Thursday, 19 November 2009

All that Jazz - Slow Food Market this weekend.

Hi ravers...and jazz heads - this weekend has your names all over it: Slow Food Market + jazz - imagine!

I'm not much of a jazz head but I love a good bit of live horn action on the piazza - and it makes a great backdrop for chocolate...

This weekend we will be serving special Choc Star hot chocolates (yeah, they'll be special all right - for those that know what to ask for), High-Rise Millionaire's shortbread with salted caramel, toasted walnut fudge brownies, Venezuelan hot chocolate shots and Peruvian Maker's Mark infused truffles. Oh, and chocolate bars of varying percentages.

Parp parp!

The Slow Food Market takes place on Southbank Square on the road side of the Southbank Centre, SE1.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Getting Involved

A five course dining extravaganza is occurring. On Sunday night at Hawksmoor, home of some of the tastiest pieces of meat in town, some lucky folks are in store for a serious treat.

Organised by the ever energetic Niamh of Eat Like a Girl and headed up in the kitchen by Scandilicious powerhouse Sig, the night gives London food and drink bloggers' the chance to leverage their blagging capabilities and drum up a whole load of goodies for the very good cause that is Action Against Hunger.

Suppliers from far and wide have given generously to the calls of the bloggers/blaggers in order that such a feast can be laid on and numerous prizes be bid for. If you'd like to come and be part of the giving - whilst getting to indulge in all the deliciousness as the same time - head here to buy tickets.

Choc Star's donation is experiential. I have pledged to turn up at any location in metropolitan London and serve dessert from the choc-mobile to a dinner party of 12 - date to be decided between us and valid for one whole year.

Imagine that!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

I heart New York like WOAH!

I arrived back from my New York trip two weeks ago - and haven't quite known how to tackle the task of explaining in any meaningful way quite what went on over there. It's like this: take a person (me) who has a massive sweet tooth, dispatch them to a city that was founded on sugar, pique that person's curiosity with hundreds of tips, articles, blogs and general heresay and then set them loose for three weeks to rampage the streets and devour all in sight.

Of course it wasn't just sugar I was shovelling - but savoury stuff can be discussed elsewhere. This is the sweet spot and it was as evil as it was good.

Not that The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck's famous 'Choinkwich' didn't deliver a stealthy layer of salt. I tracked the highly amusing Doug down in Union Square on his last day of trading for the summer. He was holed up in the truck, dipping and grinding - thrusting out of his hatch all manner of precarious and obscene looking ice cream snacks.

I went straight for the Choinkwich. I needed to know. Between two crunchy choc cookies were voluptuous layers of chocolate soft-serve, on top of which, stretched out in a translucence that was awkward, lay two slices of streaky bacon. I got stuck in, the soft-serve exploding out of either side of the cookies, a crumble, then into the fatty fronds. A kind of glycerined saltiness prevailed, then grease. Grease alongside cold, creamy choc - and cookie crumbs all up in my new Brooklyn nails. I thanked him for the experience and got the hell out of there.

My friend Josh who I stayed with in Williamsburg introduced me to his favourite restaurant in all of New York. All the way down Grand St, under the tracks and to this really odd, pointy little building lies Moto, sold to me as 'just like the restaurant in Delicatessen'. Three of us were given a table for two. A gravel voiced guy sang Ragtime with his group. Questionable items dangled from the ceiling and the lighting was LOW. The grilled donuts came after pudding - we couldn't resist those soft, sugared mounds.

Uptown in West Harlem on a grey, hungover day. I cut through Morningside Park at just the right side of daylight and then chanced upon Make My Cake - a contender for best red velvet cake in New York. I'd already had Cake Man Raven's in Brooklyn so thought I'd give it a whirl. I loved both but there was something about the cosiness of this spot on 116th St that got me all caught up by the cake - and all those other cartoon-like extravaganzas in the counter.

Frozen custard. Those two words are like a great jolt of joy to my entire system. The Shake Shack was high on my list of places to check out - but when we got to the front of the line I froze. How the frick was I supposed to make one choice? I went for a malted chocolate shake in the end. We hauled our orders over to a table and then set about the challenging task of sucking up what was essentially a pint of ice cream - with perhaps a 5 second blast in the microwave. Fat bitch!...but rich and delicious and full of (naughty)goodness.

Someone told me about Roni Sue and her Pig Candy when I was in Paris. Here she was in a little shop in Essex Street Market in the heart of the super Jewish Lower East Side peddling choc-covered bacon. Apparently her sales go soaring right before Passover. Originally sold by her neighbour (and Steve Buscemi look-a-like Jeffrey the butcher), the Pig Candy really caught on and now she's one of the market's main attractions. I tucked into a maple and bacon lollipop and bought some hog choc for the good folk back home (not really my kinda thing as it turned out but great for the looks on people's faces when they receive it).

