Chocolate for the Six Senses
Vosges Adds a Little Spice to the Sugar
By Belinda Clarke
Looking for something a little more exciting than plain chocolate this Valentine’s Day? If so, it’s time to bypass the Hershey display and go for something more exotic, more adventurous and, believe it or not – spicy.
Katrina Markoff is working to master the art of unconventional chocolate-making by incorporating exotic spices and seasonings into her one-of-a-kind chocolate products. Using ingredients such as curry, sesame, paprika, green tea and even flower blossoms, Vosges Haut Chocolat is a new twist on everyone’s favorite.
“We want people to experience chocolate through the use of their senses – all six!” exclaims Markoff, who founded her Chicago-based company Vosges five years ago. “Best sellers include Naga (with coconut and curry), Black Pearl (ginger, wasabi and fresh cream) and Absinthe (with fennel and anise). “Initially, people are very reticent to try curry and chocolate; however, we dare them,” says Markoff. “And then it’s a cult classic.”
Markoff takes great care in selecting the ingredients for her exotic truffles from all around the world and says she is responsible for personally choosing every spice, flower and chocolate that is flown into the company’s kitchens in Chicago.
“My heritage is Macedonian, and my love of cooking has been with me from childhood,” says Markoff. “My time spent in Southeast Asia brought me to spice markets with such colors and fragrance that I had never seen before. I began to dream up sweet/spice concoctions, and that was the start of it all!”
To create these exceptional confections, Markoff taps into the original methods of French confectionery artistry, which she learned during her training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Having graduated with the Grand Diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu and having worked extensively in France, Spain, Italy, Southeast Asia and Australia, she says her collections of chocolates have worldly inspirations.
Some of her experiences include apprenticeships with exceptional pastry chef, Christophe Felder, at the Hotel Crillon in Paris and the team of Fernando and Alberto Adria at El Bulli in Spain. After her time spent in Europe, she explored the cuisines, spices, wines and cheeses of Asia and Australia, working in many restaurants and graduating from various culinary schools including The Oriental Cooking School in Bangkok. Inspired by this global experience, Vosges truffles have exotic influences of an “East-meets-West” theme.
The Vosges exotic truffle collection includes exceptional selections with equally unique names such as “Wink of the Rabbit” inspired by the timeless tale of the tortoise and the hare. In this truffle, Belgian milk chocolate surrounds a soft caramel center dipped in milk chocolate and topped with a toasted Georgian pecan. There’s also the “Budapest,” a combination of dark Belgian chocolate and fresh cream finished with a dusting of sweet Hungarian paprika. One of the most interesting names is the “Woolloomooloo,” which is named after a famous area in Sydney, Australia. Because macadamia nuts were the first Australian trees to be developed as a food crop, this truffle of milk chocolate, macadamia nut and fresh coconut pays homage to the great “Down Under.”
Love and Chocolate
One of the newer truffle collections from Markoff’s creative kitchen is the Aztec Collection. For centuries, both chocolate and spices have been considered to be unparalleled aphrodisiacs, says Markoff. Her Vosges Aztec Collection draws upon this history by combining dark and milk chocolate with the spices of Mexican vanilla bean, ancho chili pepper, Ceylon cinnamon, dulce de leche and Costa Ricancashews. The Aztec collection is available in nine, 16 or 32 pieces, depending on your stamina!
Primo Hot Cocoa
In addition to truffles, Vosges also produces an ultra-gourmet selection of Couture Cocoa. Forget the kids, this is definitely something you’ll want to save for yourself.
“One of my first experiences with true Parisienne ‘Chocolat Chaud’ or ‘Hot Chocolate‘ was during my time spent working at the Hotel Crillon in Paris,” says Markoff. “Every morning, it was my duty as stagiere (an apprentice) to make the morning brew of hot chocolate infused with orange peels, cinnamon and Tahitian vanilla bean.Thick with Valrhona chocolate and cream, I was living in heaven! Chocolat, Chocolat, Haut-Chocolat! In the spirit of this memory, I have created a Parisienne style ‘chocolat chaud’ for those who want to bring a taste of Paris home.”
There are three different types of Couture Cocoa available: Parisienne, Bianca and Aztec Elixir.
The Parisienne cocoa contains cacao and cinnamon intertwined with vanilla and fresh orange peels.
Bianca, meaning “purest” in Latin, best represents Vosges’ ideal of white chocolate. The Bianca cocoa pairs velvety, pure ivory chocolate with imaginative ingredients from around the world. Lemon Myrtle, indigenous to the aboriginal people of Australia, is a refreshing flavor with hints of lemon grass and Kaffir lime leaves. Lavender brings a bouquet of floral fragrance reminiscent of a traditional English garden, and Madagascar vanilla bean from the African coast is an alluring herb with a hypnotic aroma. Lastly, the Aztec Elixir offers “lingering aromas of the roasted cacao” made with cinnamon and chilies crushed in water. “The ‘bitter water’ arouses the deep mahogany swirls and fills the golden chalice. Just one sip and the powers exude the famed elixir of the Aztecs, ‘Xocatyl,’” says Markoff.
If you’re ever in Chicago, you can visit one of Vosges two boutiques located downtown. There you can sample some of the amazing flavors and admire how beautiful chocolate can be. Otherwise, you can log on to the Vosges Web site at www.vosgeschocolate.com and let the electronic images tickle your palate. The company also has a catalog that includes information on new products, special promotions and the Truffle of the Month Club, which makes an extravagant gift at $400 for a whole year.