delicious discourse

chocolate transcendence

Posted in restaurants by delicious:discourse on February 24, 2009

A rare and dreary Monday about two weeks ago I found myself thankful to be inside my little car as the rain came down and I watched the outskirts of Austin turn into the somewhat green and definitely rolling Hill Country. Frankly, where I really wanted to be was back in bed, but there happens to be this little thing called work. And for some reason, it never goes away.

I was headed to a little, sleepy town, Northwest of Austin called Calvert, Texas. From door to door, Google Maps informed me I would drive 101 miles. Not too bad considering El Paso is closer to Los Angeles than it is to Houston. Calvert recently named itself the chocolate capital of Texas thanks for the recent opening of a cafe and chocolate factory by the name of Cocoa Moda. Opened by Houston-based chef Ken Wilkinson, who was born and breed in England and has a wonderful speech to prove it, Cocoa Moda sits in a restored 1874 former bank building on the historic Main Street in Calvert.

Ken who apparently is not only a genius in the kitchen, has an eye for carpentry and architecture and did the restoration work himself (and actually lost half finger to a saw in the process). The interior is simple, warm, inviting, and the perfect place to arrive on a cold and rainy day.

Leaning against the bar at the back of the restaurant and chatting with Ken about life, living, and the act of being alive, he looks up from fixing his coffee and says to me since I had politely declined a cup, “I know what you want.” I hesitantly replied, “Oh, you do?.” And he said, “Yes, hot chocolate.” When he said those two words, I knew he was right. As he headed back to the kitchen behind a swinging door he says, “I will be back in 2 minutes.” A few minutes later he reappears with a tray of a white teapot of hot chocolate, a bowl of fresh whipped cream, another bowl of sugar, and one teacup for me. A whole pot of hot chocolate? For me? I felt like royalty and after one sip, I knew it was going to take restraint from every cell in my body in order to prevent myself from finishing off the entire pot and begging for more. The thick, warm, rich liquid tasting of chocolate and cream, was unlike any hot chocolate I’d ever had. I felt sorry for myself and all those times I thought what I was drinking was hot chocolate and it was only a poor shadow of the real thing. When Ken later told me, and emphasized, that quality is never compromised, I didn’t think for a second not to believe him.

Quality and authenticity are what Cocoa Moda is made of. And of course, art. After studying and playing with chocolate for years, Ken says that he knew when he turned “blonde” he would start his chocolate business. For Ken, the chocolates, as he refers to them, are the highest expression of the arts.

Several cups of hot chocolate and many conversation topics later, Ken grabs a large plate, heads to the truffle counter, and proceeds to place one truffle of each flavor onto the Wedgewood porcelain plate. Twelve truffles, chocolate-covered candied ginger (that takes two weeks to make), and chocolate-covered orange peel are placed in front of me. Ken insists I try every flavor, even if it is just a bite. The first bite, white chocolate filled with a coconut confection and rolled in flaked coconut, takes me straight to the Caribbean, and the second bite secures me in the tropics – chocolate filled with key lime and dusted in a key lime sugar. White chocolate filled with passion fruit blissfully reminded me of my Hawaiian home. My favorite, was a dark chocolate filled with a white chocolate ganache with traces of anise – it was complex, unexpected, and divine. The others were a variety of truffles filled with caramel, espresso, praline, raspberry, orange, casis, a chocolate on chocolate made exotic with a pure cacao nib bit resting on top and one inside swimming among the creamy filling.

After the tasting, Chef Ken sent me on my way with a warm individual portion of his cassoulet. As I drove out of Calvert, I was almost surprised to find myself in still in Texas. For the past two hours I had been whisked worlds away to some small European town, sitting in a cozy cafe with a talented and enchanting patisseur.

When I finally arrived home and sat down to a bowl of cassoulet, the rich depth and flavor of the soup took me right back to Calvert. As it turns out, chocolate and cassoulet are the perfect antidote to a cold, rainy day—and I know just the place for both.

Cocoa Moda

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