Clinton Street Bakery: home of the city's best blueberry pancakes. I've had a thing about short stacks ever since being taken to California in the '80s. I was then removed from my new spiritual home and taken on a hippy trek round Mexico via brake-less buses. The highlight for me was whenever we got to stay in 'American style' hotels and I got to re-live my diner dreams. These ones were giant, pillowey discus' of berry studded perfection, drenched - so as to make each 'cake lousy with syrup - in warm maple butter.

Needless to say my walking style took on a heavy waddle character for the next two hours and totally hindered my eat/walk ratio for the rest of the morning.

Hungover in Williamsburg, en route to Queens - a Van Leewan ice cream truck appeared. Unable to consume coffee for fear of feeling like the the end of the world is nigh for the next six hours, I went for the next best thing: a scoop of espresso ice cream. It got me all the way to Greenpoint - a wonderful, warm October day, striding along thinking I was doing ok - before dumping me as soon as I'd finished it, into the truth of the matter: wretchedness.

I picked up this pecan Chelsea Bun from the hottest baker in Bristol, Rhode Island. Well, that's what I was told anyway. The bun was like a meal.

My pal Simon urged me to visit Otto. 'Forget about the mains' he said, 'straight for the gelato'. I almost took heed but can almost never turn down a plate of rigatoni with salsicce, so began with that. It was damn good and a perfectly manageable size, which was unusual. Then to the gelato: salted caramel, milk choc-chip and olive oil with Maldon sea salt. Meredith Kurtzman is New York's best ice creamist according to many. It was light, super smooth, intensely, cooly flavoured and really pepped me up for the hike uptown that afternoon.

A tray of pecan blondies from Kim's fabulous Treats Truck. We became fast friends as soon as the words 'choc treats from a van' were mentioned. It was so fascinating being in someone elses mobile sweet zone. Kim is a proper grafter and as much as I put in the hours at all sorts of unsociable times, this girl never stops. Her chocolate chip cookies were my ideal kind: chewy, extra buttery and studded with deep, dark, fruity choc chips.

And as for her peanut butter cookie sandwiches...fugeddaboudit.

One of my inspirations for beginning Choc Star happened when I was last in New York. A visit to Mariebelle and a taste of their Aztec hot chocolate really got me thinking about our own, largely hopeless hot chocolate offerings over here. It was small, powerful, spicy and gave me that inside grrrr that makes the world seem right. That was five years ago when my taste buds were perhaps a bit less focussed. This time, I'm sad to say, the hot choc tasted like it was from a packet - albeit a far superior packet than an Options or Galaxy sachet.

Egg, a diner round the corner from where I was staying was a revelation. A bit rock n roll, brilliant service, warm, inviting and serving almost wholly egg related dishes. Pancakes, waffles, biscuits, Chelsea Buns, omelettes and great big doorsteps of brioche French toast. If you're feeling cheeky (I was) then you can get a grapefruit Mimosa to help things along. We didn't want to leave.

Things got kind of strange at Momofuku Milk Bar. There we were, sheltering from the horrific, whipping rain and just up for a small slice of something each...when the order got messed up and they decided to bend over backwards to make it better by giving us one of practically everything on the menu. We got compost cookies (pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, chocolate chips), candy bar pie (chocolate crust, caramel, peanut butter nougat, pretzels), cereal milk flavour soft serve, cornflake choc-chip cookies, more soft serve and then...CRACK PIE.

I'd heard talk of this stuff all the way over in Brooklyn. It was described to me as like taking all the pecans and the pie crust out of a pecan pie and then turning up the volume on that...stuff in the middle. What we were confronted with was a pie made entirely out of sugar, save for a delicate lacing of rolled oats, there to give the impression of a base.

I'd nearly finished it before I remembered to take a pic - and was wired for the next thirty minutes, whereupon I wanted more. That's how it works.

Sweet potato and pie crust flavour bowls of soft-serve in Momofuku Noodle Bar. Pie crust :), sweet potato not so much.

Chocolate bread pudding at the Hudson. We sat in this strange Harry Potter-esque hall with long banquet tables and enormous high-backed chairs, dining on the finest mac 'n' cheese and chicken Caesar salad. We shared the pud - I ate most of it.

Chocolate and peanut butter ice cream from Emack & Bolios in the West Village. The woman really tried to hard sell me these freaks of nature...

...but I said 'Listen lady, that is just a bridge too far'.

There were all sorts of other treats I managed to find space for in my body but think I'd be pushing it to fit on here. The long and the short of it is that New York is a mecca for all kinds of sweetness. You can't move without seeing a heavy frosted cupcake or a big bulging Rice Krispie treat. Ice cream parlours are round every corner and open til way late at night and I've never seen so many cake shops in all my life - not even in France.

