CARIBBEAN CHOCOLATE AFFAIRS

“Chocolate is love that you can eat.” So why do we feel so guilty about indulging? Anu Lakhan says it’s time to accept that chocolate is actually good

Illustration by Shalini SeereeramIllustration by Shalini SeereeramZoe and Carsten Flindt. Photograph courtesy Flindt Patisseries

Chocolate is love that you can eat. As a result, we have long thought exceedingly
ill of it. But towards the end of the 1990s it seemed that chocolate’s bad
rap was melting away and a smooth, sweet acceptance of its health benefits
was setting in.

Chocolate was found to release endorphins (the feel-good chemicals)
and stimulate the production of serotonin (the body’s natural anti-depressant).
It also contains small amounts of phenylethylamine (the in-love chemical)
and anandamide (something resembling the mood-enhancer found in marijuana).
A much-quoted Harvard study said that men who ate chocolate lived longer.
We found out that the saturated fats in chocolate were not actually clogging
our arteries. Acne was not chocolate’s fault. Chocolate, then, makes you
happy and slightly giddy for no apparent reason, dreamy and possibly irrational,
and increases the span over which you will be able to enjoy this dermatologically
uncompromised life. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

Over-analysed, -justified, and -legitimised nearly to the point of distaste,
chocolate was poised to become the new red wine. But an enduring suspicion
of anything that seems too good is what separates us from the beasts of
the field, and a mere half-dozen years on I continue to suffer the amused
and bemused looks of fellow diners when I order a plate of chocolate éclairs
for lunch — yet no one raises an eyebrow at all the third glasses of wine
around the room. Obviously, the problem lies not in chocolate but in our
own feeble selves.

It has to do with our inability to cope with pleasure. If something is
beautiful, we think it is bad for us. If something makes us happy, we think
it’s a trap. If we are offered bliss, we say, “No, thank you, not on a school
night”. How did we get to the top of the food chain with such behaviour?
Why have whales or lions or the giant squid not knocked us out of the competition?
In nature, it is the ugly, thorny, smelly, stinky thing that is shunned.
We package it and call it health food. (As I write, Nature nods approvingly:
an ant strides across my keyboard to Valhalla — a crumb from a chocolate
hobnob.)

But here to contradict that is another bit of insight from that great anthropological
oxymoron, Western civilisation, telling us that if something is easy it’s
either a trick or worthless. If that’s the measure we’re using, then chocolate
is honesty itself, and priceless. It is mind-boggling that anyone — let
alone someone thousands of years ago, in the middle of hacking out one of
those giant stone monuments or sacrificing a thousand maidens — managed
to get chocolate out of that most unpromising cocoa bean.

It is a hard, bitter thing, that bean, and it continues to be unpleasant
for most of its processing; cocoa butter, the thing that influences the
taste, texture, and appearance of chocolate, is downright revolting. We
shouldn’t need a scientific thumbs-up to enjoy chocolate; we deserve to
bask in it, considering the trouble we take to get it into the world. How
is this less valid or sacred than how mothers feel about babies?

 

Some of the finest cocoa in the world comes from Trinidad. The Trinitario
bean is named for the island where it was born of the nuanced and flavourful
Criollo and the hardy Forastero varieties. French chocolatier Valrhona produces
its special Gran Couva blend entirely from the harvest of a single estate
in Trinidad’s Central Range.

Natural, political, and economic disasters aside, Trinidad’s
greatest tragedy is that none of the really good stuff, what Vogue’s
Jeffrey Steingarten called “haute chocolat”, makes it onto the local market.
The closest thing we have to real chocolate exotica is a ball of roasted,
crushed, but otherwise unprocessed beans. The cocoa is flavoured with spices
like cinnamon and nutmeg and bay leaves and pressed into something much
the size and weight of a golf ball, then grated to make tea. Theobroma
cacao
, food of the gods, seems like a tough name to live up to only until
you taste this.

Desire, temptation, obsession. We’ve got into a bad habit of talking about
chocolate like it was a romantic encounter turned rabbit-boiler. What has
chocolate ever done to deserve such slander? Chocolate has hardly ever been
anything but good to us. Has it not warmed us when we were cold, energised
us when we were weak, cheered us up when we were depressed/heartbroken/fired/lonely/ugly/angry?
Yet we treat it like a bad crush.

