Kelly Kimel was sitting across from the famous Jardin des Tuileries a few years ago when she got her first taste of sipping chocolate at Cafe Angelina. The memory of the chocolate arriving at her table in a small pot with a side of fresh whipped cream lingered and eventually became the catalyst for MoRoCo Chocolat. Today, the Yorkville chocolate boutique and lounge is known for its decadent truffles (the C4 is a fail-safe chocolate bomb made of 72% dark bittersweet couverture, caramel and fleur de sel that melts in your mouth), pretty pastel-hued macaroons and rich (an understatement, really) drinking chocolates.
Behind the lounge at MoRoCo is a veritable chocolate factory replete with chocolates in varying degrees of darkness, marshmallows, spices, caramel and nuts. On a recent blustery winter day, OurFaves was taken behind the scenes to MoRoCo’s chocolate lab and given a brief education on cocoa and the intricacies of making edible art. While Kimel may be the visionary behind MoRoCo, she prefers to let the chocolates speak for themselves. So we cornered MoRoCo chocaholics Sabrina Messai (retail supervisor) and Victor Bastidas (sales and events manager) for the sweet and lowdown.
Why are MoRoCo chocolates so special?
Sabrina: Everything is made in-house fully from scratch. It’s the hardest way to go, but the best way to go. And we keep updating and developing the lab, doing new things, trying new things, getting more things into the lab. It’s pretty much Kelly’s baby.
Why is it such a challenge to make the chocolates by hand?
S: We have a kitchen (it serves the restaurant), so that produces a lot of heat and moisture. The chocolate lab is actually very, very cold – almost the temperature of the fridge. Everything in it is glass or marble and it’s very small.
Victor: It’s challenging in that it’s a small space. Given what we make happen, it’s amazing what the guys can do with the limitations of space. They create a vast selection of products and it’s difficult to produce a large number of products in a timely manner and also to keep the consistency in terms of quality. Chocolate is a very sensitive product. It needs to be stored at a certain temperature and it has a short shelf life. Chocolate actually has a longer longevity as opposed to our French macaroons which have a shelf life of two days at the most. Those have to be done on a consistent basis. On top of that, there’s a lot of flavours – it’s amazing what the guys in our chocolate lab can do with the limitations of space. There’s also a pastry station that’s completely separate from the chocolate lab.
There’s definitely a lot of organization as far as actually keeping the kitchens operating smoothly and keeping them clean. The more Kelly’s business grows, the kitchen does not grow.
Tell us about the chocolatiers you have on staff.
S: Chocolate is very temperamental. You have to be very patient. It’s not the same as a normal baker or a trained pastry chef per se. It’s a lot more intricate.
V: It’s more like the chocolate is the chef. The chocolatier just has to know how to work with it.
S: And the higher the quality of chocolate, the hard it is to work with. When you start buying chocolate that costs the same amount a kilo as gold, it’s very pure. It’s very good quality. There’s no soya lecithin. None of those things are added to it, so it’s very temperamental and harder to be consistent. Every time they do trials or try to do new things, there’s lots to go through just to get the feel of it, to work with it. Every chocolatier is different and they work different chocolates.
What kind of chocolate do you use?
V: We use Valronha couverture which is different from other chocolates because couverture is technically just cocoa butter, cocoa nibs and sugar. Other chocolates have lecithin and other stuff which helps it get shiny – it’s more stable. It has more chemicals to make it easier to work with as opposed to a raw product. For example, when you do molded chocolate, you have to temper it, you have to heat it to a certain level, decrease the temperature and then go back up to a certain level to dissolve certain crystals. There are six different crystals in chocolate and you want to melt five of those but you want to keep one active for shine.
S: Chocolate is a science. We’re fortunate to have a tempering machine to help with the dark chocolate because we use it the most. With tempering, chefs always have to do little tests. It’s consensual between chefs to dip something in and make sure in a few minutes that it’s dry. Have you ever gotten a chocolate bar that’s light brown on the outside? That’s what happens when tempering is off. The chocolate isn’t old – it’s just not tempered properly.
That’s a lot of work!
S: Yeah. Some people don’t understand that when they’re walking in here. A lot of people understand that and they have no problem paying for it, but you will get people who look at you and say, Wow, $3 a truffle? Why? Having said that, when they eat it, they totally understand.
Where do you recipes come from?
V: It’s a process of try-outs. There’s a basic recipe and then you just modify it to your conditions, to your equipment and to packaging. It goes into a master book of recipes that have been tried and tried and they’re fool-proof.
