In a world where it’s possible for a kid to not know what a potato looks like, in a world where you can microwave virtually any meal in a minute or two, in a world where people think boiling water is actually cooking……you could start to feel a little jaded and concerned about the future of food.
How incredible is it then, that in this very same world, in Brooklyn in fact, five years ago, two brothers decided to make chocolate in their apartment. In their apartment. Not chocolates. Chocolate. Not melting down blocks of chocolate, and adding this or that – heck anyone can do that (well, except me – I have no patience for tempering), but actual chocolate, from actual cocoa beans. For real. Do you have any idea what it takes to make chocolate from scratch? Love. Patience. Passion.
I have had a total chocolate crush for Mast Brothers for over a year. I am a sucker for anyone who goes out on a limb, perseveres at a craft and who makes a damn fine product. Last week I finally got to visit their bean to bar production facility in Williamsburg – a mere 15 minutes from Manhattan.
I don’t know if in a former life the brothers were stylists to the stars, but everything about Mast is gorgeous. I wanted to move into the store. Exposed beams and brick, a finely curated pastry assortment in vintage glass boxes, and a modern production facility that was completely and unequivocally spotless.
At Mast, the cocoa beans are sorted and oven roasted one sheet tray at a time, before being ground to separate the nibs(shell) from the bean. The beans are then stone-ground (conched) for well over 18 hours with only the addition of sugar. There are over a dozen different conchers, allowing beans from different countries or regions to be kept separate – ensuring the flavour of each origin bean is kept intact. The bulk chocolate is then set to age and develop flavour, preserving and enhancing each set of beans’ character and personality. The chocolate is then tempered in a sophisticated unit to ensure the perfect texture (snap) and shine, and deposited into bars. Some are garnished with a little something extra – always the most exquisite ingredients – roasted pecans, sea salt from Maine, a little Stumptown coffee. Finally the bars are placed in gold foil and then hand wrapped in the most gorgeous papers around – some vintage prints, some new, but each with a look that calls out – “Buy me for someone you love!” or “Devour me when nobody is watching!” (I may or may not have a dozen or so bars stashed away in my office for ‘emergencies’.) This homemade craft chocolate is unlike any other you have ever had, and is garnering the attention of many top chefs, including Thomas Keller – and you can even get a Mast Brothers Chocolate Shake at Shake Shack in NYC.
My Mast Bros crush started last summer when I got ‘wind’ of Rick and Michael’s four week sailing voyage to the Dominican Republic to procure 20 tons of organic cocoa beans. They set sail on a handmade (of course) 70ft schooner that took its builder a mere 25 years to build. (He had told his wife it would only take 5 years – wonder if she stuck around to see the finished product?) Off the brothers and crew went to pick up their cocoa beans for their scrumptious chocolate – as you do. Shockingly there were lots of hassles at customs in the DR, and when they returned to New York City, the harbour masters were confounded as the port had not received a cargo ship under power of sail since 1939. More paperwork, more convincing authorities they were not smuggling drugs, on top of the logistics of unloading a sailboat in a harbour designed to handle cargo vessels.
Seriously. How can you not absolutely love this story, these brothers, and this chocolate? “We tend to think of everything as simple as possible; why can’t you sail it?” says Rick Mast.
Simple would be picking up the phone and ordering 20 tons of cocoa beans to be brought to your back door. I would really, really hate to see a project the Mast Brothers view as complicated. It would be super scary if one of them had an idea but said “I think this is going to be somewhat difficult, and may pose a challenge or two, but let’s try anyway…”
Thing is, what they are doing harkens back to a simpler time. When cargo was actually shipped on schooners with less environmental impact. When people had a connection to where their food came from and how it landed on their plate. When people actually made chocolate, and when chocolate was actually chocolate – not ‘chocolaty’ (You know ‘chocolaty’ is not real chocolate – right? I hope so. It’s basically fat coloured to look like chocolate. Don’t eat that stuff. It’ll kill you. I don’t have any stats on that – but I am pretty certain…)
Mast Brothers Chocolate may be a little more expensive than other bars – but come on – they went to pick up the beans in a homemade boat! Think of each bar as a little gift – they are as gorgeous – something to be savoured and enjoyed – not scarfed back in three bites. This is real, rustic, dark chocolate, made with care by passionate folks, with hand selected ingredients from farmers around the globe that Rick and Michael have met and forged partnerships with. Not every bar tastes the same. Each one has its own nuances – some floral, some smoky, some fruity. That’s the point. It’s simple yet incredibly complex all at the same time – just like making chocolate in your apartment or sailing to the DR to pick up a few cocoa beans…..simple, but oh so worth the effort.
Check out the Mast site, and enjoy the videos about their story. http://mastbrothers.com/
Keep your eye out for a documentary to be released soon about their voyage to the Dominican Republic.
You can find Mast Brothers Chocolate in Toronto at the Drake General Store http://www.drakegeneralstore.ca/, and in the USA at fine retailers across the country.