I am an actor, a mother of two teenage boys, married to a multi-talented, highly supportive man … and all of us adore chocolate.
I feel like this opportunity, being the Chocolate Apprentice, has dropped from the heavens, into my plate.
Or, as another friend said, “It’s like the Mother Ship is calling you”.
I have had a love affair with chocolate for as long as I can remember, starting with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars, moving on to my mother’s rare and highly prized boxes of Black Magic, as an adult, expanding into the dark realms of bittersweet (how fitting for adulthood) single origin organic bars, secretly bought, and jealously hoarded in dark corners of my oversize handbag, to be consumed in moments I am in need of a hug, or instead of a good cry after a bad audition.
Even as an impoverished theatre student, in the 1980s, I could not do without the stuff. My mother got me a subscription to Chocolatier magazine, and I poured over it, mouth watering, eager to try out whichever of the recipes I could manage with my limited budget, and rudimentary kitchen supplies. It was then, too, that I first heard about a local chocolatier, Pam Williams and her spectacular truffle shoppe – au Chocolat. I entered, inhaled the intoxicating aroma, and was blown away by the beauty of her truffle creations, almost too pretty to eat – but eat them I did.
I devoured chocolate cookbooks. I made the spectacular chocolate cabbage cake from The Joy of Chocolate in my first illegal basement suite, covered myself, my room-mate and our white bathtub in a brown snowfall during my cocoa dusted truffles experiment, and made a sumptuous chocolate cave, on a Lazy Susan revolve, frosted to look like an island for an “in the round” set design for “The Tempest”. I hoped would earn me an A, in technical theatre class. It didn’t, but the instructor ate it anyway. Another one of my “looks great, tastes good, completely impractical” projects which helped cement my career path away from technical theatre.
So, a person might think I would be thrilled to accept the honour of writing a blog called The Chocolate Apprentice. I am. And I’m also terrified. I think of myself as a dabbler, a dilettante, someone eager to try things out, but this will demand far more than that. I will be taking the Professional Chocolatier course. This will demand professionalism. (A somewhat scary prospect for someone who never thinks of herself as a professional at anything, except acting – I have the union card for that!)
So, I’m focussing on the word Apprentice. I like the sound of that. I like the image of donning my apron (the uniform), entering the chamber of possibility (the kitchen) putting myself in the capable hands of the master (Pam Williams) following along at her elbow, watching and learning at her side, along with other eager, chocolate loving, knowledge craving student chocolatiers. But wait a minute – I am going to do this online? How on Earth will I stay on task? Do the assignments on time? Share the triumphs and tragedies of learning this most delicious of skills with colleagues? Is my kitchen up to it? I know my family is. They eagerly anticipate my first attempts, and look forward to any “failures” they may get to eat.
I am short of breath as I log on to the Ecole Chocolat website, as a new student. I feel nervous. Will I understand what I am to do?
The curriculum is detailed, intense, and very well laid out.
I am impressed right away with Pam’s description of three attributes she believes necessary to becoming a successful chocolatier. I cannot help but be struck by how similar they are to the qualities necessary to becoming an insightful actor – (replacing a few words, of course):
Appreciation of the Craft – you continuously strive to improve your chocolate production skills by attention to detail and practicing over, over and over.
Hunger for Knowledge – you’ve researched extensively so you know your industry and product inside out. This gives you the confidence to answer any question.
Insatiable Curiosity – as a chocolatier or chocolate maker, you know what is happening in the industry – you become the definitive source for information for your customers, students, readers or clients. You’re able to source new suppliers and apply trends in product or processing to your business.
I discover a detailed list of supplies I will immediately need, along with the list of things NOT immediately necessary, but which would make life oh so much easier, and are therefore very tempting to rush out and buy!
I discover the chat forum, where students can share successes and failures. I feel shy about “listening in” on their conversation, to begin with, but am soon re-assured, and very grateful for their advice, in advance, as I will be attempting to temper chocolate, tomorrow! I suddenly feel buoyed up by their wise advice and tips.
I have already picked up a couple of equipment tips I would never have dreamt would be part of a chocolate makers arsenal (a hair dryer and a heating pad), but which make perfect sense, when you read through the lesson plan. I will also take the technique advice so generously offered by one student (by way of the instructors) to keep air bubbles out of the chocolate … if I can keep it all in my head!
But, the wonderful thing is, they will be “there” for me, 24 hours a day, at the click of a mouse button. It’s pretty cool to be chatting with chocolate-loving folk from around the world!
To settle my nerves, and prepare for tomorrow, I re-read the lesson. Then, I open the large plastic bag filled with the most important piece of equipment – the chocolate. I stick my face in the bag and inhale. Bliss. An opportunity to spend hours working with this heady and wonderful stuff. A privilege, indeed.