ICE Chocolate Lab: The First Two Years


Michael Laiskonis: When we first opened the
Chocolate Lab, for me there was a significant knowledge gap between working with chocolate
as a chef and manufacturing the product from the raw bean. [Music] Michael Laiskonis: Every step in the chocolate
making process offers numerous variables that affect the finished product. Learning how to using a machine is one thing,
knowing how to tweak the result and bring out the best qualities of each bean we source
is something we’re learning with each and every batch. Over the past two years we have made more
than 120 batches of chocolate with beans from more than 20 countries, representing each
major growing region around the globe. With each batch we document every step of
the process including each variable we can measure, times, temperatures, weights, in
order to achieve consistent results. Through that documentation I go back and look
at the variables to make connections and draw correlations about how the final chocolate
is affected, hoping to inform the new batches I create. For example, minor adjustments in time and
temperature during roasting alone reveal a range of delicate flavors. All the research and experimentation that
I’m doing ultimately benefits an ICE student’s education. In our Pastry and Baking Arts Program we have
replaced what used to be a textbook overview with a hands-on lesson in the lab to learn
each part of the process. Being exposed to this in school opens a student’s
mind and inspires them to a whole new area of the industry they never knew they might
want to explore or even have a career in. Students come away from the experience with
a deeper respect for the products and better insight into the cause and effect nature of
the process. Chocolate is no longer a random ingredient
they reach for in a kitchen and now has a story. For a pastry chef, there’s no knowledge that
can compare to that in terms of inspiration and ability to create. Students can also take advantage of volunteer
opportunities or take a variety of electives that bring them back into the lab with me
for more in-depth immersion. In addition to our Career Program, we also
offer Professional Development and Recreational Classes. These classes are all about discovery and
exploration. One of my favorite aspects of creating in
the lab has been opening it up to my industry peers, resulting in some pretty interesting
collaborations. I have a lot of creative friends and when
they approach me with an unconventional idea, there’s always something we can do in the
lab to realize it. We have created milk chocolate flavored with
maple and brown butter, white chocolate with ground almonds, gianduja chocolate bars and
we have experimented with adding flavors like coffee beans and spices. We’re also researching the aging process of
chocolate. In the craft chocolate worlds, most people
know that flavor changes when aged. And in the lab that’s another area I’m exploring. I’m slowly tasting these batches over time
to chart changes in flavor. In studying the process we’re going beyond
the finished chocolate itself. The chocolate making process better informs
how we use chocolate in fine pastries. A fascinating byproduct of building the Chocolate
Lab here in Lower Manhattan has been a deep dive into New York City’s rich chocolate making
history. This research has uncovered dozens of merchants,
chocolate makers and confectioners dating back nearly 300 years. The work we’re doing in the lab is perhaps
just the latest chapter of chocolate culture in this vibrant city. At the end of the day, one of the biggest
lessons I’ve learned is that making chocolate is easy but making really good chocolate is
very difficult. In the lab, we’re making really good chocolate
and we’re learning more about each step of the process from bean to bar every day. This initiative is bigger than just a few
people. I’m excited about the discoveries we have
yet to make and the students I haven’t yet met who will influence the chocolate industry
through this lab.

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