May your New Year be healthy, happy, and prosperous, and offer you rewarding experiences wherever you go!
Article by Margot Liebman
Photos by Aaron Lubarsky
La Maison du Chocolat Madison Avenue store
We thought we knew chocolate until we tasted some of the products of La Maison du Chocolat (1018 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10075, http://www.lamaisonduchocolat.us/la-maison/en_us, +1 718 361-9161), a French company. At the time of our tasting, in addition to locations in France and several in New York City, the company had shops in China, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Macau, and United Kingdom.
Inside the Madison Avenue storeWe arrived on a cool, sunny morning in mid-October as the Madison Avenue store was opening. The city was just waking up, with people on their way to work and the streets starting to fill with the daily bustle. Located in an upscale neighborhood, La Maison du Chocolat’s boutique shared a block with prestigious clothing stores and cafes. During our visit, we each tasted six chocolate truffles, one macaron and two types of hot chocolate. We returned home with a box of six macarons (meringue and almond flour confections).
Macarons on display
At the front of the store shelves displayed various chocolate collections in signature dark brown boxes. There was also a counter with individual chocolates, as well as fresh pastries laid out in the window. The shelved collections of chocolate were organized by individual lines, including: Truffles, Maison Icons, Pralines, Chef’s Creation, Grand Carrés, Chocolate Treats, and the 40th Anniversary line. One of the friendly staff explained that the Maison Icons are the best selling line because they are the most well known, and come in boxes that may be customized.
The shop had the understated aesthetic we expected from a chocolatier: dark brown boxes, neatly organized chocolate truffles on display, and minimal decorations on the walls. In the back of the store there was a small café where we sampled six square chocolate truffles arranged in order of darkness. I started with Akosomno, the darkest chocolate. It was deep and smooth, and revealed an unexpected spicy note at the end. Next was Caracas, a bolder experience and by far the most intense. Boheme, the third on the plate, was the perfect harmony between milk chocolate and dark, the two notes came in and out as it melted on my tongue. I normally do not favor chocolate mixed with fruit, but Salvador was an exception. The dark chocolate mixed with an acidic raspberry ganache (a filling made from chocolate and cream) was tangy and exciting. Crystal touched all the notes evenly for a perfect flavor: it was a delicate blend of crispy, sweet, nutty praline wrapped in silky milk chocolate, finished with a touch of sea salt. Lastly, Grain Dentelle’s milk chocolate blended caramelized nuts and crispy pieces of crepes for a subtle, crunchy texture.
Busy staff behind the counter
It was early in the morning when we tasted the truffles, so we tried to restrain ourselves. We were unsuccessful. The chocolates were so rich and delicious, we ate most of what was on our plates.
We sampled six chocolate truffles
We tried two types of hot chocolate. Guayaquil was like the luxury version of my childhood hot chocolate. It was creamy and sweet, but grounded by the gravitas of fine chocolate. Caracas was an unexpected experience for me. It had a full-bodied flavor with a light texture.
La Maison du Chocolat’s 40th anniversary limited edition macaron
We also sampled a La Maison du Chocolat’s 40th anniversary limited edition macaron, which was filled with dark unctuous ganache and subtle passion fruit within a thin and crunchy chocolate disk and soft, chewy cookie.
In the cafe in the back of the store we sampled six chocolate truffles arranged in order of darkness
As we indulged in the tasting, the staff recounted the story of La Maison du Chocolat, and the reasons they believe their chocolate is so special. Rami Sarabi, country manager, told us that ganache is the secret. Robert Linxe, who founded La Maison in 1977, was known as the “Sorcerer of Ganache.” Linxe insisted on making chocolate the old-fashioned way, which takes three days, according to Sarabi. The result, he said, should be a perfect balance between silkiness and richness. We found this to be true. The flavors came in waves as the ganache melted, making for a layered and sophisticated experience.
One of the display cases
Before Linxe passed away, he appointed his protégé, Nicolas Cloiseau, head chef. Today, Cloiseau oversees over thirty chefs. According to the staff, the chocolate on sale at the company shops was made in France following meticulous, traditional methods, and shipped to the various stores around the world.
Rami Sarabi, country manager, and Eva Rousseaux, manager, Marketing
We were pleased to learn from Rami that all of the cocoa in the shop was from sustainable sources. The staff reported that they could trace each piece of chocolate back to the exact location from which the bean was harvested. We tasted three macaron flavors, Quito, Maracuja, and Rigoletto. Each macaron, we were told, was made in France and shipped to the various stores worldwide. The ones we sampled were not refrigerated. After a week on our shelf they remained fresh. The wafers were soft with a chewy texture, and melted on the tongue.
