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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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chef Michael Poole - Firefighter and Cordon Bleu Grad

Chef Michael Poole trained at the world-famous Cordon Bleu in Paris and has gone on to win several prizes for his artisanal chocolates in the United States. In Part 1 of this exclusive interview, he relates the story of how he fell in love with cooking, became intrigued with French cuisine, and pursued his culinary training in Paris.


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

ETBP: You have an intriguing career – firefighter, gourmet chef, and chocolatier! How do you find time for all of this?

MP: It's not easy! At first I would get overwhelmed taking on too much work (catering) and then going to my firefighting job. Over the years I have learned how to balance working for the Fire Department, cooking, making chocolates, and taking time for myself by going on vacation.

ETBP: Your love for good food stemmed from your grandmother’s kitchen. At what age did you decide that you wanted to pursue cooking professionally?

MP: Becoming a cook at the firehouse was the beginning of my passion for cooking.

I was twenty-one years old and it was early in my fire department career. I started off as the fire station cook. I was assigned to a busy downtown fire station in Seattle. I was cooking for twelve hungry firefighters who liked good food and lots of it. During that time I became very passionate about my food and cooking. I would buy cooking magazines like Bon Appétit and Gourmet and try out new and complicated recipes.

I would shop at the Pike Place market buying fresh vegetables and seafood, where there was a butcher who always called me “fireman.” He would ask me what I was making. I would tell him and he would share some of his recipes and techniques with me for cooking a certain dish.

After a few years of cooking, I decided to start up a food concession business. During the summer I would set up my food booth for the local fairs and festivals. I named my concession "Sweet Jamaica," and I specialized in Jamaican Jerk Chicken, rice and peas, Jamaican Pattie, and tropical fruit juice. It was best to sell product at the fairs and festivals that no one else was selling.

ETBP: Do you have Jamaican heritage?

MP: No, but at that time I had a Jamaican girl friend who lived in Vancouver BC. In Vancouver there is a big West Indian community, while discussing this with her, she suggested I sell Jamaican Jerk Chicken. In Seattle, at that time, there were no Caribbean restaurants.

ETBP: Are you aware of / connected with the Jamaican community in Paris?

MP: I am aware of the Jamaican community in Paris. While attending school I use to attend functions given by the Jamaican community.

ETBP: When did you decide to apply to the Cordon Bleu and why?

MP: My interest in Le Cordon Bleu did not come all at once. As I think back on it, there were several different influences at different times, none particularly significant.

Once I had been cooking for about 20 years, I became very passionate and wanted to learn more. During that time, I became interested in French cuisine, the culture, and the mystique about French food. French chefs have the reputation of being some of the best chefs in the world. Catering lunches for fashion photo shoots deepened my desire to one day attend a culinary school. On the photo shoots, the crew — the models, photographer, and art directors — would eat out at fine restaurants all the time. They were always talking about food, where they were going for dinner, restaurants they had already visited, and how the food compared at the various places they had dined. Therefore, I wanted my food not only to be delicious, but also to be as memorable as some of the dishes that they had at the fine restaurants where they dined.

At first, I worried about cooking for these sophisticated people. I thought of myself as merely a firehouse cook. Each day that they liked my food, I worried about what I would make the next day. How would I ever top myself?

Lacking confidence, I assumed that I had just lucked out that day. Somehow, day after day I continued to fool them. Time after time, each crew liked my cooking. The next thing I knew, I was the most requested cook for the photo shoots. I would get all the good jobs traveling to locations like La Jolla, Santa Barbara, and Fort Meyer Beach, Florida.

ETBP: Tell us about the program that you followed at the Cordon Bleu – length of time, number of courses, exams, internships…

MP: The first year I started out in the Diplôme de Cuisine intensive course – Cuisine de Base (Basic Cuisine). This is a six-week course, going to school six days a week three classes a day with very little down time to experience and see Paris. During the first semester of cuisine classes, I decided I wanted to do the whole Grand Diplôme program, which is a comprehensive combination of cuisine and pastry classes.

The second year I took Pâtisserie de Base Intensive. This was also a six-week intensive class, but only in pastry. I took this course in August, the hottest time of year. Because of the heat and a lack of air conditioning, I learned techniques during this class that were invaluable.

The third year I took the regular 10-week courses in intermediate cuisine and pâtisserie. Taking the two courses simultaneously was much better because I had time to really process what I was learning and I also had time to see and enjoy Paris.

