When all else fails, blame chocolate. Who hasn’t heard the accusations — obesity, pimples, cavities, hyperactivity, sleeplessness, addiction, depravity, moral weakness, guilt, greed, secrecy, hoarding? It gets better; I mean worse.
A dessert called “Death by Chocolate,” such human characterizations as “chocoholic” and, now, “chocopalypse,” the latest global fear — an extreme scenario depicting a world without chocolate.
Really? Maybe it’s time to take charge of our fraught relationship with this most improbably fantastic substance. And that means dumping the junk chocolate of commercial mass-production and cultivating a healthy passion for the finest, purest, dearest, dark chocolate you can find. High-quality dark chocolate really is good for you.
For an extraordinary taste experience and veritable adjustment in consciousness on the subject of chocolate, go no farther than Alexander’s Chocolate Classics, 363 S. Main St. in Pendleton, Ore. Much like the Roman poet Virgil led Dante through the realms of hell, purgatory and paradise in “The Divine Comedy,” Alex Radcliffe and Steve Machajewski will guide you through the kaleidoscopic complexity and nuances of chocolate. You will emerge enlightened and equipped to use chocolate for what nature intended: your best health.
Alex’s intention of creating chocolate products equal to the world’s best stands firmly on years of study, travel and significant monetary investment. In fact, his business is based on the philosophy of “aristoi,” the Greek word meaning “the best.”
“‘Aristoi’ is the bedrock of our mission statement,” Alex says.
Early on, he adopted the political logic of Alexander the Great, whose cohesion of vast territorial acquisitions depended on swaps of each province’s finest goods. Everything used in the production of Alex’s chocolates is of superlative quality, and the reach is global. In addition to chocolates, the store stocks fine ingredients such as vanilla from Madagascar, Tahiti and Mexico; organic Canadian honey; and smoked, merlot and lavender salts.
Once inside the shop, it’s impossible not to savor each intake of breath as chocolate’s olfactory magic begins to enhance your senses and mood. As if the tidal pull of chocolate were not enough, the shop includes a cozy bar area dedicated to the refined art of wine-and-chocolate pairing. Alex and Steve are trusty guides, thoroughly versed in the subtleties of tasting and sipping protocols, right down to knowing about the residual sugar levels of chocolate and wine, and at what mouth temperature chocolate liquefies.
Finding opportunity where excellence seeks discovery, Alex has hired a leading Washington winemaker and is expecting to release his first vintage of wine in March 2017. Not surprisingly, it will be paired with chocolate. Meanwhile, Alex and Steve make specialty chocolates for Cascade Cliffs Winery and Saviah Cellars in Washington, and Sno Road Winery, Echo Ridge Cellars and Zerba Cellars in Oregon. Pendleton Whisky has found a way into their chocolates, as has Oregon-brewed dark beer, which shows up in the brilliantly concocted vanilla-infused porter beer truffle.
I was a bit surprised when Alex reached behind an elegant granite counter laden with an eye-popping spread of assorted truffles and chocolates and hoisted a thick, three-ring binder to a side ledge. He was making a point, and by the time we shuffled through pages and pages of scientific studies from sources like Harvard Medical School, Journal of Nutrition and British Dental Journal, I felt there was almost nothing a controlled amount of fine dark chocolate couldn’t fix, prevent, alleviate or cure.
Herein was an extensive collection of data-driven scientific studies, research findings and medical recommendations attesting to such claims as chocolate is better than fluoride for your teeth; dark chocolate eases emotional stress; dark chocolate improves heart health and reduces the risk of stroke; regular chocolate eaters are thinner; and chocolate is four times more exciting than kissing (which is improved by eating chocolate first). And this hardly touched on the unexpected diversity of medical, physical and emotional issues covered.
Alex’s previous 35-year nursing career, specializing in open-heart and emergency-room trauma, surgery and psychology in Seattle and Los Angeles, was not wasted, as he deconstructed the scientific words and technical jargon wrapped around the chemistry and laboratory analysis of chocolate: antioxidants, inflammatory response, dietary flavonoids, theobromine, anandamide, tryptophan, polyphenols, catechins, LDL, HDL, methylated xanthines and phenylethylamine (PEA or the “love drug”).
And then there are the chocolate credentials. Years ago, Alex and Steve graduated as chocolatiers from Theo Chocolate University in Seattle. Eager to delve deeper and wider into the subject, they attended the Ecole Chocolat professional school of chocolate arts in Vancouver, Canada, and became certified master chocolatiers. More recently, they completed courses at Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Chicago, a particularly proud accomplishment due to the esteemed high regard of Callebaut as one of the world’s leading chocolate manufacturers.
With matter-of-fact honesty, Alex says, “We have dedicated ourselves to the study of chocolate.”
I didn’t feel the same about chocolate after I’d met Alex and Steve. I’d matured. I couldn’t go on picking my product thoughtlessly, wasting calories on fatty, sugary confections pretending to be chocolate. I’d found its true meaning: It is a pathway to health.