If you like food - of any description - go! Jump into that adventure playground of greed and let it swallow you whole. There may be hints of gout nuzzling up to you by the end of it but that town will feature in your day and night dreams for years and years to come.

Big up to the city that makes you feel brand new!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Choc Star in Delicious Online

Check out this Q&A I did with Delicious Online as part of the Chocolate Week activities (for which I'm there in spirit....).

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Getting ready to crunch down.

Right, that's me - summer 2009 was a blast but it's time for a holiday now. I'm off across the Pond for three weeks and Jimmy's having a little break of his own (He doesn't say much but I can tell he's glad of the downtime).

So for now choc fans, here are a few souvenirs until we get back on the road. Our next gig will be the Slow Food Hallowe'en Market outside the Southbank Centre on Belvedere Road - come by for some ghoulish treats....

Monday, 5 October 2009

Victory Primary School chocolate tasting

Schools are different these days. All schools in the country who are involved with the International Scheme have as their Year Three topic, 'Chocolate'. They then study all elements of that subject - from where it comes from to how it got to Europe to why it's so good for you. A teacher who'd visited the van before asked if I'd like to come along and kick start this fun type of learning. I love doing kids' tastings so I happily agreed.

When I rolled into the playground I got mobbed....

Then the playground assistants had to get some of the older kids to stand guard over the choc while I went to scope out the tasting spot. Everything in position we began - and group after group were led out to learn about the magic of choc.

They were such great kids - wild and loud and helpful and sweet. I'm going to scope out some more schools - it's a trip!

Friday, 2 October 2009

September sojourns

Jimmy parked up outside Chiddingstone Castle for a wedding special.

At Monsoon HQ - we swung by their offices to serve hot chocs, ice cream, truffles and brownies...this guy came along after the crowds had dispersed. (Beautiful offices by the way - full of whacking great pieces of pop art).

The bright, deep blue skies of sunny Suffolk where we pitched up for the Aldeburgh Food Festival. As ever it was magical to be there and back on home soil.

ORMS anniversary party in EC1 - this incredible old Victorian warehouse. And the whole thing was catered by local joints: the salt beef guy, Gujarati Rasoi, Cafe Kick, Moro (the best, most smokily delicious gazpacho ever)...and Choc Star!

We also made it up to Ludlow for the magnificent food festival, now in its fifteenth year. What an operation! And so nice to see a whole load of new food stalls - all from the Shropshire area. We stayed on my old friend Chris' pig farm, ate loads of sausages and drank perry galore.

Maradonna! A wedding that was so wonderfully colourful. Theme: UN costume. And it was all held in the divine grounds of Wadham college, Oxford.

And after a few months away we are happy to have returned to the Southbank for the Slow Food market. Lots of familiar faces cropped up. I love this girl's quiff.

...and this family hired the van for their baby's 1st birthday party when Choc Star was in its first year of business. Great to see them still enjoying the treats so much.

And these two are just too darn cute.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Ludlow - I'm bracing myself

Apparently it gets absolutely manic so I've been getting in training and am currently surrounded by all things choc as I attempt to prep for the Big One.

Choc Star will be parked up outside the Castle for the whole weekend. On the menu will be choc ice creams, hot chocolates, darkest oloroso truffs, frozen choc-dipped nanas, brownie fudge sundaes...and maybe a few iced choc martini shots if we can get away with it.

Can't wait to start inhaling that sweet Shropshire air...

Thursday, 3 September 2009

August Choctivities

August was a pretty mellow month what with going away to Paris and spending time on the homestead down in Suffolk...and the matter of a festival cancelling on us at the last minute. Apparently everyone involved with rigging it up panicked and demanded cash up front from the organisers. The whole thing then collapsed. Recession panic - lots of it going around. The traders will be seeking compensation - more on this later.

Here are some of the punters we served...

Adorable Bangla boys in Barking at an event to reclaim the area from BNP clutches.

Early Hallowe'en fanatic test-driving her costume.

These two were delighted to discover Jimmy at last...

This kid in Haverhill, Suffolk was terrified of giving us an open mouthed smile...bad teeth or something.

Pestival and the return of the Slow Food market

Right, we're back in town and ready for Slow Food action. This weekend - Fri, Sat & Sun - Choc Star will be parked up outside the Southbank Centre and taking part in the annual Pestival...err festival.

I'm hoping that all sorts of insalubrious looking bugs and critters might turn SE1 into a bit of a den of chaos this weekend. I say that because I'll be safe and sound inside the choc-mobile. If you're in the area and feeling a bit scared of things that go CCCCCCRRRrrrrrrrriiiiii in the night then sidle over to us and choose a treat.

This weekend we'll have deeply treacherous Rocky Road, frozen choc-dipped bananas, darkest Oloroso truffles, brownie fudge sundaes, ice cream and yes, it's time to get out the hot choc machine and get frothing.