The fourth year, I took Superior Cuisine and Pastry, which was another 10-week course. During that time I started working and training with a former student who had graduated and opened a small chocolate factory outside of Paris. After I graduated and received my Grand Diplôme, I stayed for another three months for a cuisine stage (apprenticeship) at Restaurant le Chiberta, 3 Rue Arsene Houssaye, Paris 8th.

ETBP: Which appeals to you more – preparing savory dishes or sweets such as pastries and chocolates?

MP: I enjoy both.

ETBP: Did you do any professional cooking while you were attending the Cordon Bleu (private chef services, restaurants…)

MP: I did not do any professional cooking while I was enrolled in courses at Le Cordon Bleu. I felt that there was so much for me to learn that I was just a student. However, I did complete my stage after I graduated. During the times when I was stateside, I worked as a professional cook at restaurants in Seattle, and I also had a catering business.

ETBP: Please give us a description of your experience as a stagiare (apprentice) at the Guy Savoy restaurant Le Chiberta.

MP: In 2003 Restaurant Chiberta had a different chef whose name I can’t think of right now.

It is true that French chefs yell. Or at least this was my experience during my stage at Le Chiberta.

At that time Le Chiberta was a 2-star restaurant; it was open for lunch and dinner. I would start work at 9:00 am, work until lunch was over about 2:00-2:30, and return at 6:00 pm for dinner service. I would complete my day around midnight.

The first week none of the other cooks would talk to me. This is a type of hazing that is customary in the industry, particularly in France. After I made it through the first week, things changed.The cooks started talking to me in English, but the chef told them not to speak to me in English.

On a typical day, the cooks would arrive and start the prep. The chef would keep a sharp eye on me, and if something wasn’t perfect and I mean perfect it was “merde” (sh__). The next time he would come by and say “Si vous voulez être un chef Français, vous devez apprendre à travailler vite!! Vite, vite, vite!” ("If you want to be a French chef, you must learn to work quickly! Quickly, quickly, quickly!")

We would make lunch and dinner for the staff, then sit down and eat. After our meal we would put on our toques, and the yelling would start and continue until food service was over. The chef or sous chef would yell “Nettoyez, nettoyez toujours! Qu’est-ce que c’est? Merde americain? Vite, vite, vite!” ("Clean, always clean! What is this? American sh__? Quickly, quickly, quickly!")

Come back next week for Part 2, when Chef will talk about his signature chocolates and his views on French and U.S. culinary culture.


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.
We are proud to have been selected as one of 10 BEST Paris blogs!

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

360° of African Diaspora Paris

Would you believe me if I told you that every monument and site visible from the middle of place de la Concorde is associated with at least one aspect of African Diaspora history, culture, and contemporary life?

It's true!

Begin with place de la Concorde itself.  At the base of the Obelisk of Luxor, African-American Jessye Norman sang the French National Anthem for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution - dressed in a billowing rendition of the French flag!

To the north, up rue Royale, Eglise de la Madeleine was the site of Josephine Baker's funeral in 1975.

Eglise de la Madeleine
© Discover Paris!

To the east, the octagonal boat basin near the wrought iron gate of the Tuileries Garden served as inspiration for Henry O. Tanner's painting The Man who Rented Boats and for James Emanuel's poem "The Boat Basin, Years Later."

Octagonal Boat Basin at Tuileries Garden
© Discover Paris!

To the west, up the Champs Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe shelters the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. African-American fighter pilot Eugene Bullard was invited to rekindle the Flame of Remembrance at the tomb by Charles de Gaulle in 1954.

Arc de Triomphe viewed from the Champs Elysées
© Discover Paris!

To the south, across the river, Martinique's Aimé Césaire (poet, playwright, and statesman; died in 2008) and French Guiana's Christiane Taubira (currently France's Minister of Justice) both served as members of the Assemblée Nationale.

Assemblée Nationale
© Discover Paris!

At place de la Concorde, you are literally surrounded by the African Diaspora presence in Paris, past and present!

If you are planning a trip to Paris in 2013, walk with us to learn about this amazing history and the vibrant fabric that the African Diaspora continues to weave in Paris today! Until January 31, 2013, Discover Paris! is offering a $25 discount on the private, guided

Entrée to Black Paris tour

of your choice. To claim your discount, send an e-mail to info(at)discoverparis(dot)net and include 2013 ETBP Offer in the subject line. We will then work with you to schedule your tour.

See you in the City of Light!


