Friday, April 6, 2007

Live Organic Food Bar, js bonbons chocolate school -- one good, one bad...can you guess which?

Yesterday evening, my friend Jane and I had plans to go to a chocolate-making class at js bonbons so we needed to go for a super early dinner (5-ish) in the Spadina and Dupont area. I didn't know this neighbourhood very well, so I canvassed my friends, but it was hard to find a suitable place because Jane has recently become allergic to many things, including onions, shallots, garlic, chives, parsley, dill, and celery.

Jane didn't used to be allergic to these foods, but it just came on out of the blue in addition to becoming intolerant of wool, nylon, and latex. After seeing her allergist, he said that he didn't know why it happened, but that it usually clears up in about 5-7 years. It's so good to hear that it's not a permanent allergy, but I think it's tragic that Jane will be cut off from so much food (Chinese, Indian, Italian, French, etc.) until then.

So, Jane's eating out in restaurants these days is mostly restricted to Japanese, but I didn't know of any places in that neighbourhood so we ended up going to Live Organic Food Bar. Now, you may have seen the making of this restaurant on an episode of the Food Network show, Opening Soon. Like all the other episodes, it shows how difficult and taxing it is to open a restaurant and really makes you root for the owners' success. Live has been in business for a few years and raw food doesn't seem to have survived its fad stage from back when the girls in Sex and the City were turning up their noses at it, so I figured that this place must be appealing to people other than raw food enthusiasts. Um, it's not.

You know how in Footloose you weren't allowed to dance in that town? Say that in Toronto we were no longer allowed to cook and had to prepare food with only raw ingredients, I would eat at Live. Everything was definitely edible and I did eat everything I was served. But, if you are strictly judging the food on taste, it was not so good. I didn't eat anything that I would want to have again.

I had a combo plate that was a little bit of each of the four raw entrees served with salad. The portions were dollhouse-sized so not only was it bad, but there was so little of it (as David Sedaris says). The four entrees were: Bohemian ‘Wrap’sody, Rat-a-tat Primavera, Spaghetti & Neatballs, and Dhali Baba Pizza.

The salad was good -- fresh and lightly dressed with the house vinaigrette. The Bohemian 'Wrap'sody had in it what they called a flax and fresh herb 'pita', which was a dark brown/red colour and had a shoe leather mouthfeel. The avocado topping was creamy and tasty though, and the root veggie chips were crispy and nice. The Rat-a-tat Primavera had cauliflower 'rice' that reminded me of KFC coleslaw and the ratatouille part seemed to consist of dehydrated bits of eggplant, peppers, and onions. The 'Spaghetti and Neatballs' was a tiny bit of slivered zucchini 'noodles' topped with a Timbit-sized meatball facsimile made of 'I don't know what' and topped with marinara sauce that was stone cold. Now, I know that this is raw food, so it can't be hot, but could it at least be lukewarm? Looking at something that is supposed to approximate spaghetti and meatballs and then finding out that it is freezing cold is quite unappetizing. Lastly, the Dhali Baba pizza was a hard, grainy crust topped with nuts and a lot of green onions that were so strong I had to leave them on the plate.

Raw food, to me who isn't vegan, is like a party trick. See how I can make food without a stove. And all of the food mimics cooked items rather accentuating what is delicious about raw ingredients. It is not food; it's 'food'. I think that instead of faking cooked food, they should make amazing salads with fresh ingredients. I guess the problem with that is that raw food is supposed to be a lifestyle and Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore don't want to eat just salad all the time. I am happy for Jennifer Italiano, the creator/owner of the restaurant, that Live is a success and is getting good reviews, but I honestly don't know why. A good thing though was that the meal was incredibly virtuous, so we were free to indulge in the chocolate at js bonbons.

js bonbons is a chocolate shop owned and operated by Jenn Stone. As part of the business, she runs a chocolate school where you can attend classes in making and decorating chocolate. The class that we took was organized by the Globe and Mail as a special event for its subscribers (Jane is a subscriber). For the low price of 70$, we received 1-1/2 hours of chocolate instruction from Laura White, former pastry chef at Susur, as much Fruli strawberry beer that we could drink, a laminated card with chocolate recipes, and Belgian chocolate chips to take home to start making our own creations. The event was expertly organized and charmingly hosted by Susie Adelson who facilitated the evening and joined in on the class.

