Jac­ques Tor­res on life, love and choco­late-mak­ing


JAC­QUES TOR­RES IS cer­tainly build­ing up good karma. Af­ter all, what can be more life-af­firm­ing than mak­ing hu­man­ity happy by feed­ing it choco­late ev­ery day? Tor­res, who is af­fec­tion­ately known as New York’s Mr Choco­late, cre­ates a mas­sive 200 tonnes of ar­ti­san high-end choco­late in his 40,000 sq foot fac­tory in Brook­lyn. I met this mod­ern-day Willy Wonka in his nat­u­ral habi­tat— a huge choco­late shop in Soho to which is at­tached his lat­est sweet gift to New York City—an in­ter­na­tional choco­late mu­seum which has just opened in Lower Man­hat­tan. Ever the charm­ing Frenchman, the celebrity cho­co­latier seated me at a ta­ble in his choco­late shop which was al­ready buzzing with peo­ple and mu­sic at 11 a.m. in the morn­ing, for a choco­late fix. He brought me a cup of his clas­sic hot choco­late, dredged with ice-cold crys­tals.

Tor­res, 57, mas­ter pas­try chef and cho­co­latier, likes to call him­self the Chief Choco­late Of­fi­cer of his com­pany which has eight choco­late shops in New York be­sides his fac­tory and mu­seum. He’s been the ex­ec­u­tive pas­try chef of the Ritz

Carl­ton and the leg­endary restau­rant Le Cirque and has pre­pared dessert for kings, pres­i­dents and celebri­ties. He’s also the Dean of Pas­try Arts at the In­ter­na­tional Culi­nary Cen­ter; he’s done a 52-episode pub­lic tele­vi­sion se­ries Dessert Cir­cus with Jac­ques Tor­res, hosted the Food Net­work se­ries Choco­late with Jac­ques Tor­res and is the au­thor of three cook­books. Lit­tle won­der that he’s been in­ducted into the James Beard Foun­da­tion’s Who’s Who of Food and Bev­er­age in Amer­ica. And of course he’s cooked for for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama at a $30,000 per cou­ple din­ner. How did this Choco­late Uni­verse come into ex­is­tence? Im­ported from a long way off, Tor­res was born in Al­giers but his fam­ily moved to the small fish­ing vil­lage of Ban­dol in Provence, France when he was very young. “Like all kids, I loved choco­late and over the years I fig­ured I’m go­ing to ded­i­cate my life to it and make it my busi­ness.”

Tor­res worked at Ne­gresco Ho­tel in Nice for eight years as pas­try chef. In 1986 he re­ceived the pres­ti­gious Meilleur Ou­vrier de France (MOF) medal in pas­try, which is the high­est recognition for a crafts­man. Two years later he ven­tured to Amer­ica as an im­mi­grant, he says sim­ply, “I needed a new chal­lenge!” He worked for a year with the Ritz Carl­ton as pas­try chef and then was in­vited by the leg­endary Sirio Mac­cioni to join Le Cirque where he spent 12 years as ex­ec­u­tive pas­try chef.

One of his sig­na­ture desserts here was a mini choco­late stove to cook on—with a burner and pot and it had a small cake in the oven—all made of choco­late! His other choco­late desserts—part fan­tasy and part sculp­ture—in­clude a Man­hat­tan sky­scraper, a choco­late Eif­fel Tower, choco­late teacup and saucer and even choco­late corn­flakes. One of Torre’s most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences was cook­ing for the Pope at his home on 72nd street. He says, “Af­ter lunch, he came out and gave each of us a rosary.”

When Tor­res turned 40, he de­cided to give up the hec­tic restau­rant busi­ness and turn to choco­late mak­ing and open­ing his first choco­late store in Dumbo, Brook­lyn. He was the first ar­ti­san cho­co­latier to start from co­coa beans to make his own choco­late in New York. It was a big hit and he opened seven other stores in Man­hat­tan. As he says, “I wanted to po­si­tion my com­pany as the least ex­pen­sive of the best mak­ers of choco­late. So the prod­uct is af­ford­able—def­i­nitely not cheap but not crazy ex­pen­sive.”

As his gourmet chocolates caught on, he went big with a 40,000 sq. ft state-of-the-art man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Brook­lyn: “We buy 150 tonnes of choco­late a year and we sell 200 tonnes of prod­uct with all the nuts, but­ter and caramels added on.” Tor­res’ life has cer­tainly been en­riched by choco­late. Tor­res found love in 2007 and mar­ried the lovely Per­sian cho­co­latier Hasty Khoei who runs a choco­late shop in Bev­erly Hills un­der the moniker Madame Cho­co­lat. Just last year the two be­came the par­ents of a baby boy Pierre, known as ‘Lit­tle Bon Bon’ as part of fes­tive images on In­sta­gram. Tor­res takes choco­late very se­ri­ously and opened “Choco-Story New York, Choco­late Mu­seum and Ex­pe­ri­ence with Jac­ques Tor­res” this year.

As scores of school chil­dren squeal with de­light and check out the mu­seum, you re­alise that chil­dren and choco­late are an in­te­gral part of Jac­ques Tor­res’ life. He sup­ports sev­eral chil­dren’s causes and also takes his magic bag of de­lights to chil­dren in hospi­tals. “Mak­ing choco­late is a way of life, not a pro­fes­sion,” he likes to say. His phi­los­o­phy is sim­ple: “I like to go through life do­ing what I love to do. I do what I love to do and to me, that’s the big­gest re­ward.”

Is there any part­ing sweet ad­vice for read­ers? He laughs, “Life is short—eat dessert first.”

DESSERT ART: A look in­side dif­fer­ent co­coa pods at the Choco­late Mu­seum (left); A box of as­sorted chocolates by the cho­co­latier (bot­tom left)

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