A Chocolate Extravaganza – no calories, no kidding!
Everything I know about chocolate, I learned from Maricel Presilla. Truly. Food writers like me don’t necessarily know everything about the food they are asked to write about, so we rely on the smarts, wisdom, knowledge and research of others. Sometimes — like when I was asked to write a piece for a national magazine on selected indigenous American foods a few years ago – the writer is lucky enough to know where to turn. For my section on chocolate, I knew that Maricel, a cultural anthropologist, a Ph.D. in medieval history, writer, educator, formally trained chef and co-owner of her own award-winning, pan-Latin restaurants, Zafra and Cucharamama in Hoboken, would be the go-to girl. I called her up and sure enough, she had the goods on chocolate. What I didn’t know until we spoke, was that her passion for Theobroma cacao – the tree that is the source of chocolate — is not only intellectual and sensory, but part of her genetic history. As it turns out, Maricel Presilla is the daughter of a cacao producing family in Cuba with chocolate running through her very veins; encountering her is hitting the mother lode of chocolate information. In a conversation – okay, lecture, she is an educator after all – of an hour and a half, which could have gone well into the following year, she took me on a whirlwind tour of cacao history and meaning. Fortunately for every other chocolate lover on earth who can’t just call her up for a chat with the excuse of writing an article, Maricel has also produced an exhaustive and gorgeous book on the topic.
The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural History of Cacao with Recipes (10 Speed Press 2001) is as sensuous, subtle and intriguing as its subject. In this lushly illustrated, designed and produced volume, she covers it all, from its origins in Latin America, to its discovery and transformation by Europeans, from its social, economic and spiritual significance to her own personal relationship with the magic bean. It is loaded with information, but written and packaged for easy and unhurried enjoyment. You will also learn how to interpret chocolate labels and which form of cacao to buy for which purpose; it has changed the way I look at (and purchase) the chocolate bar. Love chocolate? Love food history? You need this book.
–Natalia de Cuba Romero
The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes by Maricel E. Presilla. Ten Speed Press, 2001