach students how to temper chocolate," he said "and this allows us to give them enough tempered chocolate so they can learn other things." The students, of course, are the focus of the French Pastry School, and they too have been hard at work on For the Love of Chocolate.
Organizers are expecting upwards of 2000 people at Saturday's event a the South Shore Cultural Center. Tickets are still available and be purchased here.
Thanks to Olivia for the images!