Meet a man who gets paid to eat chocolate. At the moment, he estimates there is $10,000 worth of free chocolate sitting in his home. Chocolatiers around the world routinely send him samples to get his expert take on the taste and packaging of their concoctions. Chocolate manufacturers, public relations companies and advertising firms pay him for his professional opinion. He has shared his knowledge regarding chocolate and comfort foods with viewers of The Today Show, Discovery Channel and CBS, to name a few, and has been quoted in print media such as Glamour, The Globe and Mail and The Washington Post. During our interview, he informs me that he is scheduled to fly off to Switzerland and then to Paris to learn, teach and to meet with leaders in the chocolate industry.
Meet Jordan L. LeBel &- associate marketing professor at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business, chocolate know-it-all and, most recently, creator of eConcordia’s new course: The World of Chocolate: Explore, Experience, Enjoy. The four-hour, not-for-credit course will cover everything from the history of chocolate and how it’s made, to proper tasting techniques and wine pairings. Registration kicks off on Feb. 9th and participants will be able to access the material for up to six months.
“There’s such an interest in chocolate,” said LeBel. “People want to know about how it’s made. They want to know about organic chocolate, fair-trade chocolate &- all these things that weren’t around years ago are now becoming really popular.”
LeBel’s love affair with the ubiquitous treat stemmed from the time he was 12 and he decided he wanted to become a pastry chef.
“I had a fascination with chocolate. Not necessarily the taste, I liked the taste, but really as a medium: to transform it, to melt it, to do things with it,” said LeBel.
Yet life led him to a career as an executive chef, where he had the task of preparing meals, not desserts. When he “got fed up of being on [his] feet for 12 hours, six to seven days a week,” he decided to try his hand at academia and enrolled in the food service management program at Cornell University. There, he discovered a whole other side to food that had little to do with its production and focused instead on the social, psychological, historical and cultural aspects of eating. Enthralled, LeBel completed a masters and later a PhD, analyzing the way people make decisions regarding what they eat and the role of pleasure in food choices. His dissertation concentrated on comfort foods and when he needed a specific food to use in his research, chocolate was the obvious choice.
The self-professed “pleasure specialist” and Montreal native, got the idea to create the online course from his friend, who suggested the chocolate savant share his 15 years of experience with the public, instead of limiting himself to his consulting clients and marketing students. It was perfect timing, given that eConocrdia was seriously considering offering online, not-for-credit “edu-tainment” courses that would appeal to a contingent of retired Canadians looking to keep their brains active and anyone else looking for “fun” classes.
“Quebec is a particular place to study [chocolate] because we like our food, we like to eat a lot, and we like to document ourselves,” explained LeBel.
The course begins with a history portion that looks at how chocolate entered the mainstream and become a staple in Europe and North America. It discusses the health benefits that have been attributed to chocolate and even why it’s often associated with romance. According to LeBel, there is evidence suggesting the mistresses of French kings would spoil them with cups upon cups of chocolate to increase their libido. What many people don’t realize, says Lebel, is that until 1840, chocolate was drunk and chocolate bars are a relatively recent phenomena.
Next comes the “experience” part, where LeBel introduces participants to proper chocolate degustation techniques. “One of the things I try to convey with the course is to slow down, take the time to breathe and enjoy,” said LeBel. “When you learn how to do this, you never eat chocolate the same way.”
His research has found that when people pay attention to what they eat and how they eat, they’re less likely to over-consume. He says his appreciation and knowledge of chocolate allows him to control his portions and stay in shape despite his high-calorie profession.
In addition, the professor provides tips on how to throw a chocolate-tasting party and advice on pairing chocolate with wine; debunking the myth that chocolate only goes well with port. The “enjoy” portion of the course includes chocolate recipes, pointers for cooking with chocolate, where to buy chocolate and cookbook recommendations. LeBel says he plans on updating the course regularly.
“If you’re a chocolate lover, now’s the best time to be alive because there’s such an amazing, amazing variety of chocolate being produced, and in Quebec too,” said LeBel.
He recalls a time when as a chef, he would run around Montreal unable to find good chocolate to cook with. Now, LeBel says you don’t need to look further than your nearby Jean Coutu or Metro grocery store.
But LeBel is quick to point out he’s no chocolate snob. He says he even enjoys a Kit Kat bar once in a while. “There’s so much pretentiousness about food, and that’s not what I’m about. I’m just trying to share a way you can taste your chocolate and get a little more enjoyment out of what you eat,” he said.
He’s also a big proponent of milk chocolate, saying people are wrong to think that only dark chocolate contains health benefits and that real connoisseurs only eat chocolate with a cocoa concentration above 60 per cent.
“Milk chocolate has some health benefits too,” explained LeBel. “People make the mistake of starting with something too strong and bitter right away and then they can’t understand why people like dark chocolate.”
And what is the expert’s chocolate of choice? His answer, not surprisingly,
“It depends on the occasion and what I feel like.” Now, that’s a true chocolate lover.
The eConcordia course costs $64.99 and registration begins on Feb.9. For more information visit: www.enjoyingchocolate.com
Upon registration, participants receive an email and a link to the website of renowned chocolate producer, Valrhona. There, you can sign up to receive a free chocolate-tasting kit which you can use during the tasting portion of the course.
Special discount for readers of the Concordian: when registering, type in the code: gostingers to receive $5 off.
Chocolate Cake Recipe by Jordan L. LeBel
Serves 10-15 (depends on the appetite and sweet tooth of your guests!)
This has to be one of the easiest chocolate cakes to make. It takes about 10 minutes to prepare, exactly 17 minutes to bake, but you need to let it rest at least three hours before serving. So best to make it in the morning and enjoy it with friends at dinner time. This recipe will yield one large (lasagna dish-like) cake, you can cut the recipe in half for a smaller cake, if so then bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
500 grams (18 ounces, 3 1/4 cups) of bitter sweet chocolate (best is to use 75% cocoa concentration)
300 ml butter (a bit more than half a pound)
500 ml sugar (about 2 cups, less if you like it less sweet)
125 ml flour (about 3/4 cup) sifted
1. Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Use a large enough bowl to be able to add other ingredients.
2. In separate bowl, mix eggs and sugar. Slowly add the egg mixture to the melted chocolate, mixing as you add. Then add sifted flour, mix well but do not over mix.
3. Pour in rectangular lasagna-like dish. I line mine with parchemin paper that I spray with Pam, but you can simply grease and flour your baking dish and it will be fine. The parchemin paper makes it easier and less messy to unmold the entire cake.
4. VERY IMPORTANT: make sure to leave a generous amount of batter in the bowl… half the fun is licking it… yup, just like when you were a kid!)
5. Bake at 425F for five minutes, then at 400F for 12 minutes. Do not let the cake overcook. Important: Do not cut the cake when coming out of the oven. At this point the centre is still all liquid!
6. Remove and let cool for at least three hours before serving, it can easily be made the night before.
7. For a slight twist: pour half the batter in dish, then spread thin layer of marmalade or raspberry jam over the batter, then pour remaining half of the batter.
Serving tip: you can serve with whipped cream. I like to serve mine with Bing cherries (canned) stewed for about 30 minutes with a bit of sugar, a cinnamon stick, and a split vanilla bean (remove cinnamon and bean before serving).