Some of the cool things I learned about chocolate are:

  1. Chocolate does not pair very well with wine because the acid fights against the cocoa solids. The best pairing is a drink that has sugar in it such as beer (Fruli is great!) or port. The bubbles in beer also help to cleanse your palate.
  2. When melting chocolate, you should use either a stainless steel or copper bowl because they are good conductors of heat. Do not use a glass bowl because glass is a very poor conductor.
  3. When stirring and handling melted chocolate, you should use a high heat spatula because regular ones could disintegrate and ruin your product.
  4. When double-boiling chocolate, keep the water on a very low boil because water could splash into the bowl. If water gets into your chocolate, it turns into fudge and it cannot be corrected. If this happens, you can still use the chocolate (for hot chocolate, etc.), but not for making bonbons.
  5. Ganache is a combination of chocolate and fat (35% cream and butter). Ganache can be used for the soft centres of truffles, hot chocolate mix, icing, mousse, and fillings of cookie sandwiches, among other things.
  6. When making truffles, the chocolate coating around the ganache must be airtight in order to keep bacteria out and prolong shelf life. If the seal is airtight, truffles can last for up to 10 days unrefrigerated.
  7. Chocolate should be kept at room temperature. Refrigeration subdues flavour.
  8. If you're serious about chocolate making, you might like to purchase a laser read thermometer that can take the temperature of a substance without touching it.
  9. The chocolate that professionals use, in its starting form, is called chocolate couverture, which you can buy in chips. The chip form makes it easy to melt the chocolate evenly.
  10. It's the cocoa butter in chocolate that gives it that melt-in-your-mouth feel. Cheap chocolate (like in chocolate bunnies) has a waxy mouthfeel because it has vegetable oil in it instead of cocoa butter.

The first thing we made was chocolate bowls using blown up balloons. All you do is blow up a small spherical balloon (with no writing on the outside), dip it in melted chocolate, and let it rest on a sheet of parchment paper. Once it dries, you can dip it again for a second coat. After that coat is completely dry, you snip the top of the balloon with a pair of scissors and it slowly deflates leaving a a lovely, round chocolate bowl.

Next we dipped strawberries in both milk chocolate and dark chocolate. When prepping strawberries for dipping, you need to wash and completely dry them. It's also important to keep the green tops on so that you have something to hold onto when dipping. I managed to only eat one during the class -- delicious.

The last thing we did was make our own truffles. Laura had pre-made different flavours of ganache for the centres, including lavendar, passionfruit, sea salt and caramel, Earl Grey tea, and coriander lime. To make ganache you need to boil 35% cream, add a flavouring, and let it sit for a while. Then, you boil it again to kill any bacteria, add it to melted chocolate, strain it, and then put it in containers to set in the refrigerator for a minimum of 12 hours. You need to take it out about 2 hours before using it to soften it up a little.

Making truffles is messy business. For the centres, you scoop out a bit of ganache from its container with your right hand, pinch it a bit to make it round-ish, and then roll it in your palms to create a perfect sphere. The ganache has a lot of fat in it and melts easily, so it helps if you have cold hands. I, unfortunately, have warm hands. I had to work fast. To coat the centres, you take a swipe of melted chocolate with your right hand, smear it on your left hand, put the truffle centre in the pool of chocolate in your left hand, take another swipe of chocolate with your right, roll the centre all around between your hands until it's covered, and drop it on the parchment to dry. If you're someone who is squeamish about eating food that is touched a lot, you may want to avoid truffles. I personally am a bit grossed out by melted chocolate, so this part was difficult for me. After our truffles dried, we decorated them with tiny piping bags of more melted chocolate. I admire the skill it takes to make pretty designs with icing. I am not too good at it, but I did my best.

We filled out chocolate bowls with our strawberries and truffles and Laura tied them up for us with cellophane and ribbon. All bundled up like that, everyone's bowls looked so pretty.

It was an excellent, hands-on class and I would recommend it to anyone. You can sign up for single or multiple classes as an individual, or you can gets some friends/colleagues together and have a private group class.

After the class was over, I met up with Darcy and a bunch of work friends at C'est What?, which was great because they ate some of the chocolate I just made so I didn't take it home and devour it all by myself. It wasn't completely gone by the time we left, so Darcy and I polished it off today. Yum.

Since Jane and I ate at like 5PM, I was starving by the time we got back to my neighbourhood at midnight. So, just like in that Sex and the City episode when they went to the raw food restaurant, we too had pizza afterwards. It was glorious. Long live cooked food.

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