See you there!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Literary, chocolatey Paris

I arrived in Paris ready to pounce on all that gorgeousness....I sort of surprised myself by taking off in the midst of the summer (unheard of thus far in the Choc Star story!) but when I read about the writing course being run out of Shakespeare & Co by Faber & Faber, everything inside of me just went BOOM!

I booked the course and the train on the same day and kept my tickets and course info tucked away in my desk, occasionally pulling it out to glance over and delight in the prospect of my future Parisienne adventure.

Did I ever mention that I love adventures? The idea of extracting oneself from the homestead and reaching out into unknown places to engage in whatever happens to come your way - oh, the luxury!

Off I sped on my EuroStar train to a chorus of 'Have a good journey, Miss' from all the terribly English ticket collectors (so Brief Encounter!), a couple of hours later I was harpooned straight into a baking Paris afternoon.

And there the holiday really got going...beginning with an immediate attempt at the Hemingway Bar in the Ritz.

'Sorry Mademoiselle but eet eez a leetle urly for ze bar' the dashing doorman warned me - but was kind enough to whisk my luggage odd somewhere safe while I hit the streets instead...and stumbled very quickly upon La Maison du Chocolat.

A Caracas chocolat froid and deep, rich Entremet were soon in my reach, the Rue St Honore but moments away and a whole week of chocolate treats, lunchtime glasses of wine and literary ramblings to indulge in.

This is the view from the appartment I stayed in - my brother's friend Dhiarmid tossed me the keys as he made off for a hike across Utah leaving me his Bonsais to tend to and a whole world of music to get me in the mood - it was Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg and MC Solaar for me from the get-go...

I walked and walked - at first, optimistically in heels then, way more realistically, in flats - taking in the full stretch of endless Rues and Boulevards. From the austere enormity of the Arc de Triomphe to the dusty, lounger studded Jardin de Luxembourg. I covered so much distance that I went through almost a whole box of plasters.

And when it got too much there was the wonderful Arthouse atmosphere of the Metro. I don't know what it is about that bunch of trains all burroughing through their different tunnels, but I love those almost sterile metallics and not quite crystaline strip lights, the retro orange of the plastic seats, the wheeze, hiss and belch of the doors slamming open and barking shut.

And so quick! Delivering me into the centre for the discovered, tourist flooded must-sees, but then out to the 'other Paris' - to Chateau Rouge, Chateau d'Eau, Stalingrad, Jaures, Belleville - for electricity fizzing up from the pavements, duty free fags, boiled sweetcorn with too much salt and endless amounts of the HUSTLE.

But when I discovered the Velib bicycle hire situation I was beside myself with delight. Off to class I'd go every morning, gliding down the Champs Elyses, past the Louvre, under the bells of Notre Dame and over the Seine. The French still have a lot to learn about the concept of the cyclist and I got into one or two hairy situations - but nothing that couldn't pacify me with chocolate or cake.

The two 'c' words! In August. And so almost every single one of the choc-spots and patisseries I had earmarked were resolutely ferme. So I had to pick it up where I could find it - and if that meant eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner then it was just the way things were going to have to play out. There was always cycling pre and post to keep me on an even keel.

At lunch with my godmother along came this rather 80s looking gateau.

Berthillon saved my life on the hottest day I've had this year - chocolat and cacao amer nestled into a crunchy sugar wafer basket.

I probably should've had another little hamper of the stuff.

In a super old school Bistro one night with a waiter who looked like a cartoon caricature of a french waiter - one of those really barrel-shaped ones - my head was turned by the fondant au chocolat. It seeped out of its dark spongey shell so obligingly.

Pain au choc for brekky - always. Or else the croissant aux amandes. Or the choc/almond combo croissant. But at times the Nutella croissant felt like the right thing to do.

What are they doing here? Oh yes, that's right - heaven on the eyes.

At drinks one night we were fed so well and I didn't even think about a dessert - but then along came these. Super dark Valrhona ganache with a pralinee, crackle-crunch base. Lord they did their job - I had about eight.

Chocolate mousse at dinner one night. I'd say it was a cream-less one, just choc, egg whites and sugar, Raymond Blanc style.

Oh God, the macarons. I ate so many frickin' macaroons I feared for myself and others. This one was violette from Sadahuru Aoki in Lafayette Gourmet and got me every which way and loose. I ate it in Les Halles while having a rest from cycling.

One final lunch in Le Comptoir de Relais finished with this group: Chocolat piment, vanille & caramel buerre sale. That chef had a touch that was petal light when it came to the ice cream. Some of the best I've ever had.

And with that marvelous end to the wonderful eating, the magical writing course and the healthy dose of exercise I ordered an absinthe and then ordered a cab.