Talking Chocolate With Mr. Chocolate, Master Chef Jacques Torres

Often referred to as "Mr. Chocolate," chef Jacques Torres began his career at age 15 as an apprentice at a small pastry shop in his hometown of Algiers in the South of France.  After working in restaurants around the world as a pastry chef, Torres ventured to America and was a corporate pastry chef for the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain. He went on to work at the legendary Le Cirque in New York city before becoming the Dean of Pastry Arts at the International Culinary Center.

While at Le Cirque, Torres hosted Dessert Circus with Jacques Torres on PBS.  Additionally, he also hosted Chocolate with Jacques Torres for The Food Network.  Today, he owns nine chocolate stores throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn and a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing factory in the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

The Daily Meal sat down with chef Torres at his factory to talk about all things chocolate.

The Daily Meal: Why did you choose Brooklyn for your first chocolate factory back in 2000?
Jacques Torres:
At the time it was a financial decision more than anything else. Fortunately, the DUMBO neighborhood exploded.  I was very lucky. My second location also did very well on Hudson Street. After that we opened stores throughout Manhattan.

Are you looking to expand outside of New York?
Eventually. I will open more shops but not too far from New York; not further than Chicago.

How is the factory set up?
It is very linear.  When you walk in the product starts raw and as you move through the factory it is produced and then moved to packaging and storage.

What was the design process like?
I have always been interested in production and manufacturing and I had a vision that we mapped out on a piece of parchment paper and we stayed pretty close to that initial design.

Do you see a difference between Americans' taste for chocolate and Europeans' taste for chocolate?
In the late 1990s and early 2000s the food revolution began pushing food quality up.  It made for a better product all across the board including chocolate.  American milk chocolate is completely different than European milk chocolate.  The process for American milk chocolate begins with fresh milk. Then milk is dried, caramelized, and mixed into the chocolate.

In Europe, they use dry milk and the taste is totally different. Europeans crave the creamy non-yogurt-like flavor of milk chocolate.  Another difference is that Americans love the Belgium and Swiss profile for dark chocolates, less whimsical and a very good deep flavor.  The French prefer more Venezuelan-style with a little more bouquet. [pullquote:right]

What should one look for when buying chocolate?
Look at the ingredients. Chocolate contains cacao beans which can also be called nibs or cocoa liquor; sugar, lecithin, and real vanilla. If there is anything else in the ingredients don't buy it.  If there are other ingredients they are there to mask the flavor because it is an inferior chocolate.  Also be wary of "natural flavor." "Natural" does not mean it is not manmade. Look at the sugar content; more sugar means lower-quality chocolate.  Ultimately, the best chocolate to buy is the flavor that you like the best.

What are some upcoming projects for you?
I am working to expand my company and make more chocolates.  When it becomes too big I will have someone else run the factory and stores and I will go fishing.

Can the public come and see the chocolate factory in Brooklyn?
Not yet.  We still want to beautify the public area.  Maybe another six months and we will be ready to start giving tours.

For now, chocolate lovers can purchase Chef Torres' products at his brick-and-mortar locations around New York or from his online store