Food

Confessions of a chocolatier

La Folie launches a bean-to-bar chocolate café and culinary studio for sweet-toothed Mumbaikars

A tiny lane in Mahalaxmi, now houses a not-so-secret chocolate factory, for aficionados who still dream about Willy Wonka’s sweet lair. Sanjana Patel, co-founder and executive chef at La Folie, has launched the city’s first bean-to-bar chocolate factory and café, along with a culinary studio known as The Classroom. The 3,800 square-foot space in Mahalaxmi, is home to the brand’s central kitchen, which was earlier located in Chandivali. Even though the café is in the midst of an industrial estate, the space has been designed for visitors to take their time with their confectionaries and coffee, while also being privy to chocolate being made in front of them. “We want [visitors] to wait eight-10 minutes as their madeleines are being [freshly] made, and cut open while they’re still hot,” says Partesh Patel, co-founder of La Folie, and Sanjana’s husband.

Hunting for cacao beans

The 20-seater café, is adorned by rustic tones of brown furniture, terrazzo walls, warm yellow light, and potted plants. On a white wall, three moulded sculptures follow the blooming process of a cacao bean, as the smell of chocolate lingers from the small-batch factory overlooking the café. Photographs from Patel’s journey across South America and South India span the adjacent wall, as she travelled in search of cacao farmers who would supply their beans to small-scale industries. Patel is proud of her bean collection from Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, and India, whose distinctive flavour variations allow her to play with multiple blends.

Confessions of a chocolatier

“Our beans from Central America produce a more fruity, and floral palette, while cacao from Idukki, and the Malabar Forest in India, are known for robust, caramel, and bitter nodes,” explains Patel. The chef lines the wooden table with chocolate bars, boasting of flavour combinations such as Malt and Brown Butter, The Berry Good Bar, Smoked Pink Himalayan Salt, Intense Black Jaggery, Mint After Dark, and Crunchy Cacao Nibs. She eagerly hands me a chart with a diagram of a bright coloured circle christened ‘the chocolate tasting wheel.’ The circle is divided by flavour, appearance, aroma, and texture, with words such as creamy, crumbly, earthy, buttery, sour, etc scribbled as prompts.

Dark games

Patel begins to cut large bits from each bar, and we play a game to decipher the flavour profiles of each blend. Her personal favourite is the 75% Dominican Republic and India bar that she describes as earthy, leathery, with whiffs of intense jaggery. “It’s a combination of tasting exactly what you’re smelling,” the chef shares laughingly. Visitors are encouraged to indulge in the taste-test themselves, to better understand the art of chocolate-making.

Confessions of a chocolatier

For Patel, sharing the method of transforming the cacao bean to her 95% organic chocolate, has always been in the pipeline. When a leg injury left the chef indisposed for six-months, she found NGOs who were helping farmers identify beans growing wildly in their regions, and taking on fermentation expenses. She travelled for two years to her father’s neighbouring farms in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, Columbia, Tasmania, Equador, and Guatemala to liaison with farmers engaging in sustainable farming techniques. “My favourite memory is walking across a hanging footbridge in the mountains of Guatemala, and crossing a river to meet the Lachuás, an old Mayan community,” she shares.

Patel was particularly enchanted by the respect given to the cacao pod, and the prayers offered to the Theobroma tree by the mayans. As she cracked open the pod, it revealed a white bean, even though these are usually brown, red, or purple in most cacao-growing regions. Patel is looking forward to sharing these stories in The Classroom, which will be host to beginner, intermediate, and advanced certification-level classes, apart from recreational pop-ups by other chefs.

Confessions of a chocolatier

Partesh takes me on a tour through the space that’s equipped with large ovens and cooking stations that can accommodate 16 participants. The factory space is buzzing with women hand-sorting beans and removing husk, and men pumping gritty chocolate into rollers, to develop a smoother texture. Coffee roasters have been converted into cacao roasters, paint rolling machines have been fitted with food grade rollers, and dosa batter mixers are now doing the job of grinding the chocolate nibs with cocoa butter and sugar. There’s also a tempering machine that allows the chocolate to be moulded in any shape and form. After Partesh explains the processes step-by-step, I ask Patel if she has a favourite dish from the tartines and healthy desserts on the menu, only to have her emphasise, “Without a doubt, it’s always been chocolate.”

La Folie’s Bean to Bar Chocolate Factory & Café is now open, for further information on classes and factory tours, see theclassroombylafolie.com

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 4:36:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/confessions-of-a-chocolatier/article29856654.ece

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