Culinary Sagacity

~Thought for Food~

The Cathayans believed that the soul or mind is located not in the head but in the stomach.

Doubtless this explains why they fret so much about the preparation and serving of food.

It may also explain why their memories are so much better than ours.

Information is stored not in the finite head, but in the expandable stomach.

--Cyrus Spitama in Gore Vidal's Creation

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Michel Cluizel Hosts the First Chocolate Dinner in America

When you adore chocolate and find yourself invited to the first ever choco-centric dinner in America, you don't walk, you run. A couple of weeks ago lucky little me found herself in this position, and it was with great expectations that my man and I entered Le Cirque restaurant—somewhat short of breath—to attend a chocolate dinner hosted by Chocolat Michel Cluizel.

Although Michel Cluizel had already hosted such a dinner in Paris, there had never been anything like it in the U.S. To add to the unique experience, Hardy Cognac partnered with Michel Cluizel to present a menu whose courses were paired with cognac instead of wine—making it a bit more challenging for a lightweight like me to remember every little detail of the dinner by the time it ended.

What I remember the most, what I will probably remember for the rest of my life, was one course in particular, the Buffalo Fillet Carpaccio with Cherries, Chicory and Shaved Chocolate, and the glass of Perfection, Hardy's 140 year old cognac, the world's oldest known unblended cognac, composed of 100% French Colombard. Overall, the menu, designed by Le Cirque's Executive Chefs—both savory and pastry—had its hits and misses.

The first course was the oh so memorable Buffalo Carpaccio, paired with the award-winning Hardy XO, a 25 year old blend of Grande and Petite Champagne. Not only was the buffalo meat impeccably tender, but the chocolate aspect of the course was perfectly harmonious with the Carpaccio, and made use of my favorite single origin—Venezuelan—in this case Cluizel's Conception 66%, "Premier Cru de Plantation." This course was so extraordinary that when I discovered I was sitting next to a vegetarian who hadn't touched his, I couldn't resist asking his permission to pinch some off his plate rather than see it tossed in the trash. With great food, one doesn't always care about good form.

Following the Buffalo was a Foie Gras Torchon with Cocoa Nibs and Bacon Caramel, paired with Hardy Noces D'Or, another award-winning blend of 40 different Grand Champagne cognacs and aged a minimum of 50 years. Although not as seamlessly carried out, the use of Cluizel's Los Ancones 67% "Premier Cru de Plantation" from Santo Domingo—combined with bacon caramel (yum!)—made this course another hit. However, having already stabbed my fork onto my vegetarian neighbor's plate, I refrained from doing so a second time. But I did have a moment of regret as I saw the plate being taken away untouched. I can only hope the kitchen staff treated themselves.

Next up was a Roasted Squab Breast with Confit, Kumquats, Chocolate Feuillete and Chocolate-Peppercorn Vinaigrette. While the Squab was a spot-on medium rare, my idea of the perfect doneness, the Confit missed the mark, and the use of chocolate in this course did seem disconnected, not nearly as harmonious as its use with the Buffalo or even the Foie. Still, one could nevertheless appreciate the delicious Dark 72% chocolate, as well as the pairing of Hardy Noces D'Albarte, aged 75 years.

It might seem that Le Cirque's savory chef had the more difficult task of the evening, but when your assignment was that of the pastry chef—to create a dessert using Michel Cluizel chocolate and Hardy Cognac—at least for me, expectations were higher for the dessert than the main courses. Unfortunately, the dessert, a Mangaro Chocolate Composition of Mousse, Sorbet, Croquant and Cognac, was a let down. While the sorbet was rich and deep in chocolate flavor, the Composition tasted way more like hazelnuts than chocolate, a double disappointment for a serious chocolate lover who isn't keen on hazelnuts. Frankly, I expected to be blown away by chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, and I simply wasn't.

At the end of the meal came the Sweet Petit Fours and the glass of Perfection, on which I will muse for a moment. Never in my life have I had a drink so old and so rare, and at $600 a glass ($8,000 a bottle), it could be a while before I ever do again. Not much of a hard alcohol drinker, more of a wine woman, I was amazed at how soft and smooth the Perfection was, no burn, no sting. I couldn't help thinking about how the cognac I was sipping had been around since Andrew Johnson was in the White House. For me, that glass of Perfection was profound, conjuring historical events that had taken place since its creation 140 years ago, and seemingly containing ghosts in every glass.

Hardy Perfection, "Essential Elements" series, bottled in Daum Crystal, Pictured Above: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth

In all, despite the copious amount of cognac, it was a dining experience I'll never forget, and a privilege to attend. As I believe chocolate—especially single origin chocolate—can go very well in savory cooking, I do hope that this becomes a new trend here in America. It's about time our most creative chefs in the country start thinking of something other than Mole Poblano and Mole Verde when they think of the savory side of chocolate.

For more information about Chocolat Michel Cluizel, visit their website at

For more information about Hardy Cognac, visit their website at


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  3. For $600 bucks i hope the perfection was perfect. I like "ghosts" in my drinks too!