Recently our Executive Pastry Chef Angela made the trek to grande Paris. Her cohort consisted of other pastry chefs from San Francisco. While they soaked in the sites and flavors of France, Chef Angela was plotting ways to bring back those flavors and incorporate them into Waterbar's already amazing dessert menu. She only just got back, but we're intrigued to see the influences France has had on our dear Angela.
Chef Angela, in her own words, describes her Valrhona Trip.....
I've always deeply believed that travel inspires. Meeting new people, seeing new places, tasting new flavors. I find inspiration in the architecture, nature, art, fashion and beyond.
When Valrhona invited me along with 8 other Bay Area chefs to their factory and classrooms in Tain L'Hermitage, I knew it was an opportunity I wouldn't want to miss. Our group was comprised of some of the best pastry chefs in San Francisco and the Bay Area.
It all started with a train trip from Paris to Valence, south of Lyon and straight into the culinary heart of the country. We passed through the town of Montelimar known for its delicious namesake, nougat candy. Our final destination was only a bit further to the town of Tain L'Hermitage nestled along the Seine. It's in this town that Valrhona chocolate was founded and thrives. What began as a small little factory has not changed a great deal, but with the evolution of industrialization, their chocolate and praline production was able to expand.
New machines made for more efficient processing, but what impressed me most were the small teams of workers processing, finishing and still packaging by hand. When I saw a team of four, hand decorating each individual Bon Bon that came off the processing line and the next team selecting and packing the little treats, I was stunned. I have an appreciation for the minutae and if you are wondering, like I was, where the "reject" truffles go, it's to the local pig farmers. I'd be interested to taste the terroir of that meat!
Another point of interest is that the factory abuts the school, so their team of chefs can literally shape the flavors, textures and profiles they need with direct feedback to the mix masters. This wasn't an elaborate sales pitch, since we were already all customers, but this was a nice confirmation and expansion of what we can do with their products. Another thing I enjoyed learning was how Valrhona's ethos echoes that of Waterbar. Valrhona sources beans from around the world by working with the individual farmers to help them grow the best beans with the best flavors. They pay above market rates to ensure quality, but it means more for the long term sustainability of the commodity. Valrhona is a relatively small chocolate producer, but they have such a varied product line. I particularly like their single origin chocolates, which have such unique qualities and identities.
It was a dream for us as pastry chefs - the class space was top of the line. Tempering machines, enrobers, the finest molds, ovens, the shiniest sheet pans I've ever seen, ice cream machines and so many other fun gadgets! Classes were taught by Chef Christophe Domange, who patiently demonstrated lessons in plated desserts, bonbons and ice creams. His assistant, Martin, worked magic in the background by finding and solving our every need. Even baking us treats to go with our morning espresso.
It was nice to step away from the hustle of service and enjoy the comraderie of fellow artisans. Back in San Francisco, where we are completely spoiled by the culinary gems lurking around every corner, I've been reinvigorated and motivated to create new pastry experiences for our guests at Waterbar. Looking forward to seeing you soon. - Chef Angela