Food of the Gods

Features, Back of House

Hotelier India looks at the role chocolate plays in hotel menus and its more recent introduction into main courses.

The next time round you are indulging in a chocolate fondant or a bar of chocolate, instead of a fruit from the basket; you need not feel too guilty.

Researchers from the Hershey Centre for Health and Nutrition in the US found that powdered dark chocolate has more anti-oxidants and polyphenols, believed to protect us from cancer and cardiac conditions.

They compared single servings of dark chocolate, cocoa and hot chocolate mix with fruit juices.

The research shows that chocolate and cocoa have more antioxidant activity and more flavonols (health giving plant chemicals) than fruit juices and thus, is a ‘Superfood’ in its own right.

So, chocolate is healthy, yes, but in moderation. It is also a versatile ingredient. It comes in a variety of forms, flavour profiles, and colours so it lends itself well to cooking and experimentation, which chefs are now exploring to create culinary romance. And no not just in the patisserie.

“Cocoa’s anti-oxidant potential is comparable to green tea. Dark chocolate, in particular, has a very high anti-oxidant potential. Chocolate is considered dark if it has 35% percent cocoa,” reveals Anirudhya Roy, Executive Chef, Taj Land’s End, Mumbai.

The health quotient apart, chocolate has been and remains a favourite with everyone, be it in any form of dessert. Jose Ruiz Borja, Executive Chef, Renaissance Mumbai Convention Center Hotel is of the opinion that the usage of chocolate is extending beyond desserts today.

He explains, “We associate chocolate with sugar treats but if we look into the origin of the chocolate from the pre-Columbian Indians; chocolates have been consumed without sugar and only in salted preparation. Today with globalisation, we know more about other cuisines and we are more open to trying new combinations.”

“Chocolate isn’t just used in confectionary, drinks and sweet spreads. It can also be used in the kitchen and can be added to a variety of savoury dishes,” states Chef Anirudhya Roy.

Amit Bharadwaj, Executive Chef, Alila Diwa, Goa adds a new dimension, “The taste notes in bitter chocolate (read high cocoa chocolate) are complicated and blend well with cumin, red chilly and smoky flavours, in usage with chicken. It adds a depth of flavour that helps take the gamey nature of the dark meat to another refined level.”

Chocolate can be used for savoury dishes especially dark chocolate. The national dish of Mexico is a dish called mole, a savoury sauce made form bitter chocolate with spices.

A good quality chocolate lends a silky texture to dishes and will have slight cherry tones and a tartness that’s almost like a liqueur. Chocolate works well with meat dishes such as game and has a similar effect as red wine does in cooking.

Anthony Page, Executive Chef, Holiday Inn, Mumbai International Airport supports this. “Chocolate is used a lot in Spanish, Mexican and African dishes due to the production in these countries. A classic French dish is rare venison with a bitter chocolate jus.”

Executive Sous Chef Rossano Renzelli, Westin Mumbai Garden City, has his own reasons for using chocolate.

“Food enthusiasts are constantly looking for interesting food options due to which there has been a recent demand for unusual main dishes using exotic ingredients. This latest trend is being followed by most chefs worldwide as they use ingredients such as chocolate to experiment in various savoury dishes.”

Innovation is the buzzword and Clinton Cooper, Executive Chef, Four Seasons, Mumbai ensures that. “Apart from our alcoholic hot chocolates, we do chocolate martinis.”

Manoj Das, Senior Chef, Fat Cat café, a restaurant in Mumbai lets his imagination run riot. “Sprinkle cocoa nibs on polenta, rice, stuffed or baked potatoes.

Add them to salads and soups for crunch, texture and nuttiness. Add a square or two of semi-sweet or dark chocolate to meat dishes, such as beef stew, chilli, and BBQ or pasta meat sauce, for an unexpected rich deep taste.

Add chocolate powder to your favourite bread recipe. Unsweetened chocolate bread is great with cheese. White chocolate, which is made with cocoa butter, is delicious with seafood or cheese. Add a little to macaroni and cheese or cream soups, or melt it over baked fish.” The options are endless.