Quito was an airy and sweet milk chocolate wafer, a perfect compliment to the dark chocolate ganache. The passion fruit of the Maracuja macaron was tangy, its tropical tones highlighting the deeper notes of the ganache. The Rigoletto brought me back to a traditional flavor, with the middle-sweetness of caramel. In addition to being delicious, the macarons looked delightful lined up together.
Our hot chocolate was served in disposable cups.
We loved the rich taste and high quality of the chocolates at La Maison du Chocolat, as well as the luxurious experience of the boutique itself. We plan to return to the shop, sit in the café, close our eyes, and be swept away by the complex flavors.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox*
Bean to Bar Chocolate by Megan Giller
I have had chocolate in a number of forms and locations ranging from exotic and improbable such as a safari lodge and mundane such as my kitchen. I have sampled supermarket milk chocolate bars and dark chocolate gourmet bars, foreign and domestic. Over the years my preference has migrated from garden variety milk chocolate to the more flavorful options offered by specialty brands and artisan vendors. For some time I have been a fan of single origin chocolate bars, especially the plain dark chocolate ones layered with flavors.
My most recent chocolate experiences were enhanced manifold by Bean to Bar Chocolate America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution (Storey Publishing, $19.95), a new book by Megan Giller. Thanks to her detailed descriptions, I became much more aware of the diversity of the domestic craft chocolate movement and dozens of bean to bar makers. The 231-page hardcover book published this year features color photos, color illustrations and chocolate recipes.
Bean to Bar chocolate from Uganda grown and crafted in Africa
My favorite part of reading her book was the gourmet experiences that followed from preparing her recipe for Water-Based Drinking Chocolate (from Aubrey Lindley, co-owner, Cacao). I also tried the Cocoa Tea (from Miss Choco) made with roasted nibs and water, although that was less to my liking. Once I procured the chocolate bars the Water-Based Drinking Chocolate was a cinch. Like the Cocoa Tea the recipe calls for only two ingredients, chocolate (or roasted nibs) and boiling water.
A few ounces of chocolate melted in a little hot water highlighted the qualities of each type we tasted.
For the Water-Based Drinking Chocolate we sampled four chocolate bar varieties, an organic and sustainably produced bar purchased at the supermarket; a bean to bar 70 percent single origin from Uganda made by De Villiers Artisan Chocolate near Paarl, South Africa; and a half and half blend (all we had available were partial bars) of single origin bean to bar Honduras The Lost City 72 percent and Dominican Republic Duarte 70 percent from Castronovo Chocolate from Stuart, Florida.
The beverage made with the supermarket bar was so awful we threw it out without finishing the serving. The Ugandan beverage tasted better although it was lumpy and had a medium to mild flavor, nothing extraordinary. The texture, even after whipping it twice with a small whisk, was lumpy. In defense of the makers it was past its expiration date. It was a good thing that we first tried the recipe with the Castronovo chocolates because we might not have sampled further otherwise.
The Castronovo chocolate bars were our favorites for the chocolate beverage.
The Castronovo blend was delightful, dark and rich with a hint of smokiness and flavors that lingered on the palate. Later, I bought more of the Dominican Republic Duarte, my favorite of the two available at the small shop where I purchased them, planning another Water-Based Drinking Chocolate made with those bars. Also, I want to sample more domestic bean to bar chocolates and plan tastings, maybe even try some of the other recipes in the book.
Megan Giller, author, Bean to Bar Chocolate
Giller, a Brooklyn resident, is a food writer, specializing in New York City and Austin, Texas. She writes Chocolate Noise, a blog. Giller’s chocolate knowledge shines throughout the book and her enthusiasm is contagious. She shares information on the craft movement, the people behind the chocolates from the farms to the makers and their approach to purchasing cacao beans, roasting, processing and making mostly single origin chocolate, mainly with only a limited number of ingredients. She also addresses history, equipment, labels, sustainable practices and pricing. There is a list of her favorite bean to bar makers in the back of the book.
*Book photos: Storey Publishing
Article and photos by Aaron Lubarsky
The Cineluxe Backback 24
The Cineluxe Backback 24 by Tenba (Tenba, 75 Virginia Road, North White Plains, New York 10603, +1 914 347 3300, www.tenba.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) is a simple, large, lightweight backpack bag, made in China, designed for professional cinema cameras and electronic news gathering (ENG) rigs. On the road it was a non-nonsense, durable, weather-resistant bag that solved a specific problem: how to best carry a large fully built (with all the camera components assembled) camera rig on my back.
The backpack straps
It improved my efficiency in the field. The doctor bag style opening was a refreshing design innovation, allowing the camera to remain fully assembled and ready to go, which is a huge convenience for run-and-gun style filming or when time is a factor.
The interior of the Tenba Cinelux Backpack 24
The bag is large (13.5 wide by 24 tall by 14.25 deep, inches), but surprisingly nimble. Weighing eight pounds it was practical for quick moves from location to location, thanks to a comfortable harness and straps, and weathered tough conditions thanks to a body armor base panel.
