This Chocolate Day, culinary specialist Chef Vikas Seth talks about the two ingredients that did more than just laid the foundation stone to an ancient culinary civilisation.
By Madhulika Dash; Images: Sanchez Bengaluru
One of Chef Vikas Seth’s favourite indulgence on Chocolate Day for the past few years has been this rare chance of creating something interesting with Mexican Chocolate – yes, that rustic, spiced variant that the Aztec king Montezuma II absolutely loved. In fact, such was the love for the cinnamon flavoured bitter cacao product that the king not only made it fashionable to present chocolate to important dignitaries and allies visiting his palace, but he also created Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin - one of the first of its kind back then – which he too is said to have enjoyed at least 50 times a day. Lore has it that a special challis was designed to hold the chocolate drink that would always be filled to the brim every time Montezuma II reached for a sip.
That is the beauty about Mexican Chocolate, begins Chef Vikas Seth (Culinary Director, Sanchez) as he starts to work on the day special, a chocolate guacamole for this years’ chocolate day celebration. And while there isn’t Mexican chocolate among the chosen ingredients, the chocolate we are using, he informs, “is a bitter variant and will be seasoned a little to create the same rippling palate effect as with the Mexican original, albeit the dish is towards the sweeter side given the spirit of the day.” The thing about Mexican chocolate is, he adds, “while it is a far, far cry from the rich, shiny sweet bars that we see and are used to today – the Mexican version is a lot gritty, has these layers of spice that ably compliments the bitterness of the chocolate and the creamier since the cocoa butter is not separated from the liquor – it has all the flavour trappings and taste notes to become an excellent addition to any dish, sweet and savoury.”
In fact in Mexican cuisine chocolate is not perceived as a sweet ingredient but more as a tastemaker that can be added to any dish – and it will add the necessary oomph to crank up the taste quotient of a dish. A reason why in Mexico chocolate is used across the food real estate with the same ease as perhaps they use guacamole or avocado in their cuisine. You would find chocolate added to the spice rub, in their mole and the classic churro sauce is always made with the Mexican chocolate because of that warm heat that the chocolate brings to the sauce that pairs beautifully with the crunchy churros, says Chef Seth, whose first tryst with Mexican chocolate while was during his days in the cruise, the real introduction to the black beauty and its wonders along with that of guacamole happened a few years ago when he travelled to the mole capital of Mexico, Oaxaca.
During the journey, I realised, recalls the Mexican specialist, “how wonderfully these two ingredients are ingrained into the Mexican culinary culture. They aren’t just mere ingredients but these multi-faceted products that can be added to any format and it would yield a delicious bite.” The wonderment of course was with the chocolate that was used extensively in the mole – a time consuming, laborious dish that is an unmissable part of every Mexican meal. It was in the bylanes of Oaxaca that Chef Seth picked up not only the in depth understanding of the chocolate, but a keen eye and palate for the finest.
That was 2016. Since then a few hand rolled chocolate have always found their way back to India and to Chef Seth’s most prized stash, which he occasionally digs into to create a slice of Mexico on a special occasion or on request. After all, admits the bitter chocolate lover, “Mexican chocolate are not only expensive but the good ones are really difficult to find and source as they are still made in the traditional style where the beans are roasted and then in a molcajete these roasted beans are ground into a fine powder before being seasoned with spices and shaped into this little cigar like rolls and encased. Chocolate making in Mexico is still largely a bean to bar artisanal affair, where a chocolatier’s worth is judged not just by the kind of hot chocolate he serves but whether he makes his own chocolate or not.”
It was a few months ago, when such an occasion arose where there was a demand for vegan chocolate. Recalls Chef Seth, “we had a guest who was lactose intolerant and was on a strict diet but had a weakness for chocolate treats, especially bitter chocolate treat. On request, we decided to create a treat that would be dairy-free and yet have those notes of a rich, decadent chocolate dessert.” It was Chef Seth’s mastery over creating guacamole – which he has created over two dozen versions where he has paired ingredients that ranged from peas to beetroot to yam and more – and his experience working and observing the chocolatiers at work in Mexico that came to the forth as he combined chocolate and avocado mash made with a hint of seasoning to create a chocolate mousse style sweet treat that in creaminess and that velvety bitter chocolate notes mirrored that of an original, dairy based one. But what up the ante on this vegan version of the dessert was the sliver of Mexican chocolate that was added to the dessert, says Chef Seth, who found that little hint of accentuated warm spices and bitter notes actually made the dessert win the game that day.
It is that very sinful yet healthy vegan dessert that Chef Seth has recreated on this Chocolate Day. After all, ends the culinary director, “we all deserve a good chocolate treat once a while and what better than one that comes with that much more of taste (and health) and less of guilt (calorie).”