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.
We are proud to have been selected as one of 10 BEST Paris blogs!

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Aïcha - The Ebony Inspiration of Montparnasse

Last week, on the Entrée to Black Paris Facebook page, I posted an image of a portrait that I found on Pinterest:

Image from the Pinterest board "Not for Art's Sake"
by Octavia McBride-Ahebee

I am captivated by the beauty of this portrait as well as by the fact that it is attributed to one of my favorite Ecole de Paris artists - Amedeo Modigliani.

Photo of Amedeo Modigliani (date unknown)
Fair use claim

I have never seen this particular Modigliani before and have never known "Modi" to have depicted a black person in his work, so I am in search of more information about this oeuvre - name, date, media used, etc.

I also want to know who the model is. Presumably the name of the painting would provide a clue, if not the definitive answer to this question. But without this information, I began to think about who this woman might be.

Suddenly, I remembered Aïcha. She was a model for many artists in the Ecole de Paris in early 20th-century Montparnasse. She was also a stage performer. I have never seen a photo of her without a turban or some other kind of head wrap, so I think that she may well be the inspiration, if not the actual model, for the portrait shown above.

Cropped image of Aïcha from Kiki de Montparnasse
Photo credit: Private collection of Guy Krohg

Fair use claim

The following information is drawn from an essay written by the late Michel Fabre and published by Barnard College:

Aïcha Goblet was born in Hazebrouck, France to a Martinican father and a French mother. Her father was a juggler in a traveling circus and Aïcha joined him in the ring at the age of six, performing as a bareback horse rider. She moved to Paris at the age of sixteen and modeled for Ecole de Paris artist Jules Pascin and numerous others - including Modigliani. She had a soft spot for these artists, sometimes cooking for them and loaning them money.

Aïcha was the subject of numerous paintings by these artists. Tsuguharu Foujita painted her in the Cubist style, while Moïse Kisling portrayed her figuratively:

Portrait d'Aïcha
Moïse Kisling
1919 Oil on canvas
Image from Millon & Associés Web site

Fair use claim

In a book called Montparnasse (1925) by Gustave Fuss-Amoré and Maurice Des Ombiaux (out of print), the authors state that "Some artists sometimes portray her with red hair, green breasts, or depict her in a variety of colored shapes. No auction of modern painting takes place at Hôtel Drouot without some representation of this Martiniquaise from the Batignolles."

Unlike her contemporary, Kiki (called the Queen of Montparnasse), Aïcha was quite modest in her habits and demeanor. Fuss-Amoré and Des Ombiaux wrote that "She has remained the wisest of models. She holds fast to the old principles ... Any coarse male who would come too close to her would face a wild cat."

Aïcha also performed on the stage as a music hall dancer and a dramatic actress. She was the inspiration for a character in the André Salmon novel La Négresse du Sacré Coeur and wrote her own memoirs. In many ways, she was a predecessor to Josephine Baker.


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.
We are proud to have been selected as one of 10 BEST Paris blogs!

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Chef Wheeler Del Torro on Cooking in Paris

I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Chef Wheeler Del Torro virtually, after he contacted Discover Paris! about taking an Entrée to Black Paris walking tour over the Christmas holidays. He currently lives in Boston, where he operates the underground restaurant called Pharmacie at 3ScoopsCafé.

When I learned that Chef Del Torro hails from Jamaica and that he had cooked professionally in the City of Light, I immediately asked him for an interview. Here's what he has to say about Paris and its place in his culinary career and vegan lifestyle.


ETBP: When did you come to Paris?
WDT: My adventure in Paris began when I came to the city in the late 90s. The city was a lot different then. I graduated from high school and moved here with my girlfriend at the time, Max, who was born and raised here. I was so in love. You know how amazing French women can be. Paris is amazing - this city taught me how to cook, how to host a proper dinner party, how to slow dance… and I think the most important thing was just how to enjoy life.

ETBP: How long did you live here?
WDT:I had planned to stay for a few months in the summer, but returned to the States 3 years later. I would go home for holidays and birthdays, but that was it. I didn’t want to miss any of the action in Paris. Time just seemed to fly. I spent the time exploring antique shops, markets, bookstores, cafes, and of course, learning how to cook.

ETBP: Where did you work here?
WDT: I hosted dinner parties around the city. Also in Nice and Sarlat.

