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The New Taste of Chocolate
cookbook reviewsthe new taste of chocolate
The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes by Maricel E. Presilla
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Reviewed by Joelle Moles

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Chefs are far less knowledgeable about the natural and cultural history of the food products they use and promote in their restaurants than one might expect. Underscoring certain specialty products is one of many techniques that can be used by chefs to entice guests to spend more money. In addition, many chefs attempt to "educate" their guests by highlighting unique food stuffs on their menu, basing their efforts on the assumption that even a rudimentary food product education can enhance one's appreciation of a dish. When put to the test, however, do these chefs really know about the products that they are promoting? By focusing on the titillation of the guest, have we forgotten the necessary and continual education of the chefs themselves?

Take, for example, our knowledge of the specialty chocolates that are currently available. Distinguished chocolate names like "Guanaja" and "Jivara" are commonplace on many menus across the US. Apart from the cacao percentage and perhaps even the region from which the cacao beans came from, what else do we know about the differences between these chocolates? Indeed, how much do we know about the culture and history and manufacturing process of chocolate in general?

Even if only to enhance one's own experience and education ( after all, does the average guest necessarily want to be educated?) a passionate cook would be wise to check out Maricel E. Presilla's The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Presilla's book of chocolate is a perfectly accessible and thorough work that gives the reader a complete understanding of chocolate and its natural and cultural roots. It is, in short, an excellent way to become articulate about a very useful food product.

The New Taste of Chocolate is certainly not a typical cultural or natural history book. Presilla presents us with 200 pages of color photos, sketches, artwork, maps and lively description. She begins with her own story of growing up among cacao trees in Latin America and then moves on to a cultural and natural history of chocolate, from its first uses in the kitchen to the crippling diseases affecting many cacao plantations today. Presilla continues with an educational chapter focusing on the processes and decision-making involved in the production of chocolate and then devotes the next portion of her work to the identification of cacao - a chapter that is fascinating to read, but perhaps a bit too in-depth for a culinary chef or a basic chocolate enthusiast. The final pages of The New Taste of Chocolate focus on methods of tasting chocolate and recipes - two engaging chapters that attempt to elevate the status of chocolate from its banal but popular existence to a truly sensory experience comparable to that of the finest food products in the world. After experimenting with the tasting exercises and selected recipes, such as Chocolate Jasmine Ice Cream and "Age of Discovery" Vanilla-Scented Hot Chocolate, one's appreciation of chocolate will certainly reach new levels.

Maricel E. Presilla's The New Taste Of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, is a great source to become further educated about chocolate. An opportunity to learn about important food products such as this ought not to be passed up. We must remember that we are the leaders of the culinary world. Let us promote this type of education within. Let us be proud of our expertise.

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