It was as if we had won the golden ticket. Last week, Mr. Chocolate himself gave us a tour of the impressive 40,000-square-foot Jacques Torres Chocolate Factory at the Brooklyn Army Terminal.
As the elevator ascended, I must admit, my heart began palpitating and my hands started sweating from excitement. I couldn’t help but imagine a chocolate terrain landscaped with licorice trees, lollipop flowers, and green food-colored coconut flake grass.
I was brought back to reality when the elevator opened to clean white walls and glossy cement floors. Oh my overly fanciful imagination. Even though I was at a chocolate factory that housed some of the best chocolates in the world, it was a manufacturing plant, after all.
Upon exiting the elevator, we were guided to a very modest waiting room with a few tables and scattered chairs—the same room where the staff eat their meals. This was where the legendary chocolate magician, Jacques Torres, glided in on his electrical scooter to greet us with a beaming and welcoming smile.
The Chocolate Factory
The manufacturing floor is divided into many rooms, with different colored doors symbolizing the different stages of chocolate making, mimicking the changing colors of the cocoa pod as it matures.
We started the tour in the melting room, where chocolate is melted in a five-ton chamber. The big melting chamber is connected to pipes that pump chocolate to different rooms within the building. Adjacent to the melting room is the work area where chocolate is decorated by hand, and the pan coating room where ingredients such as nuts are put into a gigantic angled bowl-like machine to be coated with chocolate.
There is also an expansive freezer that is always kept at -5 degrees, a stock room that Torres labeled “The Bank,” and a room dedicated to ice cream making. Speaking of ice cream, the freshly made mango sorbet and raspberry chocolate ice cream were impossibly creamy and decadent without being overwhelming.
At the Jacques Torres Chocolate Factory, there are two ways of making chocolate bonbons. First, there is the One Shot machine. Imagine a needle nested within another needle simultaneously dispensing the bonbon’s filling and chocolate. The One Shot is used to make bonbons with more liquid and soft centers. Second, there is the Enrobing Line, better known as the I Love Lucy conveyor belt. You start with the center of the bonbon, be it hardened ganache, dried fruits, or pretzels, and put it on the conveyor belt to be drizzled with coats of chocolate.
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Of all the bonbons, cinnamon praline and liquid caramel are the chef’s favorites. My favorite? I don’t discriminate when it comes to chocolates. However, I must make a PSA regarding the candied ginger covered in dark chocolate. Do yourself a favor and try these bad boys. You can thank me later.
Passion for Chocolate
As Torres was giving the tour, from the way he gleamed as he introduced the shiny chocolate-covered machines, to the way he playfully interacted with his staff, one thing was obvious: he is crazy happy and passionate about what he does—with a passion and love for chocolate he hopes to spread to anyone and everyone.
As dean of professional pastry arts at the International Culinary Center (ICC), Torres partnered with the culinary school to offer an unique internship, where the chocolate factory doubles as a hands-on classroom for students to work alongside Torres himself.
“One thing I love to show students is that we romanticize the profession,” Torres said. “It’s actually good to show students what it’s really like. [The chocolate factory] is a clean and efficient place, but you’re still going to have to do the same thing for three to five hours at a time.”
For a world famous chocolatier as humble and good-natured as he is, Torres is also entrepreneurial. Over the years, he has amassed a chocolate empire solely from bootstrapping, without the help of external capital. This allowed him the creative flexibility and freedom to do as he pleases with his chocolates.
“It doesn’t make business sense to make our own chocolate,” said Torres in terms of manufacturing his own chocolate from cocoa bean to edible goodness. “But I just love making chocolate.”
Every product being sold by Torres has a reason for being. When Torres was having coffee in his store one day, a baby wouldn’t stop crying. She only stopped crying when her mother put a bag of Cheerios in front of her. Torres has never seen Cheerios before, so he asked to taste it. He liked it, so he bought Cheerios and coated it with chocolate. Now it’s a Jacques Torres staple.
When Torres ran out of almonds years ago, he picked up a box of corn flakes in his hotel room one day and thought, “Why not?” The rest is history.
Hat tip, Mr. Chocolate.
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