Love and Chocolate with Chocolatier Michael Recchiuti

 Tarragon-grapefruit (left) and cardamom nugget (right) chocolates by Recchiuti. From left to right, Sue Williams, Michael Recchiuti, and Troy Easton discussing their craft.
Tarragon-grapefruit (left) and cardamom nugget (right) chocolates by Recchiuti. From left to right, Sue Williams, Michael Recchiuti, and Troy Easton discussing their craft. photos by Lesley Lynch

When I arrived at Chocolate Secrets last night to attend the invite-only chocolate tasting put together by Sander Wolf of DallasChocolates.org with master chocolatier Michael Recchiuti, I was expecting a group of snobby chocolatiers discussing chocolate in much the same way as wine snobs go on about the nose, finish, and body of wine. Instead of jargon, everyone was antsy to share their love stories – the unique ways they all came to love chocolate and their fight to make sustainable businesses out of making these confections.

Recchiuti is in town to be a part of Central Market‘s Chocolate Collection. His love story with chocolate involved the last Shah of Iran (Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī) and Bill Gates. If you are itching to know the six degrees of separation, jump with me.

Chocolate selection at Secret Chocolate. Raspberry ganache-filled chocolates at Secret Chocolate.
Chocolate selection at Secret Chocolate. Raspberry ganache-filled chocolates at Secret Chocolate.

When the Shah was exiled during the Carter administration, the Shah’s personal chef moved to Philadelphia, where Recchiuti hails from. Recchiuti trained under the Shah’s ex-chef without pay, just to learn everything he could about chocolate. Fast forward a few years, and Recchiuti is working as the pastry chef at Twin Farms, a then 14-room luxury resort ($2,000-$3,000 per night) in Vermont. It was there that Recchiuti and his wife, Jacky, laid out the plans for their shop, Recchiuti Confections, and tried out their creations on the guests, including Bill Gates. When Gates tasted Recchiuti’s burnt caramel chocolate, he gave him his assistant’s number and told him to call if he ever got his store opened. About five years later, Recchiuti made that call from his new kitchen in San Francisco. Gates immediately made a $15,000 order for chocolates to send out to his employees. Apparently, Gates’s eye for jackpot business ideas goes beyond software. Burnt caramel chocolate, the one Gates praised so highly back in Vermont, is still Recchiuti’s biggest seller today, nearly 20 years later.

Burnt caramel truffles weren’t on the tasting menu last night, although I’m thinking of ordering some. Recchiuti’s personal favorites, tarragon-grapefruit and cardamom nugget, were. It’s a small wonder that we were even able to taste the tarragon-grapefruit creation, as Recchiuti’s accountant advised him to stop producing it a while ago. The labor and material costs involved with the four-day candying process for the grapefruit rind, the 24-hour tarragon cold cream infusion, and the 70% chocolate blend used to create this masterpiece, stack up further than the price. Thankfully, Recchiuti ignores his accountant. He’s losing money on this one. But, boy, you can taste the love.

Clockwise from top-left: Bacon and maple syrup chocolate, mango and ginger chocolate, strawberry-balsamic chocolate, and habanero and lime chocolate by Sublime. Sublime's packaging.
Clockwise from top-left: Bacon and maple syrup chocolate, mango and ginger chocolate, strawberry-balsamic chocolate, and habanero and lime chocolate by Sublime. Sublime’s packaging.

You have one more chance to catch Recchiuti in person. He’ll be at Central Market’s Southlake location from 12-1 p.m. today. Go meet the master. If you don’t get the chance, visit a local chocolatier. Kate Weiser, the executive chocolatier at Chocolate Secrets and host of our tasting last night, is ready for the Valentine’s rush. Her kitchen was still buzzing when I left just before 10 p.m. last night. Troy and Bliss Easton of Sublime, Stephen Smith of Nib Chocolates, and Sue Williams of Dr. Sue’s Gourmet Chocolate and Candy were also in attendance and ready for all of you last-minute shoppers. We wrote about all of these fabulous, local chocolatiers here.

My final question for Recchiuti: “What does a chocolatier buy his wife for Valentine’s Day? Obviously, chocolate isn’t an option for you anymore.”

Recchiuti replied, “Shoes. Probably from Barney’s.” Smart man.