A delectable journey

Rabbi Deborah Prinz explores chocolate and the Jews’ relationship to the dessert.

chocolates 311 (photo credit: Stacey Morris)
chocolates 311
(photo credit: Stacey Morris)
Rabbi Deborah Prinz will confess that she has a syndrome. It may be genetic, she admits. And it’s adult-onset.
It’s her “choco-dar,” her “irrepressible, serendipitous radar for chocolate experiences.”
Prinz’s condition has guided her to travel the world in pursuit of chocolate, and to investigate and explore the Jews’ connection to cacao beans and the dark confections created from them.
Last Thursday, Prinz shared her Jewish, general, and personal choco-dar experiences with around 30 retirement-aged Anglos at the Association of American and Canadians in Israel’s center in Talpiot.
Many of the stories Prinz shared at AACI are also on her blog, or in the second edition of her 2012 cookbook, On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religion, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao .
Prinz was visiting Israel from New York City with her husband, Rabbi Mark Hurvitz. When she isn’t hunting down and tasting chocolate, and teaching about it, she is a director of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
Midway through Prinz’s presentation at AACI, she explained how her chocolate adventure began. It started with a series of circumstantial steps leading up to her and her husband’s sabbatical in Europe, from their synagogue at the time in San Diego. They planned to drive through Europe in a Volkswagen van, and stand in each Shabbat as rabbis at a different Reform congregation that couldn’t afford full-time ones. They would start in Amsterdam, drive south to escape winter, and continue north again with spring.
Four weeks before they left California, Prinz and Hurvitz argued over whether they should visit a cold, wintertime Paris. The disagreement resolved itself after Prinz discovered that Paris is a chocolate hub.
She happened to be listening to a National Public Radio show one morning, in which pastry chef David Lebovitz discussed the city’s love of chocolate. Once Prinz informed her husband, Hurvitz said, “If there’s chocolate in Paris, we should go.”
So, in this way, Prinz and Hurvitz’s began their lifelong chocolate trail.
In preparation for Paris, they combined a list of Parisian tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre with every chocolate restaurant on Lebovitz’s tour – and then some. One was L’atelier du Chocolat de Bayonne, where Prinz discovered that France credits Jews with bringing chocolate to Bayonne, the city from which chocolate originated in France.
“I had never heard this before,” Prinz said. “It was astonishing to me to have happened to have experienced my choco-dar.”
Since then, she has researched and made sense of this claim. All the chocolate centers in the world – Newport, Rhode Island; New York City, London and Amsterdam – are all on the path of dispersion of Sephardi Jews. With the Spanish and Portuguese importing cacao beans from the New World, Jews, who were involved in mercantilism, spread chocolate throughout Europe. It’s also historically valid that Jews may have brought chocolate with them to Bayonne, after they were expelled during the Inquisition from nearby Spain and Portugal.
During her lecture, Prinz also provided non-Jewish religious facts about chocolate, like the Mayans’ reverence for it; Father Junipero Serra being the father of chocolate in California; and the claim of a Quaker-owned chocolate company, Fry’s, that it created the Easter egg – even though Quakers don’t celebrate Easter.
Another personal chocolate experience Prinz described was a stop on the European road trip in Al Bicerin in Turin, Italy, to try the café’s world-renowned drink, to which it owes its name. Bicerin is hot chocolate layered with coffee and cream, which this café – owned by women – has served since 1763. While sharing this chocolaty drink for lunch, Prinz and Hurvitz saw a table of men sipping something.
When the couple asked their server if that table was actually enjoying a chocolate soup, they discovered it was the café’s hazelnut cake smothered in a chocolate sauce (this description produced a collective and prolonged “aah” from the salivating AACI crowd). After the twosome enjoyed their second lunchtime dessert, they wandered over to the café’s retail shop next door, where Prinz learned there was a chocolate festival taking place in Turin. She noted that once again, her choco-dar had led her from one way station to another along the chocolate trail.
Prinz also engaged the audience throughout much of the presentation with discussion of their own Jewish-tinged chocolate experiences. At the start of her talk, she asked everyone to name their favorite Jewish chocolate memory. One woman recalled a bakery in New York from her childhood. Another referenced Barton’s chocolate marshmallows, which her American friends would send her for Passover after she moved to Israel.
Following Prinz’s lecture, the room – comprised almost entirely of chocoholics (only two pointed out they were indifferent to the dessert) – asked questions about chocolate that mostly related to Judaism.
Someone wanted to know if Israel could grow cacao beans to make chocolate. Prinz’s answer was unfortunately no, because Israel isn’t close enough to the equator.
Another woman asked why Israel lacked unsweetened baking chocolate. Maybe that’s telling of Israelis, in that they want their cookies and cakes sweeter, Prinz joked.
Afterward she led a Jewish prayer over chocolate, before everyone rushed to the front to sample three of Prinz’s recipes from her cookbook, which AACI program coordinator Elayna Weisel had prepared. There was a frosting-like and dark truffle with chocolate liqueur; a moist, fluffy and subtle chocolate cake; and cayenne chunks shaped out of granola and chocolate, with a parting zing of pepper.
However, these weren’t Prinz and Hurvitz’s favorite chocolate recipes. Hurvitz likes his “cocoa nibs citrus salad,” while Prinz’s favorite is always changing and depends on the time of year.
One could guess that preference is part of having choco-dar, and being on the chocolate trail.