Wednesday, 7 May 2008


Learning languages at school can be a surreal experience. In the early stages, you rarely learn anything that might be of use for that first exchange visit with Francois from Poitiers or Hans from Munich. Though I've spent a good part of my life in France, I'm yet to come across a cat in a hat (le chat est dans le chapeau) despite the textbook Tricolore suggesting that they're to be found in every boulangerie, boucherie and charcuterie across the land. In German lessons too, I learnt a good number of phrases that have since proved absolutely no use to me at all, such as Ich sammele gern tropische Fische (I like collecting tropical fish) and Lumpi hat sein Bein gebrochen (Lumpi has a broken leg). For some reason, 20 years on, this nonsense remains firmly embedded in my brain and unless I happen to be on a German ski slope with a reckless dog called Lumpi, I doubt if I'll ever get to use it. This makes me sad.

Of all the useless German phrases I learnt at school my favorite, and the one I will never forget, is Ich wohne in der Nähe von einem Schokoladenfabrik (I live near a chocolate factory). Just as with my tropische fische collection, this was another barefaced lie, probably constructed to make myself sound a bit more interesting in class. Everyone else would bang on about stamp collecting (Ich sammele gern Briefmarken) or live near boring old hospitals or schools (Ich wohne in der Nähe von dem Krankenhaus), but a chocolate factory? Now we're talking. Of course this led to a spate of oneupmanship where classmates would "move" and no longer live next to the hospital. Suddenly someone's parents would have bought a house next to a theme park (Ich wohne in der Nähe von des Themenpark), another would be close to a film studio (Ich wohne in der Nähe von des Filmatelier). In the end though, in a class full of teenage boys no one could outdo the guy who overlooked the nudist beach (Ich wohne in der Nähe von des Nacktbadestrand). Suddenly my chocolate factory didn't seem so interesting anymore. Still, it's a line I hope to use one day in casual conversation, perhaps if I ever move to Kilchberg in Switzerland, a German speaking town that happens to be the headquarters of Lindt.

All this talk of Willy Wonka and Schokoladenfabriken probably suggests that I am obsessed with chocolate, that I dream of sticking my head in a river of Scrum-diddly-umptious like that trailblazer of childhood obesity, Augustus Gloop. This couldn't be further from the truth. I don't actually like chocolate. There, I've said it now. My name is Pete and I don't like chocolate.

Sitting in a chocolate demonstration last week, I was the only person in class to raise their hand when the teacher asked if anyone didn't like chocolate. I think I was also the only person who raised their hand when the teacher asked who liked kidneys in the offal demonstration. What kind of freak am I? A few months ago I used chocolate with pigeon and it worked quite well but it's the cloying sensation of a lump of sweet chocolate in my mouth that I just can't handle. Yuk. Still, I know how much pleasure chocolate brings to most people, so it's a vital part of any culinary education and something I'm happy to learn. Working with chocolate can be hugely frustrating, incredibly messy, and requires a lot of patience. Keeping the temperature of tempered chocolate between 27 and 29 degrees can be a tricky job if your thermometer isn't precise but the shine and sharp crack of the finished product makes it all worthwhile. Although I couldn't appreciate the tasting experience of my first batch of chocolate truffles, I'm happy that they went to a good home in Emilie's office where I believe they lasted about three minutes.


Trig said...

Lol! I'm not much into chocolate, but then I don't like offal either. They'll never make a chef of me!

Anonymous said...

Willy wouldn't have been very "zu frieden" if you'd told him you don't like chocolate. Still reading this article has given me even more of a craving for it! Chris

Anonymous said...

I'd pick savoury over sweet any day but when Em said she had something 'special for us later from Pete' honestly I'd have tried anything. My own personalised little square of deliciousness lasted just long enough for me to pap it on my phone. (Obviously I intend to retire off the proceeds when you're famous enough for me to sell the pic on eBay!)

They were melt-in-the-mouth. There were lots of ooohs and ahhhs. And I feel quite ashamed as a devout cheese lover that I couldn't resist joining in.

Thanks again for thinking of us

Lizzie said...

To my boyfriend's dismay, I'm not a great chocolate fan either - I'm especially adverse to white chocolate - so any chances of me making anything particularly chocolatey are slim to none!

Anonymous said...

To say you don't like chocolate is a bit like saying you don't like vegetables. It covers such a wide array of flavours.

I appreciate you don't like the sickly sweet stuff, but what about some of the more bitter flavours. There are some great single estate bars out there by the likes of Pralus and Valhrona. And for that sickly sweet stuff, Maison du Chocolat and Paul A Young are bloody marvellous.

Private Chef said...

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Pete said...

I get what you're saying Anthony, and in fact we tasted a range of bars from disgusting Dairy Milk to the finest Pralus in class. I'm afraid the Pralus still didn't do it for me. Yes it was miles better than claggy Dairy Milk, but it didn't take me to some higher plain that some other people seem to reach. It wasn't objectionable, it was just ok.

I've seen the look on some people's faces when they eat a death by chocolate dessert. Their eyelids flicker, and then they start trembling like a member of a weird American pentecostal congregration as they pretend to be possessed by "The Lord". Let's just say that chocolate never has that effect on me.

Pete said...

Hello Private Chef

I actually came across your site a few months ago and took pleasure in watching you fry the perfect steak! What incredible energy you have. I really liked the idea of the site and followed your method for caesar salad too. Thanks for adding me to your blog list.

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