We keep it hidden (which does the chocolate no good, and profoundly increases
your susceptibility to vermin attacks). We spurn it in the presence of others.
Still, we stay up all night thinking about it.

A great many bars of chocolate were harmed in the production of this
column.

Ten cups of coffee around Bridgetown

Until recently, the Waterfront Café was the only place
for coffee lovers in Barbados. The tourism boom of the last ten years has
changed all that, and locals too have picked up the caffeine habit. For
women especially, coffee-houses are a welcome alternative to rum-shops and
bars. First came Patisserie Flindt, followed by the five outlets of Italia
Coffee House, and now no self-respecting cafe or eatery is without its espresso
machine. Prices range from B$5 to $8. Here’s a selection of cafés,
all within an easy walk or bus ride of the city centre.
Jane Bryce

1    Café Blue, Harrison’s Mall, Broad Street
A central place to meet before you hit the retail trail, or for a pick-me-up
when you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped.

2    The Waterfront Café, Bridgetown Marina
Still the best atmosphere in town, with music some lunchtimes and always
the gentle sway of the boats at their moorings.

3    Bean and Bagel Café, Bridge House
Catch the breeze above the Careenage with a fresh bagel for breakfast and
sample the gourmet coffee selection. Ever heard of Oreo Frappaccino?

4    Gigabytes Internet Café, Lower Bay Street

Conveniently placed in Independence Square, it beckons to those who can’t
bear to be off-line.

5    Jazz Café, Carlisle Bay Centre
Good for a working lunch, this is a little oasis in a part of town that’s
otherwise short of food-stops.

6    Mama Mia Italian Deli, Hastings Main Road
Coffee in Sorrento. Fresh homemade pasta, pizza, bread, and pastries —
and Mama’s loving care.

7    Patisserie Flindt, Rockley
Exquisite canapés and pastries. Splurge on lunch if it’s that time
of day.

8    Java Bean Café, Coconut Walk
Friendly Internet café with outside seating, though the ambience
is car-park. Plans for poetry evenings and book club meetings.

9    Opa! Greek Restaurant and Bar, Hastings Main Road
Greek coffee and pastries, as well as the usual Italian coffee. Specialty
coffees made with liqueurs also available.