What’s your most popular chocolate product here?
S: I’d have to say the truffles. They really sell. I’ve been here two years and I’m very proud to represent those truffles because there’s never been a problem with consistency. I’ve never had anyone try it and not like it.
In the dining room, the most popular item is the sipping chocolate. It’s straight melted chocolate. There’s a little secret to it and I’m not even sure of it. It’s almost like steeping tea where you actually kind of just leave it there to set with water. They do something like that.
V: The sipping chocolate is literally melted chocolate. You’re literally drinking chocolate.
What are your personal faves?
V: I go for the Guanaja for sure. I call it “the truffle of truffles”. It’s 70% dark chocolate from Honduras with chocolate ganache on the inside.
S: I don’t like cherries, but my fave is one of the newest truffle additions. It’s got aged port wine with Morello cherries, cherry puree and dark chocolate.
What’s the most exciting chocolate creation you’ve ever witnessed here?
S: The macaroon dress for Fashion Week. I think it probably took them three months to make. It was a beautiful dress made from scratch. It was fitted, corset-style, tied at the back and very poofy. They made small macaroons and they just kind of used that to bedazzle the dress. They used edible pearl dust and blew it on all the macaroons so the dress shone. She wore chocolate stiletto shoes and they put gems on her. She had a chocolate ring. Her name was Betty.
Was she eaten at the end?
S: You couldn’t eat her at that point. You didn’t want to!
Having been with MoRoCo for two years, what changes have you seen?
S: I was talking to the pastry department the other day because they weren’t sure if we were in Winterlicious or not. We kind of do that, Winterlicious, to get people in the door. You still want to do that, but we don’t have to do it to the extreme we had to in the past. Ryan, who is the head chef here, when he came aboard in 2010, he just cleaned up the kitchen and changed the menu. Some of the things we’re known for, like the truffled macaroni and cheese, there’s certain things that people just come here for that they can’t get anywhere. He boosted that a little bit, made a bigger portion and now you can add smoked chicken to it.
Have you noticed any chocolate trends come and go?
S: The almond chocolate. Essentially they’re generic covered almonds except our twist is they roast them. They roast them then they carmelize them, they coat them in caramel and they cover them in couverture chocolate, then they put it through a truffle duster. And there are spices in the cocoa. There’s a little bit of cayenne, nutmeg, you can taste the roasted pepper, the roasted salt. Those were discontinued. When I first started working here, everyone was asking for them. So I asked the chef at the time and we changed the packaging and they started to fly off the shelf. It was the packaging. They were in a bag and we put them in a tube. So there are things that somehow came back out.
We used to have a chocolate bar that was roasted peanuts and caramelized with bacon. And it was crusted across the milk chocolate. The saltiness and flavour really cut the creaminess of the milk chocolate with the nutiness of the peanuts. People went nuts for that bar.
So you’re saying chocolate isn’t a very hard sell?
S: I actually don’t have 6-piece truffle boxes right now. We’re waiting for the shipment to come. Long story short, I only have boxes of 12 and 24 to offer people and it isn’t a problem. I expected it would. It was the year before. There were times when we would run out and people wouldn’t go bigger than that box or budget. This year, people did. They don’t even want to choose the truffles. They just like, Give it to me! And they’re coming back, buying more, so I know they trusted the selection.
Which day of the year do you sell the most chocolate?
S: Christmas hands down. We also do the stars of David. We have that market as well. Valronha produces kosher chocolate. The holiday season is huge. Easter is huge. Valentine’s Day is big as well.
Why do you think people are so drawn to chocolate?
S: It’s sinful pleasure.
V: There’s something about chocolate. Even in historic times with the Aztecs, it was considered an aphrodisiac. There’s something about biting into a piece of chocolate and the way it melts in your mouth. It’s really just a sensory experience. It’s the look, it’s the flavour, it’s the texture. It’s unique. It lingers on your palette, so it’s not like instant gratification. You have the feeling of it for a while.
S: It’s just very good quality. Anything that’s good quality stands a chance. You have to remember she opened during that time (in 2008) when everyone was not willing to take the risk and she had nothing to worry about. She never cut corners for anything. She never kept anything for a day longer than it should have been kept.
What’s the story behind the MoRoCo name?
S: The name comes from Montana, her daughter, Rory is her son and cocoa is her third love, her third baby. That’s why the “M”, the “R” and the “C” are capitalized and the o’s are small. Actually, in her monogram, the actual MoRoCo display, if you ever look at it, you’ll keep finding things.
Interview and photographs by Maria Cootauco