Food Lover's Gift Guide
Sweet gifts from a trio of local food artisans
Un Petit Morceau
Last February, Nana Visitor and Kim Montalvo began e-mailing flyers for made-to-order goodies. At first, the monthly messages went out to just a few friends and neighbors in Corrales. Now the flyers reach about 150 inboxes, and their “specialized, high-end” foods are sold in gourmet stores outside of the Village.
"We do small, beautiful little things that taste great," Montalvo says. "We love doing bite-size morsels.” That's where their business, Un Petit Morceau, gets its name.
Each month's flyer offers a different selection of treats, so "it’s been a very experimental first year for Un Petit Morceau," Montalvo explains. "Nana’s cooking and baking skills cross over to many areas—desserts, candies, ice creams and small appetizers that taste great with wine. What we learned, and what has defined us," she adds, "has not been so much the specific product niche, but the ability to always leave an intense and interesting taste experience."
"We do small, beautiful little things that taste great."
Kim Montalvo, Un Petit Morceau
Visitor's mother was from Paris, arguably the world capitol of food. From an early age, Visitor was exposed to a reverence for food's restorative powers and an understanding of complex flavors. She credits her mom as being at the heart of her baking, but Visitor (who daylights as an actor and is a mother herself) says she’s also been known to borrow a few techniques from gastro-scientist Ferran Adrià, of Spain's El Bulli restaurant.
In that spirit of experimentation, Un Petite Morceau's original creations include little bites called "bouboulettes." Somewhere between a pastry, a cookie and a candy, the flavors that fill the bouboulettes are equally pliant. Three savory offerings are tailor-made to complement wine. On the dessert side, there are nine inspired tastes to choose from, including fresh apple with candied red pepper, intense lemon with basil, ginger-rosemary, and Earl Grey tea with plum. "The goal was to make an extremely satisfying taste experience in just a few bites" says Montalvo, "which, by the way, is the way Nana eats."
Orders are scheduled with 72-hours' notice and delivered just before your event. A website, unpetitmorceau.com, will be up and running by late December. Stores that stock Un Petit Morceau goodies are: Frontier Mart (3677 Corrales Road, 898-0311) and Oasis Coffee and Tea (4940 Corrales Road,792-4720) in Corrales; Keller’s Farm Store on the Westside (6100 H Coors NW, 898-6121); and Michael Thomas Coffee (1111 Carlisle SE, 255-3330).
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 967-7985 to join the mailing list.
When Ally Sinclair answers the phone at Cocopotamus headquarters, she has to excuse herself.
"I have chocolate all over my hands!"
It doesn't sound like she minds.
Husband and wife chocolatiers Max and Ally Sinclair clearly love their jobs. They talk about Cocopotamus with an effervescent warmth, the sort of awed excitement you see in parents with a toddler who’s discovered walking.
Cocopotamus is their baby, after all. And people can’t help but coo over it. This month, toothy food celebrity Rachel Ray called Cocopotamus "awesome" and put the boutique chocolate company in her Thanksgiving Guide. When Ally pulled a personal note from Ina Garten, "the Barefoot Contessa," out of the mailbox, Max thought his wife was just pulling his leg. "We have no idea how they found out about us," Ally says. Cocopotamus has only been in production since July.
"We like to travel and eat, and our food reflects that."
Ally Sinclair, Cocopotamus
The Sinclairs describe their fudge-filled truffles as "New American"—a modern, multicultural twist on old-fashioned American fudge. It's casual and fun. Even though it's high-quality, it's not at all stuffy. All the hand-dipped truffles are made with dark chocolate, but you almost wouldn't know it. "Everything is super creamy," Ally says.
Chocolate can merge with a huge spectrum of flavors, from "comfortable, inspired-by-grandma's-pie" combinations to bolder, more exotic ingredients. Cocopotamus' 18 thoughtful flavors span the gamut. "It's a good way to introduce people to new cultures, through foods," Max says.
Cocopotamus' globetrotting ethos is a reflection of the Sinclairs. "We like to travel and eat, and our food reflects that," Ally says. She speaks Japanese and went to high school in Japan, which gave her the inspiration for Sumos Never Sleep, a matcha green tea truffle. Max's thought process behind the Ommm... truffle started with the British tradition of orange and chocolate (specifically, those whackable Terry's Chocolate Oranges). That led him to consider Great Britain's history with India and its spice trade. The result—organic orange with chai spices and Triple Sec liqueur—“is unlike any other chocolate orange I've tasted," he says.
There are no junky ingredients like artificial preservatives or corn syrup in Cocopotamus chocolates. The flavors are always natural—the wild Thai ginger in Gilligan's Fave actually comes from wild Thai ginger. That's something everyone (except Mary Ann, maybe) can love. And, Max says, if they can bring the planet together through chocolate, all the better. “That’s the secret mission."
Visit cocopotamus.com to place an order or find a store that stocks them.
“No shortcuts," says master chocolatier Scott Van Rixel. And he means it. A rigorous work ethic is the guiding principal behind the confections made at Chocolate Cartel, which Van Rixel co-owns with his brother Tim. "We try to do everything as old-school and authentic as we can." In Chocolate Cartel's case, "old-school" starts with French chocolate making traditions and stretches all the way back to Tenochtitlan, circa 1450.
"Wanna see the recipe?" Van Rixel asks, rolling up his shirt sleeve. He has a large, colorful tattoo of a glyph—it's the formula for xocoatl, he explains, the original stuff that Montezuma's high priest served to the emperor.
Most of what Chocolate Cartel produces is European-style—truffles, flourless chocolate cakes, chocolate-covered nuts, bars, even made-from-scratch gelato—all roasted, rolled, dipped and packed by hand. But tucked in there is a Mayan drinking chocolate based on that ancient formula. With freshly ground almonds, cinnamon and red chile, "it's what the king would drink," Van Rixel says.
"It's very authentic, intense chocolate. But it's not bitter because of the quality of the beans."
Scott Van Rixel, Chocolate Cartel
Van Rixel personally blends his chocolate from six regional varieties of Venezuelan cocoa solids, all derived from the highest quality, lowest-yield bean there is. Chocolate Cartel's milk chocolate, for example, is really a blend of milk and dark. That's because Van Rixel hates milk chocolate and wouldn't even touch the stuff until a few years ago. "So our milk is darker than most people's dark."
For those who aren't afraid of the dark, Chocolate Cartel makes an eating bar that's a staggering 90 percent cacao—and zero percent bitterness. "It's very authentic, intense chocolate. But it's not bitter because of the quality of the beans," he says. "But it's intense."
If you can dream it in chocolate, the Cartel probably makes it—or will make it, if you ask Van Rixel. He loves a challenge. Even Chocolate Cartel's less-than-ideal location seems to spur him on. Half-hidden on industrial corner of Juan Tabo near the freeway, it isn't easy to find. "We don't get a lot of foot traffic, but we're becoming a destination," Van Rixel says. "I like being that little secret. People come in and say, I have to tell my friends about this! And they do."
Nearly the same idea crops up when Van Rixel describes the rather plain wrappers Chocolate Cartel uses. "We don't put a lot into the packaging,” he says. “Our quality is what's in the box."
Walk-ins welcome at 315 Juan Tabo NE, Suite A. Or place an order at 797-1193 or chocolatecartel.com.