chocolate 88 .
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I need to apologize to my brother Bo. Recently, we retold "the Hershey's chocolate bar story," but I omitted something. The story starts like this:
We were living in Caracas, Venezuela. My father had returned from a business trip to the States and one of the many gifts to come out of his hard-shelled blue Samsonite luggage were three Hershey Bars: one for me and one for each of my brothers. Ben and I ate them immediately. Bo locked his away, in his "goodies" safe - half the fun of the chocolate bar was the anticipation. Later that day, once the gifts had been distributed, I took the key from his special hiding place, unlocked his goodies safe and not only stole the Hershey bar, I decimated it.
When my parents asked me why, I explained that the first chocolate bar I ate wasn't actually mine. In the confusion of handing out gifts, they had switched chocolate bars. I had eaten Bo's and mine had ended up in Bo's goodie safe. I was just retrieving what was rightfully mine.
In an effort to achieve full disclosure, I'll tell you what I haven't told anyone in 30 years. Being that so much time has passed, I'm hoping Bo will just laugh this off. Not only did I not like the first Hershey bar - I hated it. The second was much worse, but I kept on eating, because I couldn't figure out what all the fanfare was about. I was confused. To my four-year-old palate, the chocolate was insipid and it took me 15 years until I tasted chocolate again.
Fast forward to married life. My husband needs all those around him to not only be aware of his chocolate vice, but to accompany him down the same gluttonous road. He re-introduced me to chocolate. These were not the shameful Hershey bars of my youth, these were dark chocolates that could be analyzed for flavors the way good coffee is cupped; it was a whole new world filled with new experiences. Chocolate had turned from a child's confectionery to a very adult treat. Over the years, I had perhaps found an appreciation for chocolate, but a deep-seated love had evaded me.
Last week, I walked into Elie Tarrab Chocolate Maker's store on Ibn Gabirol St. in Tel Aviv. Tarrab, 27, has been in his chocolate shop for the last two years. Considering that he served in the army, that seems young, but he told me that his chocolate-making career started in high school. As a teen in Haifa, he worked at the Ben & Jerry's, scooping Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey. During lulls, he read through the B & J cookbook, went home and tried to reproduce their ice creams.
Though I have had my misgivings about chocolate, ice cream and I have always been on excellent terms; one could even call us life partners. Ben & Jerry's is at the forefront of chunky ice cream. Long before others, they developed a method for incorporating big chunks of chocolate, cookie dough, and - my favorite - butter almond crunch into the ice cream mixture.
If Tarrab had grown up in the States, I imagine he would have gone to Walgreen's and bought himself a Score bar, broken it up and added it to his ice cream. Thankfully, he was experimenting with ice cream in Israel, and he had to make his own butter almond crunch, which he calls "English Toffee." Had it worked the first time, I don't know that he would be talking to me at his own chocolate store. But failure builds character. Tarrab's first dozen attempts didn't work, and when he finally got it, the joy of creation spurred him on. From English Toffee, Tarrab progressed to other confections and, inevitably, chocolate.
Chocolate is finicky and hard to work with, especially in the heat and humidity of Tel Aviv. It might be the ever-present technical challenge that keeps Tarrab, almost completely self-taught, interested. Perhaps because he never studied chocolate-making professionally, he reached the same conclusion as the finest chocolate makers in Paris: The less you mess with the chocolate, the finer your finished product. While others with more experience add glucose and other preservatives to stabilize their product, Tarrab's chocolate remains free of additives. The shelf life of his finest dark chocolate is therefore cut down from months to weeks, but the benefit is that one can taste the chocolate. Really taste it - in all its dark, roasted, comforting glory.
Tarrab's store sits within truffle-throwing distance of four other fine chocolate establishments; places with internationally recognized names. I asked him if he felt the competition. He replied that if I thought his product had anything in common with those other stores, I didn't know too much about chocolate. Too true.
His chocolate is made on the premises. He is the only person to deal with his chocolate, and the finished product travels from the workbench to the display cases not two feet away. The chocolate is un-fussy and the flavors reflect his moods. They are fun and frivolous, or serious and complicated, and there is no mother ship looking at accounts instead of customers. Tarrab calls himself an "artisan chocolatier" and thinks there may be another five like him in Israel.
None of this would really matter if his chocolate did not taste exquisite. Tarrab's English Toffee, his original reason for experimenting with food, is delightful; adult and fun, yet seriously good. It speaks to his artistry, with each nugget covered in the finest dark chocolate and then dusted with cocoa powder. Everything I tasted was interesting, thought provoking, indulgently good, and, alas, I found my love for chocolate. It wasn't insipid, it was complex - the way true love should be. This chocolate is the difference between a crush and a relationship.
I asked Tarrab why people should make their way to his chocolate boutique. He told me that this is what you give as a gift to people. This is the best version of you. He works hard, his customers work hard, but they are discovering a new Israel, where it is okay to let your hair down, have fun and treat yourself to something beautiful. As Tarrab helps his customers, their faces light up with anticipation of tasting something indulgent, being part of someone's artistry. Even if it lasts only as long as it takes to eat a chocolate bar.
Elie Tarrab - Chocolate Maker - 60 Ibn Gabirol St., Tel Aviv; (03) 695-8612
Web site: http://www.cardinal-online.co.il; Hours: Sun-Thu 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Fri 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Not under kosher supervision. For special events, will prepare chocolate from kosher facilities, under supervision.
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