I don’t know about you, but there is nowhere in the world I find more inspirational for food than Japan. It’s their astonishing palate of ingredients and obsessive perfectionism. Of all the Magnificent Creations that I have made in the last year, it is the Japanese ones in the first Tasting Box that have given me the most pleasure. This month I couldn’t resist returning to that theme.
Gen Yamamoto’s cocktail bar in Tokyo opened my eyes to so many Japanese flavours and ingredients. It is quite an experience. There’s space for just 8 people so you book your place as you would in a restaurant and sit back and watch as magic is conjured. He has a set menu of perfectly conceived cocktails. This sounds daunting but it isn’t about the alcohol, the alcohol is simply there as a carrier of flavour. Spices are ground, juices are squeezed and there is barely a whiff of anything as prosaic as vodka or rum… rather fresh Sake or Shochu. It’s like a Michelin star menu in liquid form.
So are you ready? Do you have your glass of water to drink between chocolates? Is your chocolate at room temperature so it starts to melt the moment you put it in your mouth? Have you decided if you can bear not to chomp the moment you take a bite!? Ideally you would leave a little square of chocolate melting in the middle of your tongue while you breathe deeply and let the layers of flavour gradually unfold.
Let’s start on the nutty side of your Flavour Map with the smooth Las Trincheras 72 dark chocolate from Venezuela. If you follow it with Chulucanas 70 with its notes of raisins and plums you will taste how extraordinarily different fine cacaos can be. The Chulucanas is made from a much prized, and distinctively white criollo bean from the Morropan Province in Peru, while Trincheras is a trinitario bean. But this isn’t the whole story. It would be perfectly possible for 2 beans of the same variety to taste as dramatically different. Single estate cacaos are remarkable things.
I make both the Ginger Lime and Luscious Orange with a dark chocolate from Baracoa in Cuba which tastes naturally of honey. As you can imagine it is the perfect chocolate to pair with citrus flavours. When you come to try the Yuzu & Almond remember what these two taste like, in order to help you find yuzu’s place in the world of citrus.
Journeying on to the milk chocolates, compare the Milk of the Gods with the Milk of the Stars. The Rio Caribe gives a rich nuttiness, while Milk of the Stars is characterized by the caramel notes of its Javan Dark Breaking Bean. When you taste Sea Flakes, compare it to the Miso Magnificent Creation milk chocolate. The salt and the miso work in a similar way to bring contrasting savoury notes to the same milk chocolate.
A Japanese collection would not be complete without some Matcha. This ceremonial grade Kotabuki matcha from near Kyoto is as good as it gets. And finally the joyously pink Raspberries and Cream. Another example of how beautifully delicate flavours hang in white chocolate as long as you don’t make it too sweet.
Yuzu is a citrus fruit unlike any other, more aromatic and floral and since November is the beginning of Yuzu season this is your chance to try it.
– Yuzu & Almond, Baracoa 66 dark chocolate with yuzu and roasted almonds.
An aromatic Japanese take on the Mediterranean classic orange and almond. When I came to make this chocolate, I naturally turned to the Baracoa bean with its soft honey notes. Beautiful.
– Milk Chocolate with Miso, Rio Caribe 44 milk chocolate with miso.
This is the classic milk chocolate with sea salt, Japanese style. The barley miso brings incredible depth and umami notes. What a wonderful combination.