ETBP: Talk about your Fillet of Soul dinners. Where were they held?
WDT: Our Fillet of Soul dinners began as book club in the 6th, where I was living at the time. I was trying to expand my social circle, because I had just moved here and didn’t know one person outside of my girlfriend’s family. My idea was a conversation about the book and a meal. I invited people who I wanted to be friends and acquaintances with. The Internet, word-of-mouth and my passion about books and culture helped grow the book club into a bi-weekly dining event. As they grew, we expanded into larger flats (homes) around the city, and included music and sometimes performance art.

ETBP: Who would attend?
WDT: Our regular group was a mix of young professionals, budding artists, poets, rappers, and students. We would also reach out to innovative young chefs and entrepreneurs.

Del Torro Dinner Party
Photo courtesy of

ETBP:Your Web site talks about you selling desserts to nightclubs and to high profile events and parties as your reputation grew on the Paris culinary scene. What types of desserts did you sell?
WDT: I provided my Black Label desserts, which have alcohol infusions. I created a variety of flavors ranging from a Dom Perignon champagne sorbet to a Kahlua cookies and cream.

ETBP: How long have you been a vegan?
WDT: I have been vegan for over a decade.

ETBP: Describe how you came to embrace the vegan diet / lifestyle.
WDT: I worked for a banker as a private chef. His doctor gave him the option to radically change his diet or face another heart attack. To help encourage him to change his diet, I made a substantial monetary bet with him to see who could be vegan the longest. I have been vegan ever since.

ETBP: What are some of your favorite vegan eating establishments in Paris?
WDT: The Gentle Gourmet is my current favorite. They have delicious options for every meal of the day and have been at the forefront of introducing the concept of “vegan” to Paris. For a casual meal, I like SOL Semilla in the 10th.

ETBP: What would you advise vegan tourists who visit Paris regarding eating?
WDT: Enjoy Vegan Paris! There are many great vegetarian and vegan restaurants springing up around the city. Check online with the blogs Vegan Paris, My Vegan Paris Adventure, and the Paris Vegan Meet Up Group.  For supplies ranging from groceries to toothpaste, visit the team at Un Monde Vegan. 

ETBP: Do you cook non-vegan foods for your clients?
WDT: No, I like the opportunity to challenge and surprise my clients with the many possibilities of vegan food.

ETBP: Compare the London culinary scene with that of Paris.
WDT: As a person who travels about two weeks out of each month cooking and entertaining, you can tell a lot about a city and where people are culturally, from the types of people who show up at pop-up dining events. Because I create underground temporary restaurants, which gives me the flexibility to collaborate with local chefs, I would have to say both cities are on the move and producing some amazing young chefs that are going to transform the culinary landscape for the foreseeable future.
For the record, Paris does stand out. It is the epicenter of beautiful women (and men) willing to experiment with food.

ETBP: When you came to Paris, did you establish contact with the Jamaican community?
WDT: I ventured over to Little Africa and made friends, but I didn’t connect specifically with the Jamaican community. However, many people from the Islands reached out to me because of my jerk sauce. They used to tell me it reminded them of home. I remember at one of my events an older woman started weeping while eating a jerk dish I made. I didn’t know what to make of it; I thought maybe it was too spicy for her. I asked her if she was okay. She told me she hadn’t tasted anything like that since her grandmother had cooked for her as a child.

ETBP: Are there any other national cuisines that have influenced your culinary style?
WDT: Other types of cuisine constantly inspire me. Many of my recipes are fusions of different cuisines like soul food with Asian elements or West African street food with traditional French fare. I often do tapas, which can be very experimental depending on who I’m cooking for.

ETBP: What is attractive about the city of Boston as a home base for you and your business?
WDT: Boston has over 50 colleges and universities that attract the most brilliant and creative students, professors, entrepreneurs, and people from around the world. You could be riding in subway and hear people talking about quantum physics and the person next to you chatting on the cell phone about their second round of financing for their biotech startup. My offices are sandwiched between Harvard on one side and MIT on the other, which keeps me stimulated and creative. Boston also has a large French community, with an active cultural center hosting events and classes almost every day.

The Gentle Gourmet
24 Boulevard de la Bastille
75012 Paris
Telephone: 01 43 43 48 49
Metro: Bastille (Lines 1 and 8), Quai de la Rapée (Line 5)

Sol Semilla
23 rue des Vinaigriers
75010 Paris
Telephone: 01 42 01 03 44
Metro: Jacques Bonsergent (Line 5)

Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.
We are proud to have been selected as one of 10 BEST Paris blogs!

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