by guest blogger Seanan Forbes:
Over the past few years, consumers have become more aware of the importance of regional goods. It goes beyond local borders; the regional - wherever the region may be - has prime place in the wine glass, the beer stein, the teacup and the coffee mug.
Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate, 1747 N. Damen, has always known that. Her menu - her philosophy - is all about the regional and the seasonal. Segal says that regions can shine in your chocolate every bit as strongly as in coffee or tea.
With single-region chocolate bars widely available online, the world can be in your mug. Sit in front of a stack of Amano single-region chocolate and the prospect can be intimidating. Do you use chocolate from Madagascar's Sambirano Valley the same way you do that from the Guayas River basin in Ecuador or the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela?
Segal's advice: find ways to highlight the chocolate's individual characteristics.
"Madagascar is vanilla and Venezuela is probably coffee," the chef says, "so you have to take the flavor profile is for that region and that's what you go with." What does that mean in practical terms? Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to a glass of chilled Madagascar chocolate. Cut the Venezuelan, hot or cold, with coffee, making the dreamiest mocha imaginable.
Outdoor temperature is no barrier to enjoying chocolate in a glass. In the winter, Hot Chocolate steams hot chocolate from a ganache base. During the summer, the steamed chocolate is iced in a martini shaker and served on the rocks. You can also strain it and add a splash of soda or a scoop of ice cream or (why not?) both.
Want an adult spin? Segal has a suggestion: Take your chocolate, "add a shot of stout and then a scoop of ice cream." (Here, adding the local is easy. Half Acre makes Big Hugs, a chunky imperial stout.)
Segal is a versatile, waste-nothing chef, so it's not surprising that her liquids are adaptable to dessert. At Hot Chocolate, Segal says, they take hot chocolate, chill it, pour it into pans "and put it in the freezer. Then, we shave it, and you have a chocolate slushie." It's easy to do at home; scrape the frozen mixture with a spoon. For an after-dinner tasting, serve three regional slushies in the cocktail glasses of your choice.
You can play with chocolate's flavors without leaving Chicago. Segal sells hot chocolate blends, each with a distinctive profile. The dark is a mixture of French bittersweet chocolate and cocoa butter; the medium and light, different combinations of French and Belgian chocolates.
If you want your chocolate with a twist, then go for the malted milk and espresso or the spicy Mexican. For proof that chocolate can have strong non-chocolate notes, try the butterscotch. There's no butterscotch in it; Segal chose and blended French chocolates that carry a clear butterscotch flavor. All are available at the restaurant or online.
If you're out to explore the world in a glass, then this is one sweet way to go.
photo courtesy Tim Turner