three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
16-May-June-2005
user_rating: 
0

A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light

A-ChocolateFrom the bitter, chili-laced brew of the Mayans to the gold-flecked palets d’or of modern France, the cocoa bean has a long history of rabid acolytes. Rosenblum enlists French chocolate expert Chloë Doutre-Roussel in his search for cacao lore: to Mexico for history and mole; to the equatorial growing fields where workers are likely to have never tasted the fruits of their labor; and finally, to the haughty chocolate firm Valrhona, where Rosenblum is subject to a virtuoso performance of Gallic disdain. Chocolate, right down to its text—printed in a tempting shade of dark brown—is the perfect accompaniment to your next indulgence.
North Point. 304 pages. $24. ISBN: 0865476357

Intl Herald Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"In the end Chocolate is about people coaxing and manipulating nature to yield one of its greatest culinary treasures. In our age of branding and image-making, this devotion to things as they really are is of more significance than just making and eating good candy." Gerry Dryansky

Detroit Free Press 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Rosenblum writes like a dream, or like a perfect praline from Jacques Genin, the chocolatier Rosenblum calls ‘my choice to provide my stash of chocolate should I be marooned on a desert island.’ … Chocolate is worth buying if only to give you the names of lots of great chocolate." Marta Salij

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Sometimes Rosenblum writes in a cocoa-induced high. The treats of his book are compared variously to classical music, Van Gogh’s art, morphine and ‘a hard-ridden saddle.’" Austin Merrill

Newsday 3 of 5 Stars
"I’m persuaded by his slow-food ethos, but suspicious that he’s absorbed the biases of his adopted home [France]. … [H]e treats Nutella, the chocolate-hazelnut spread that young Europeans eat like peanut butter … with reverence, while his own childhood taste for Hershey bars, which he compares to his early preference for sweet kosher wine, is clearly a source of shame." Blake Eskin

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"This is not a history of chocolate—indeed straight history is its weakest element—but a series of vignettes in which we travel the globe meeting a wide variety of characters who are deeply immersed in chocolate (in a manner of speaking). … [T]he best passages deal with pressing political or commercial concerns: One has the distinct impression that the author’s natural habitat is the newsroom."
Tim Richardson

Critical Summary

Rosenblum trades the focus of his James Beard award-winning Olives for a newer, sweeter obsession. His experience as a newspaperman (Rosenblum is the former editor for the International Herald Tribune and a former Associated Press reporter) bears fruit in the strong source material he tracks down in far-flung locales. If his prose is weakened by newsroom clichés, it is at least "clean and consistent" enough to tell a satisfying story (Newsday). Like any devotee, Rosenblum has his favorites, and while the critics concede that French chocolate may be the best, many are put off by the author’s blind devotion to it. Like its subject matter, Chocolate is a book that aims to please, and should drive anyone with a sweet tooth into the candy shop.

Supplemental Reading

Candyfreak A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America | Steve Almond (2004): 4 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2004. In this part memoir, part industrial history, Almond examines America’s insatiable sweet tooth.