10    Italia Coffee House, Quayside Centre
Sip or slurp al fresco. Smoothies and thick Italian shakes for the kids.

Mango long vs the world

“Your lordship, I rise in defence of the long mango.”
“Long mango? Surely you don’t mean . . .”
“Yes, your lordship, the very mango vert.”
“That garden variety . . .”
“Precisely, your lordship, because therein lies the problem.”
“I am not sure I follow you . . .”
“Your lordship, my client has been the subject of much derision over the
years.”
“Derision?”
“Calumny, even.”
“Really.”
“This is a clear case of mango marginalisation.”
“Proceed.”
“You yourself have referred to mango vert — long mango to some — as a common
or garden variety.”
“And, surely, so it is. As a boy growing up — and I’ll have you know that
I come from very humble stock and had to work my way up from having to walk
barefoot to school . . .”
“So say them all.”
“What’s that? Speak up, man, speak up!”
“I was merely reflecting on how hard you must have worked to reach your
present station.”
“Oh.”
“You were saying that when you were growing up, long mangos . . .”
“Were all over the place. In my yard, the neighbour’s yard, and the neighbour’s
neighbour’s yard. You could hardly walk without mashing one.”
“So easy to access and eat.”
“True enough, but . . .”
“But they weren’t julies.”
“Exactly!”
“Or starch.”
“Ummmm.”
“Or calabash.”
“So big, so round, so good.”
“And when last have you seen calabash selling on the street?”
“Well, come to think of it . . .”
“But long mango?”
“All over the place.”
“Easy to get.”
“Common or garden, I told you.”
“And that’s the problem my client, mango long or long mango or vert mango
or mango vert, faces on a daily basis.”
“What, what problem?”
“Prejudice, your lordship, prejudice!”
“Prejudice?”
“Yes, your lordship, rampant discrimination even.”
“Well, I don’t know about that. Rather stringy, if you ask me.”
“Hardly a salient point, your lordship!”
“Of course it’s salient.”
“But, your lordship . . .”
“Who wants to have strings in one’s teeth simply to enjoy a good mango?”
“With all due respect, a most minor irritant.”
“Julies have no strings . . .”
“But you have to have strings to get them.”
“Well, heaven is like sucking six starch . . .”
“Paying for them sure to suck you dry.”
“Calabashes, though . . .”
“More looks than taste.”
“So smooth and round . . .”
“And flat!”
“Flat? What do you mean by ‘flat’?”
“Flat, sir, you know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well, sir, bleah.”
“Bleah?”
“Kinda dead.”
“Ah — I see.”
“But a long mango, now . . .”
“A bit stringy.”
“But alive!”
“All over the place . . .”
“A boon to schoolchildren yet unborn.”
“Juicy enough, I suppose.”
“When you get a good one!”
“Precisely.”
“So you agree with me that . . .”
“That because long mangoes are . . .”
“Common or garden . . .”
“All over the place . . .”
“You bound to get good juicy ones.”
“Well, yes, sometimes . . .”
“Maybe even more often than not . . .”
“Well, yes, the law of averages being . . .”
“Point taken, then, your lordship!”
“Well, we don’t have the whole day here.”
“Your ruling, then . . .”
“Because its abundance and juiciness far outweigh the minor irritant of
stringiness . . .”
“Can you say, ‘occasional stringiness’?”
“Yes, yes.”
“Shall we say, then . . .”
“What I will say, and so let be recorded, is that because its abundance
far outweighs the minor irritant of occasional stringiness, and because it
will bring face-smearing joy to thousands of school-children yet unborn .
. .”
“To say nothing of cheap protein.”
“Cheap protein? What has that got to do with anything?”
“Nothing, sir!”
“Lawyers are always foisting irrelevancies on the court.”
“Sorry, sir.”
“Humph! Now where was I? Yes, the case of the marginalisation of a mango,
specifically long, aka vert. Because its abundance far outweighs the minor
irritant of occasional stringiness, and because it will bring face-smearing
joy to thousands of schoolchildren yet unborn, I now pronounce this goodly
fruit to be not a marginal but a mainstream mango.”
“Long live long!”
“Case closed!”
Keith Smith

 

Three questions for Carsten and Zoe Flindt

Since the opening of the first branch in 1998, the Flindt patisseries in
Barbados have been thrilling local audiences and gaining a regional reputation.
Jane Bryce talks to the owners about celebrity, quality, and chocolate.

Your patisseries are distinctive for their elaborate chocolate sculptures.
What’s so special about chocolate?

When I became a chef’s apprentice at 16, it was considered the dog-end
job. But while I was training I saw people working with chocolate, and I
realised how creative it was. All the top chefs are artists — they all paint,
draw, or sculpt. I just love making things out of chocolate. And then people
just love eating it — we sell handmade chocolates, Easter eggs, chocolate
desserts. All our chocolate comes from Belgium. It’s the best.

You have changed people’s tastes in Barbados. How do you feel
about that?

We’re really chuffed. Things have really changed in the last six or seven
years, people travel more, they watch cable TV, they have more international
tastes, and we came along at the right time to catch that mood. Also, people
are more health-conscious now, the demand is for lighter, more delicate
desserts. We pioneered coffee shops in Barbados, and it’s made us into sort
of celebrities. It’s a real honour.

You see a lot of well-heeled foreigners in the patisserie. Would
you say you cater mostly to visitors?

Not at all. Remember, we have three outlets: Flindt West in Holetown, Flindt
South in Rockley, and the restaurant in Sugar Hill. Sugar Hill is a gated
community, so we’re catering there to that sort of people, but between West
and South, it balances out, with South catering mainly to locals. People
have our cakes at their parties, but equally a worker will drop in during
his lunch-hour and buy a slice of banana or coconut bread.

The point is, people come to Flindt, whether they’re locals or visitors,
because of quality. We’re known for our bread and cakes, but we do lots
of other things — business lunches, private parties, breakfast platters,
weddings. Whatever it is, it has to be the best, best and freshest ingredients,
best presentation.