Can chocolates be used in a variety of cuisines? “Everything is possible. Imagine adding chocolate to mutton curry? The chocolate will pair well with the spices cardamom, cinnamon, chilli, mace and give a new texture and aroma to the gravy,” informs Chef Jose of Renaissance.

He adds, “One should not change the natural flavour of the ingredients with long cooking techniques. We have started using the cocoa butter content in the chocolate for cooking.

This fat element in the chocolate does not add or change the flavour of the food and supports very high temperature. For instance, pan fried sea scallops with cocoa butter helps giving the dish a perfect golden pan fried appeal without changing the natural taste of the scallops.

Another most extensively used cooking style is using chocolate and wine together in form of liquid syrup and adding this to different preparations sweet or salty. The last minute touch of chocolate and wine to the roasted duck breast with some red fruits gives a flawless glaze to the preparation.”

Chef Anirudhya Roy of Taj Land’s End, too feels there’s a lot one can do with chocolate especially if one chooses ingredients that go along with it.

“The ingredients should have similar major volatile molecules, as then they will taste (and smell) nice when eaten together.” Giving examples he adds, “Chocolate gravy/sauce can be served with turkey, game or even strawberries. It can also be mixed into a sauce with red wine and chilli and added to red meat dishes and chilli con carne.

It can also be combined with ingredients like wasabi, blue cheese, olive oil, asparagus, lobster, scallop and pink peppercorn. Caviar tastes great with white chocolate.”

Chef Rossano of Westin Mumbai shares some innovative tips. “Chocolates are used as a garnish or added to the dressing as this enhances the taste, giving it an interesting interplay of contrasting flavours. Chocolate helps balance the gamey taste of the meat and provides an interesting combination.

Chocolate can be added to the pasta sauce or even in the dough and you will have brown colour pasta dough, which you could use for sweet or savoury dishes.”

With chocolates being used innovatively in the main course, obviously consumption of chocolates by hotels has gone up considerably.

Says M Ali Hamidani of Symco Sales Pvt Ltd, a chocolate supplier to Mumbai’s five star hotels, “Hotels with bakeries and patisseries consume nearly 100 kg of chocolate per week. Real chocolate is preferred to compound chocolate and the dark variety sells more. Morde and Swish, which are from India and Selbourne from Malaysia, are all popular brands.”

Zeba Kohli of Fantasie chocolates adds, “The hotels and restaurants usually pick up our dark chocolate and our Valentine and Easter exclusive products. We also customise chocolates and flavours as per requirements. Indian chocolates are more economical than imported chocolates, which are still in demand as gifts.”

The versatility of chocolates notwithstanding, most people still prefer chocolates in desserts. Amit Bharadwaj of Alila Diwa Goa, analyses the fixation.

“Customers will generally try something if they are made part of the experience, that is to say, if one explains to them why one has chosen to use chocolate in a dish and how in one’s opinion it contributes to the net result, they will try it. If it is simply mentioned in the ingredient list of the dish, it may not get sold.”

Chef Cooper of Four Seasons unabashedly announces, “The main difference with our desserts is the grade of chocolate that we use. We focus on using the highest quality of chocolate and let the flavours speak for themselves. Chocolate is about luxury and being sinful. So why not indulge with the best quality available in the market?”

No matter what chocolate is being used for, when buying chocolate, read the list of ingredients. Look at the percentage of cocoa solids and sugar, as this indicates the quality and taste of the chocolate. The higher the cocoa content, the less sugar it contains and the more ‘chocolatey’ it’s going to be.

The epitome of chocolate for most chocolate lovers is the indulgent chocolate cake. But today, there’s more to chocolates than just that.

Did you know?
• Just like wine, chocolates can also be paired with meats
• Five star hotels in India consume approximately 100 kgs of chocolate per week
• Dark chocolate is a universal favourite
• Chocolate and chilli make a fantastic combination, it is also the oldest culinary chocolate combination in the world
• Strawberry & chocolate or raspberry & chocolate infused with a bit of liqueur are great as dips

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