The scent of chocolate wafts through the halls of Amesbury’s Tradesmill, a carriage and motorcar factory converted to business lofts. Just follow the smell—or the signs—to the second-floor kitchens of m cacao to find yourself in luxury chocolate heaven.
M cacao, launched in the kitchen of founder and chocolatier Michael Nichols, quickly gained a reputation on the North Shore for crafting delicious and unique chocolates featuring an uncompromising focus on real ingredients. But the company leveled up when they hired chef Delphin Gomes, a master pastry chef from Burgundy, France, who has baked for presidents and once ran the pastry program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.
Augmenting a robust online business for its handcrafted delights, this year m cacao introduced a slate of sweet classes in the company’s industrial kitchen, offering the opportunity to make everything from a rainbow of beautiful macaron cookies to pate de fruit (fruit jellies), and even Easter bunnies and decorated eggs.
“I’m inspired by teaching others,” Gomes says as he moves deftly around a room full of amateur chocolatiers in “Worth the Truffle: Crafting Essential Chocolate Treats”—a staple class that is offered several times a month. In this class, students learn the basics of fine chocolate, beginning with truffles and ending with tempering tricks.
The class is fully participatory, packing a considerable amount into three hours, and Chef doesn’t let anyone coast. Beginning baking competition-style, the group divides into teams of two, and each team picks a flavor—think caramelized honey passionfruit or raspberry mint—from a list of truffles written on an easel. Turning to the appropriate page in the recipe book that participants take home, each team dashes off to create its “mise en place”—a French term meaning to gather and organize ingredients prior to cooking.
Team members are measuring out Chambord and rum, plucking mint leaves, and weighing sugar—and of course, chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. Over the course of the evening, students will use about 26 pounds of the finest chocolate from all over the world—think Callebaut from Belgium and Valrhona from France.
For students who are more used to measuring cups than the scales at each place setting, Gomes and his assistants provide guidance for weighing and using the “tare” function, which zeros out the weight of the bowl. The master chef circles the room, examining each student’s setup, to ensure they have what they need, occasionally gently correcting someone who isn’t properly organized.
Groups hustle between microwaves, induction burners, and cutting boards, as a companionable silence falls over the room, each person concentrating on the task at hand, whisking, chopping, and even wielding an industrial-size immersion blender. “I made ganache,” one participant exclaims with delight. “I thought people only did this on TV.”
Indeed, with Gomes’s guidance, students are making caramel to mix into melted chocolate, working with raspberry puree and rum—and tasting. “Do you think there’s enough rum in that?” Gomes asks the team tasked with making caramel rum truffles. As they look at each other hesitantly, the chef advises, “Add more—it is the French way,” and they tip another tablespoon into the mix.
Truffle fillings are spread on a tray, then placed to cool in a wall of refrigerators on the far side of the kitchen. But this was not time for a break. While the fillings chilled, teams made even more chocolate treats—Mint and Citrus Bark, Dark Chocolate macaroons, and Oursin: a mash-up of dark and light chocolate with candied oranges and puffed rice. On more than one occasion, team Oursin’s chocolates were not to the chef’s liking. “No, no, no—those are American-size. Too big,” he says as he scraped the dollops back into the bowl and demonstrated the proper size.
Gomes says every class is different, but always a lot of fun. They have seen parent-child teams (best for kids over 10, as it is a commercial kitchen), as well as corporate groups, and friends just getting together after a long lockdown period. And what would be better than reuniting over chocolate? At the end of the night, each participant filled a box with beautiful bon bons to take home—probably a couple pounds per person, although who is counting?
Worth the Truffle ($95) is held several times a month. Visit the website, mcacao.com, for the schedule and other classes, as well as information about “Free Chocolate Fridays.”
6 Chestnut Street, Suite 211, Amesbury, 617-334-5777