A closer look at the compartments
The handles are reinforced
The two side pockets didn’t open entirely because they were designed to hold shotgun mics, matte boxes, and flags. For that purpose they performed well, but there wasn’t an easily accessible pocket for small items like my wallet or cellphone. It’s not that kind of bag.
Color coded padded wraps
And it’s not the kind of heavy, solid bag I would check-in at the airport or load up with lots of accessories. It is too big for lean and small camera set-ups. It has the elegant touches I have liked on other Tenba bags, including attractive blue metal bands engraved with the Tenba name and a leather trimmed handle.
Article and photos by Aaron Lubarksy
The Tenba 21 Hybrid Roller
I really wanted to love the Tenba 21 Hybrid Roller (Tenba, 75 Virginia Road, North White Plains, New York 10603, +1 914 347 3300, www.tenba.com, email@example.com). On paper it’s the perfect camera bag: a solid, versatile, roller bag that I can also throw on my back. On the road its performance was mixed. It was a terrific bag with a couple of small but maddening flaws that drove me a little nuts on a recent shoot.
The Hybrid Roller offered a generous amount of storage space.
The Hybrid Roller, made in China, offered a generous amount of storage space, flexibility, and elegance. It had plenty of zippers and inner pockets, including a removable padded camera insert. It comfortably held everything I needed for a recent DSLR shoot, including my sound gear and a laptop. The interior dimensions of the bag were 12 wide by 17 tall by 7 deep, in inches. It had a handy drop-in tripod carrier which was a nice (and space-efficient) touch. If I wanted security, this bag had me covered with two built in locking mechanisms: a steel security cable and lock plus an integrated TSA (Transportation and Security Administration) approved zipper lock. Like other Tenba bags I have used, the roadie 21 was durable, weather resistant and a cut-above the competition in terms of luxury and style. I liked it for carry-on luggage.
The Hybrid Roller single exterior pocket
As someone who likes to keep things organized I love pockets and compartments, so a minor gripe I had with this bag was the lack of an easily accessible exterior pockets (for a boarding pass, water bottle, kindle, snack, chargers). The Hybrid Roller only had only one exterior pocket, which made the bag look sleek and discrete, but limited its practicality for travel. While the exterior could have used more pockets, the interior delivered on that front and provided a safe home to my gear.
The built-in steel security cable and lock
However, the backpack part just didn’t cut it for me. The bag lacked the kind of padding and contours that are a natural feature in most bags designed to be backpacks I have used. When on my back it was uncomfortable and rigid, the straps felt thin, and the bag felt heavy and bulky (it weighed 11 pounds empty). It was my primary bag on a recent three day travel shoot from New York City to Utah and Idaho. By day two I was only using it as a roller bag.
The integrated TSA approved zipper lock
I was hoping as a hybrid I could easily switch from backpack to roller bag, but when I had the backpack area opened, the straps would get caught in the wheels, ruining my flow (and the straps). Bottom line: to use it as a roller bag, I needed to first put away the backpack set-up (or cut the straps). For my colleagues who want a hybrid bag, and have the patience to withstand some discomfort and set-up, this bag packed a punch, but I recommend committing to the roadie 21 roller bag, not the hybrid version.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The Berlin Falls in Mpumalanga, South Africa
On a recent safari trip to South Africa earlier this year we had an opportunity to visit the Blyde River Canyon. One of the owners of the Belgrace Boutique Hotel, who also owned a tour company, invited us to a half day visit of the area as part of our transfer from his hotel to our safari property. Visiting the canyon required us to leave extra early. Our efforts were rewarded as the parking lot at the first of our stops was nearly deserted, except for curio vendors setting up for the day and staff cleaning the public bathrooms.
It was a little hazy, but the view from the God's Windows lookout was breathtaking.
According to SouthAfrica.net, the 29,000 hectare Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve is carved out of red sandstone and is one of South Africa's most remarkable geological features. Salient areas of the "green canyon" we saw were the Three Rondavels or Three Sisters, God's Window and Bourke's Luck Potholes.
Over time the flow of water carved out circular "potholes" in the limestone of the valley.
The river flows rapidly just above the potholes.
The same photo with a long exposure filter to smooth the water (just for fun)
The further along we progressed the more tourists we encountered, including several buses packed with travelers speaking foreign tongues. There were also more curio vendors in make shift structure and later inside a building. In lieu of lunch we snacked on locally produced cashews, macadamia nuts and dried fruits from a plastic container our tour escort brought with him. There were also chilled juices and water.
The Three Rondavels were our final stop as we made our way through the canyon.
The series of attractions were part of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
The added attractions were worth the extra effort and time. Although we had few moments to spare for much beyond photos and quick rest stops we enjoyed the sights and the opportunity to see yet another beautiful natural wonder in the vast country full of natural treasures.