Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chef Michael Poole - Artisanal "Hot Chocolat"

Chef Michael Poole trained at the world-famous Cordon Bleu in Paris and graduated as valedictorian of his class. He was awarded the 2012 Master Award Medal by the International Chocolate Salon for the Best Chocolatiers and Confectioners in America. In Part 2 of this exclusive interview, Chef Poole talks about his chocolates and his new line of macarons. He also shares his views on the differences between U.S. and French culinary culture.


Chef Michael Poole at the Fall 2011 Luxury Chocolate Salon in San Francisco
Image courtesy of Chef Poole

ETBP: Did you make your first chocolates at the Cordon Bleu?

MP: Yes, during the first year of pastry class.

ETBP: What inspired you to begin making chocolates professionally?

MP: Once I started making my own chocolates for catering, I found that I was becoming very passionate about making them. I would spend hours trying to get the tempering just right to achieve that beautiful shine that denotes excellent tempering. I would also spend hours perfecting the flavors so they create a sense of intrigue and comfort in your mouth. As when I prepare cuisine, I like for the flavors in my chocolates to be layered. I want the flavors and richness of the chocolates pleasingly to surprise the taster.

In 2008, I returned to Paris to work for my friend and fellow Le Cordon Bleu student, Virginie, who had opened a chocolate factory. I worked with her and learned as much as I could, because I wanted to start boxing and selling my own chocolates.

During the summer of 2008, I spent five weeks in Paris working with Virginie in her new chocolate factory, making all of her fillings and learning more techniques. Once I returned to Seattle, I began boxing and selling chocolates. I now have an online store where I sell my chocolates at

ETBP: What inspired you to create MDP Signature Chocolates?

MP: I created MDP Signature Chocolates because my catering clients would always request to purchase chocolates that I was only making for some catering jobs. My catering clients would insist that I start boxing and selling my chocolates.

ETBP: Why the rebranding to Hot Chocolat?

MP: I went to see a business consultant and he suggested that I change the name of my business to incorporate my firefighter image.

ETBP: You won many awards for your chocolates in regional competitions in 2011 and received the Master Award 2012 from the International Chocolate Salon. Do you plan to submit (or have you already submitted) your chocolates to the Salon du Chocolat?

MP: I have not submitted my chocolates to the Salon du Chocolat at this time. Sometime in the future, I plan to submit my chocolates to the Salon.

ETBP: When you make your submission, which chocolates will you feature?

MP: I would take the award winning lemon, sea salt caramel, and the macadamia nut and caramel.

ETBP: Almost half your current line of chocolates is made from dark chocolates and 6/7 of your soon-to-be-released chocolates will be dark chocolate as well. Talk about the U.S. preference for milk chocolate compared to dark chocolate and why you selected dark chocolate for so many of the varieties that you have created / will create.

MP: Hum, interesting observation. I will have to check my selection because I am almost certain that with the exception of the dark chocolate ganache, every dark chocolate that I offer has a corresponding milk chocolate flavor. But thanks for bringing this to my attention.

ETBP: Discover Paris’ most recent chocolate tasting featured bars made solely from cocoa beans from Madagascar. Last year’s tasting featured ganaches made solely from Venezuelan cocoa beans. Do you work with chocolate made from single-origin cocoa beans? What is the general feeling among U.S. chocolate professionals about this practice?

MP: Bean to bar is very popular with chocolatiers in the U.S., too. However, I am not currently using this process. I buy the chocolate bar, temper it, and use molds.

ETBP: You have introduced a line of macarons. Are they as popular as your chocolates?

MP: Yes. In the U.S. people are just beginning to demand French macarons. They are starting to become popular… In my opinion, macarons are the new cupcake.

Macarons by Chef Michael Poole
Photo credit: Zakvta

ETBP: What flavors do you offer?

MP: I offer six flavors: mocha, pistachio, vanilla, raspberry, lemon, and chocolate.

ETBP: How often do you visit Paris?

MP: Once a year, I stay for about five weeks, work at a pâtisserie, and return stateside with some new recipes and techniques to add to my catering and chocolate crafting.

ETBP: How do you select the pâtisserie where you work when you return to Paris each year?

MP: I select the pâtisserie by contacting my Le Cordon Bleu colleagues first. Then I select the pâtisserie according to my interests, which owner needs help, and what I intend to learn to improve my skills.

ETBP: How do you get that much time off from firefighting?

MP: I would use all my vacation time and comp time, and I would trade work days before I left to attend school and after I returned from Paris. This would allow me necessary time off to attend school for three months.

ETBP: Where did you live when you attended the Cordon Bleu?

MP: I stayed somewhere different each year. The first time I stayed in the 14th, and then I stayed at cité universitaire. I also lived in the 4th Marais, and the 11th by Pere Lachaise.

ETBP: What is your favorite neighborhood in Paris (your favorite part of town)?

MP: My favorite neighborhoods are the Marais, Saint Michel, and Saint Germain des Prés.

ETBP: How would you compare French culinary culture with U.S. culinary culture?

MP:The French culinary culture traditionally has always been, and still is, all about the “food.” The French are very passionate about their food. For example, at lunch they talk about what they are going to have for dinner. And at dinner they talk about what they had for lunch. On the other hand, Americans have been known for the quantity of food they have on their plates. Not that they do not like good food. It’s more about how big the portions are rather than the taste and quality of the food.

The French are known for small portions. Just a’s not about getting stuffed. It’s about the enjoyment of the food. The smell, the taste, closing your eyes, and making those noises: ohh, ohhhhhh, ohhhh that is so good (smile!). That is what I’m talking about! And that is what I aspire to cook like!

ETBP: What is your favorite culinary memory of France outside the Cordon Bleu?

MP: My most memorable culinary experience was in the south of France at Alain Ducasse's Le Louis XV in Monte-Carlo. It was the first time I went to a Michelin-starred restaurant and really wined and dined. The experience began with an apéritif. Then the first course was served, which was an amuse bouche. This was just a bite sized portion, but it was so good. Then the wine is paired with each course. Man I was in culinary heaven!

ETBP: Who is your favorite European chocolate maker?

MP: Pierre Hermé

ETBP: If there were only one thing that you could eat when you visit Paris, what would it be?

MP: Hmmmm. I have to think about that because there is so much I like.


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